Botanical and Common Names
- Family Asteraceae (formerly Compositae)
- Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset, Agueweed, Crosswort, Feverwort, Indian Sage, Sweating Plant, Teasel, Thoroughwort, Vegetable Antimony, Wild Sage)
- Eupatorium cannabium (Hemp Agrimony, Holy Rope, St. John’s Herb, Sweet-smelling Trefoil, Water Maudlin)
- Eupatorium purpureum (Gravel Root, Joe Pye, Sweet Joe Pye, Joe Pye weed)
- Eupatorium rugosum (White Snakeroot, Snakeroot)
- Eupatorium teucrifolium (Wild horehound –- was used as a substitute for boneset)
- Eupatorium occidentale (used by the Zuni of southwestern US to treat rheumatism)
- Eupatorium maculatum (native to eastern North America and used to treat kidney and urinary problems)
- White snakeroot contains a poison that can cause “trembles” in livestock and can poison humans that eat the meat of these animals. The plant is toxic when fresh, but the poisonous compounds dissipate when the plant is dried.
- Boneset can be toxic if taken in excessive doses.
- In view of Hemp agrimony’s pyrrolizidine alkaloid content, it should be taken only under professional supervision.
Boneset is native to North America and is found in meadows and marshlands. It is gathered when in flower in summer. Hemp agrimony is native to Europe, but can also be found in western Asia, North Africa, the West Indies, and South America. It also grows in damp woods, ditches, and marshes as well as open areas. It is gathered when in flower in summer. Gravel root is native to North America and the root is unearthed in autumn. Generally, it is an erect perennial plant, growing to about five feet in height, producing whorls of pointed, oblong leaves and clusters of purple-pink florets.
The "Joe Pye" herb was named after a North American Indian called Joe Pye, who cured a grateful New Englander of typhus. He used this plant to induce profuse sweating which broke the fever.
The Latin name, Eupatorium, is derived from Eupator, a 1st century BCE king of Pontus, famed for his herbal skills. According to Pliny, Eupator was the first to use a plant of this genus for liver complaints.
The species name, perfoliatum, means "through the leaf", since the stem seems to grow through the paired leaves.
The colourful seeds were used to make a pink-red dye.
According to Culpeper, the dried leaves were burned in a room to drive away wasps and flies.
A Modern Herbal (1931) described how people “used to” put leaves of hemp agrimony on bread to prevent it from becoming moldy.
Avicenna (980-1037 CE) and other practitioners of Arabian medicine already knew of hemp agrimony and its medicinal uses.
Native Americans used boneset to treat, as its name suggests, “break-bone fever” (Dengue fever). Infusions were also used by them to treat colds, fever, and the pain from arthritis and rheumatism.
Gravel root was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1916 and the National Formulary from 1926 to 1950.
Many discussions have been held as to how boneset received its name, and all have some validity. One suggests that the common name for dengue fever, breakbone fever, was Eupatorium. Another suggests that flus and colds were historically called "breakbone fever" in the early colonies. The third speculation insists that the traditional use of boneset by indigenous peoples to heal broken bones is the reason for its name.
There are at least thirty species of boneset in North America, with each receiving its name because of its effectiveness in, not only mending broken bones, but also because of its effectiveness against breakbone fever (now called dengue), a mosquito-transmitted viral infection marked by chills, fever, headache, and muscle and bone pain. Dengue fever is common in tropical and subtropical regions, and is the leading cause of childhood mortality in several Asian countries.
Boneset attained popularity about 1800 when a particularly virulent flu swept the East Coast and was characterized by intense bone pain. A specific reference to this was made by an early 19th century physician (C.J.Hemple) who noted that the herb "so singally relieved the disease…that it was familiarly called bone-set".
Boneset was used by many tribes of North America for a wide variety of ailments, including colds, sore throat, fever, flu, chills, menstrual irregularity, epilepsy, gonorrhea, kidney trouble, rheumatism, and to induce vomiting. The Mesquakies used the root to cure snakebites. One of their doctors, named McIntosh, used a leaf and flower tea to expel worms. The Iroquois, Mohegan, Menominee, Delaware, and Cherokee have all used boneset to treat colds and fever. The Alabama relieved stomachache with boneset tea. It was also used by several tribes, including the Cherokee, as a laxative.
Boneset was named in all early American books on medicinal plants, including Hand's House Surgeon and Physician (1820). During the 19th century, very few houses did not have the herb hung from rafters for use at the first onset of chills and fever.
Boneset was used particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, not only by Native Americans and pioneers, but also Civil War troops. Before the coming of aspirin, boneset was one of the remedies to treat the aches and fevers that accompanied various ailments.
- promotes sweating
- mild laxative effect
- mucous membrane tonic
- smooth muscle relaxant
- mild emetic
- peripheral circulatory stimulant
- gastric bitter
(b) Hemp Agrimony
- laxative (root)
- immune stimulant
- prevents scurvy
- promotes bile flow
- promotes sweating to relieve fever
(c) Gravel Root
- prevents formation of kidney and bladder stones and diminishes existing ones
- promotes menstruation
- flavonoids (including quercetin)
- volatile oil
- sesquiterpene lactones (including eupafolin)
- vitamins and minerals (especially magnesium, calcium, niacin, and phosphorus)
(b) Hemp Agrimony
- volatile oil (with alpha-terpinene, p-cymene, thymol, and an azulene)( p-cymene is antiviral)
- sesquiterpene lactones (especially eupatoriopicrin which has anticancer properties and inhibits cellular growth)
- pyrrolizidine alkaloids
- polysaccharides (stimulates the immune system)
(c) All Species
- bitter principle
- Aerial parts (boneset), root (gravel root), aerial parts and root (hemp agrimony).
- Boneset has shown to increase phagocytosis to four times that of echinacea.
- The sesquiterpene lactones and polysaccharides are significantly immunostimulating.
- Although many of the Eupatorium species are active against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, boneset is not.
- Laboratory studies indicate that the herb’s active ingredients may have anti-infective and cancer-fighting properties.
- Researchers have found that many members of the genus Eupatorium contain dangerous chemicals (pyrrolizidinealkaloids (Pas) that can cause liver damage and promote liver cancer. German health authorities recommend that PA ingestion be limited to less than 1 mcg a day; but, since there is no way to determine how much there is in any dosage of boneset, this warning is problematic to herbalists. However, there are no known cases of liver damage caused by boneset, although some have developed a rash from handling the plant.
Small doses of tincture or infusion induces perspiration, and relieves gout and rheumatism.
Infusions from aerial parts are used for arthritic pain, while a stronger infusion is used as a purgative for liver stagnation and some types of constipation.
Hot infusions of boneset will bring relief to symptoms of the common cold and has been taken internally to expel intestinal worms.
Tinctures from the aerial parts are used to treat feverish colds and influenza when added to such phlegm reducing mixtures as elderflower and ground ivy.
Decoctions from the roots are used to treat menstrual pain or are sipped during labour. It also has a cleansing effect for persistent urinary infections.
Tinctures from the roots are used for such urinary disorders as cystitis and stones or discharges caused by infection. It can be used with white deadnettle for prostrate problems.
Aerial parts have long been used as a remedy for putrid sores.
Gravel root is taken for prostrate problems, some types of menstrual pain, and to ease childbirth.
Boneset has traditionally been used for dengue fever, malaria, pneumonia, colds, and flu. Its strength seems to be for pain relief and as an immunostimulant, a tonic for mucous membranes, and as a febrifuge. Although a person may start to sweat after drinking a cup of boneset tea, it is unclear whether this is a sign that the decoction is working or simply a reaction to the bitter taste. Typical dosage calls for drinking a cup of the hot tea every thirty to sixty minutes until sweating begins or until three cups have been consumed. High dosages may cause vomiting and severe diarrhea. Even recommended dosages should not be taken longer than two weeks, especially if the condition does not improve. There is also some concern that longterm use can cause liver damage.
Boneset is only a diaphoretic if given in a hot liquid (tincture) or a tea. The dried herb is very bitter when used in tea, but honey can be added.
To treat influenza, herbalists usually combine boneset with such other herbs as yarrow, elder flowers, cayenne, or ginger.
It may also be combined with pleurisy root and elecampane to treat bronchial conditions.