Many women use alternative therapies to treat hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms. The purpose of this review is to summarize current information on the efficacy and safety of phytoestrogens and the herbal medicine black cohosh. A preponderance of evidence indicates that phytoestrogens are ineffective in treating hot flushes. Trials of black cohosh, many of which are small, of limited duration and of poor methodological quality, provide conflicting results, and at present it is unclear whether black cohosh is more effective than placebo. Although phytoestrogens and black cohosh appear to be safe when used for short periods of time, much larger and longer studies are needed to detect infrequent but potentially serious adverse events. Women who do not wish to take hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms should be encouraged to consider using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other conventional therapeutic options.