Boneset Plant Info: How To Grow Boneset Plants In The Garden
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By: Liz Baessler
Boneset is a plant native to the wetlands of North America that has a long medicinal history and an attractive, distinctive appearance. While it is still sometimes grown and foraged for its healing properties, it may also appeal to American gardeners as a native plant that attracts pollinators. But exactly what is boneset? Keep reading to learn more about how to grow boneset and common boneset plant uses.
Boneset Plant Info
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) goes by several other names, including agueweed, feverwort, and sweating plant. As you may guess from the names, this plant has a history of being used medicinally. In fact, it gets its primary name because it was used to be used to treat dengue, or “breakbone,” fever. It was frequently used as a medicine by Native Americans and by early European settlers, who took the herb back to Europe where it was used to treat the flu.
Boneset is an herbaceous perennial that is hardy all the way down to USDA zone 3. It has an upright growing pattern, usually reaching about 4 feet (1.2 m.) in height. Its leaves are hard to miss, as they grow on opposite sides of the stem and connect at the base, which creates the illusion that the stem grows up out of the center of the leaves. The flowers are small, white, and tubular, and appear in flat clusters at the tops of the stems in late summer.
How to Grow Boneset
Growing boneset plants is relatively easy. The plants grow naturally in wetlands and along the banks of streams, and they perform well even in very wet soil.
They like partial to full sun and make great additions to the woodland garden. In fact, this relative of joe-pye weed shares many of the same rowing conditions. The plants can be grown from seed, but they won’t produce flowers for two to three years.
Boneset Plant Uses
Boneset has been used for centuries as a medicine and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. The aboveground part of the plant can be harvested, dried, and steeped into a tea. It should be noted, however, that some studies have shown it to be toxic to the liver.
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The Eupatorium Story Joe Pye Weed, Boneset and White Snakeroot-Part One
January 15, 2012 by Northeast School of Botanical Medicine
This blog highlights the genus Eupatorium. Why Eupatorium? First, there is a story involved (isn’t there always?). Second, I think the genus Eupatorium and the name changes it has gone through are useful teaching devices to learn more about botanical names. Third, to help sort out the medicinal actions of this group of plants. And lastly, they are handsome helpful common plants, a good one get to know better and appreciate.
For this article, I am going to focus on the Eupatorium species that are the most relevant to herbalists. They are
1. Boneset-Eupatorium perfoliatum
2. Joe pye weed-Eupatorium (Eutrochium) purpureum, E. maculatum, E. fistulosum
3. White snakeroot-Eupatorium rugosum (Ageratina altissima).
A note on the word Eupatorium. It comes from King Mithridates VI of Pontus, also known as Eupator Dionysius. He lived circa 120-63 BC and has a very colorful history. The reason he is brought up here is that he fits into the herbal world through a concoction (little used today) called Mithridate, which is a poison antidote. Here is a bit of his story. His father was also a king who was killed by poison (a popular method then), and so as he ascended the throne he naturally worried about a similar fate. He tried to tilt the odds in his favor by continually taking very small amounts of a number of poisons. And it was also rumored that he had a special concoction that was a mixture of many substances that he drank to become resistant to being poisoned. There is much speculation on what these substances were, and you can see competing accounts of the ingredients if you look it up.
Here’s where it gets interesting (dare I say, ironic). Mithridates was a territory-expanding type of King, continually stepping on the toes of his Roman neighbors. When the Romans were sure to defeat Mithridates, instead of being captured he chose to kill himself, by poison. Unfortunately (get your ironic hats on) he was not able to kill himself as he was inured by all the years of taking sub-lethal doses of these poisons. (Not true for his family, who also took the poison before capture, they all died). So instead, he asked a guard to stab him to death with his sword. Not the cleanest way to die, but it worked well enough. And so, for many years afterwards, his special Mithridate formula was sought by those in similar circumstances (meaning, fear of being poisoned). Another variation of this drink (Galen wrote a book about it) is called theriac. Which lead later to the English word treacle.
It is hard to now how much of this tale, or formula are true, but it is well published, including accounts written around the time of his death.
I am not sure why this genus of these plants is named after him, but there are some poisonous Eupatoriums, such as White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum aka Ageratina altissima), so perhaps there was a poisonous species in his formula?
And so, Mithridate lends his name to a couple of plants
Here is the story behind my interest in these plants. It starts with Eupatorium purpureum, now Eutrochium purpureum. As someone who likes to be sure of a plant’s botanical identity (whether I am gathering it for medicine or not), I was reading up on the distinctions between the most commonly noted Gravel roots used in medicine, which are Eupatorium purpureum and Eupatorium maculatum. I also wanted to know about any similar looking plants so that included Eupatorium fistulosum. These are all commonly known as Joe pye weed.
It seemed that E. purpureum was a pretty common plant, and so with my field guides I began looking at these plants in my region and noticed right away that none of them fit the description of the ‘official’ species. I started asking knowledgeable folks and looking for drier habits it seemed to prefer, but just could not find it.
7Song and Joe pye weed (E. purpureum) finally, after many years of looking. Mark Twain NF, MO. July 15, 2007
I hear folks occasionally call various Joe pye weeds, Eupatorium purpureum, which are not (see Botany section below). Sometimes I say something, sometimes not, to avoid being even more of a killjoy than I already can be. But what is apparent is that herbalists are sometimes gathering Eupatorium maculatum rather than E. purpureum.
This is not a debate about which one is a better medicine, as I am not sure how to judge that without using them both regularly and recording the results. In the older texts, Eupatorium purpureum is mentioned much more than the others, which is why I was looking for that species. There is more about this under ‘Medicinal Uses’ below.
This story now moves to the Ozarks where I was driving along a dirt back road with a couple of students. Now one thing I want to say about this part of the country is that in my short time there, I saw more unusual plants than I usually see elsewhere. Here is where there is Echinacea purpurea still growing wild, and I saw Polygala senega for my first time and came across Eryngium yuccifolium and Grindelia lanceolata. All interesting plants to me. And so my eyes were open for other unusual botanicals. And as we were driving along and cresting a hill there by roadside, bordering the woods, was a Eupatorium patch that looked like it should have been lower down near the streams.
And so I jumped out of the car, and began counting the florets 7 in this one, 5 in that one, good so far. Then I started going to individual plants in the area and counting from different plants to make sure it was not an individual anomaly. Nope, the number of florets was consistent. Next, was the stem hollow? (Please don’t be hollow…). And sure enough, not hollow except a bit at the nodes. And the coloring, purple mainly at the nodes. Yes! After so after many years of counting florets and smelling crushed up leaves, here on this Ozark back road, was Eupatorium purpureum. And like other Joe pye weeds, full of butterflies and other insects.
I then spent some more time making sure it was the correct species, taking photos, and digging up some roots (it was a good sized stand and expanding).
And that is my Eupatorium purpureum story.
Sweet joe pye weed (E. purpureum). Mark Twain NF, MO. July 15, 2007
7 Responses to "The Eupatorium Story Joe Pye Weed, Boneset and White Snakeroot-Part One"
Did you happen to harvest seeds and propagate any?
Health benefits of Boneset
Boneset, especially the leaves and the flowering tops of the herb, possesses several properties that are beneficial for our body. Drinking a hot infusion prepared with boneset eases the symptoms of fever as it stimulates perspiration. In addition, boneset also releases phlegm and encourages its elimination by means of coughing. Listed below are few of the health benefits of using boneset
1. Alleviate fever
Boneset herb also known as the “sweat plant” can be used to alleviate various types of fevers, mainly through inducing sweat. As we know, Boneset is an effective diaphoretic agent which encourages sweating when consumed. By encouraging sweating, the natural diaphoretic agent forces the body to not only cool down but to also release several harmful toxins through the skin.
The natural herb has a long history of being effectively used particularly to treat influenza and fever. For instance, Boneset was effectively used to treat influenza during the First World War. This disease alone had led to the death of about 6 to 8 million people during that period.
2. Beneficial For Fractures
This particular natural herbal remedy is consumed to help repair broken or fractured bones, alleviate bone pain and even re-calcify teeth. This is because Boneset tea when regularly drunk increases blood circulation mainly to the “periosteum” which is the thin body tissue that surrounds human bones.
The natural herbal remedy has been scientifically proven to build a healthy bone mass, hence can be used to alleviate various symptoms of muscular rheumatism as well as to treat arthritis. Apart from that, the natural herbal infusion also works on the nerves and joints both of which are major parts of the skeletal system.
3. Treat various respiratory issues
Boneset which is a powerful anti-catarrhal natural herb can be consumed to offer congestion relief through clearing the mucous present in the upper respiratory tract. The powerful herbal infusion can also be used to cure colds and flu.
Simply brew and drink hot Boneset tea. This will not only inspire perspiration but also help in relieving any aches or soreness related with the flu or cold. Boneset herbal tea is extensively used in Germany to treat multiple viral respiratory infections, including flu and the common cold.
4. Alleviate Digestive Issues
Boneset herbal tea can be consumed to address numerous digestive problems. The herbal remedy can be consumed to increase appetite, remove stomach parasites and worms, alleviate constipation, treat indigestion and offer relief against stomach muscle tension among other common digestive related problems. Boneset herbal tea is both a mild laxative and diuretic which makes it a powerful constipation remedy that can also be used to encourage urine flow.
5. Treat malaria
Boneset natural herbal remedy has been widely used for decades in the homeopathic medicine field to treat malaria. Research that was carried out on malaria-infested mice discovered that Boneset might be a good complimentary or alternative malaria medication. This is because the malaria-infested mice demonstrated a significant reduction in the rate of “Plasmodium” parasite multiplication. Plasmodium is the harmful parasite responsible for causing malaria.
6. Muscle Pain and Rheumatic Conditions
Boneset was used to ease the painful muscle and joint aches from fevers and rheumatic conditions, which may explain the common name “boneset.”
7. Boost the Immune System
Boneset is one of the good immune boosters. Natural herbal remedy plays a major role in motivating the production of white blood cells that efficiently work to destroy any disease-causing micro-organisms. The natural herb also improves both slow recovery and poor immune response.
Animal studies also revealed that Boneset consists of numerous chemical compounds (rutin and flavonoids) that work together to safeguard blood vessels against inflammation. Boneset’s powerful antibacterial property also helps the body to form a powerful shield against various disease-causing organisms.
8. Dengue Fever
Boneset is particularly effective at treating dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that causes severe joint aches.
Traditional uses and benefits of Boneset
- It is used in the treatment of influenza, colds, acute bronchitis, catarrh and skin diseases.
- It has been shown to encourage resistance to viral and bacterial infections, and reduces fevers by encouraging sweating.
- Leaves and flowering stems are antispasmodic, cholagogue, diaphoretic, emetic, febrifuge, laxative, purgative, stimulant and vasodilator.
- Hot infusion of the dried leaves and flowers is used as a very effective treatment to bring relief to symptoms of the common cold and other similar feverishness – it loosens phlegm and promotes its removal through coughing.
- This herb is almost unequalled in its effectiveness against colds.
- It is used in the treatment of rheumatic illness, skin conditions and worms.
- Homeopathic remedy is made from the fresh plant, harvested when it first comes into flower.
- It is used in the treatment of illnesses such as flu and fever.
- It was used by Native Americans to treat malaria.
- It helps reduce fever by promoting sweating, reduces aches and pains, and relieves congestion by loosening phlegm and promoting coughing.
- Boneset also encourages the immune system, which encourages the destruction of the influenza virus.
- Boneset may be taken in combination with cayenne, elder flowers, ginger, lemon balm, peppermint, or yarrow to treat influenza.
- For bronchial conditions, boneset may be taken with pleurisy root and elecampane.
- Native Americans also used Boneset for arthritis, indigestion, constipation and loss of appetite.
- Flavonoids found in boneset have shown promise as a natural herbal remedy to help fight against tumors.
- It has been used as an herbal folk medicine for fibromyalgia, diarrhea and intestinal worms.
- Boneset has the ability to reduce the symptoms of arthritis and malaria.
- It has ability to aid and calm skin diseases.
- Boneset has been used for treating yellow fevers and typhoid.
Ayurvedic health benefits of Boneset
- Fracture: Prepare a decoction of the leaves of Boneset. Take one cup two times a day.
- Yellow Fever: Prepare a decoction of the leaves of feverwort. Have one cup once a day.
- Wound: Make a Salve by combining powdered herb and Vaseline in equal parts. Use it externally.
- Cough: Take Slippery Elm, boneset, Licorice, Flax in equal quantity. Use it as a fomentation.
- Flu: Take one tbsp boneset, one tbsp Peppermint leaves and one tbsp Elder herb. Simmer Elder herb in 2 cups of water for 15-20 minutes and strain. Take Boneset and peppermint leaves in a separate container and add 2 cups of boiling water. Leave it covered for 30 minutes and then strain. Now mix both preparations and reheat the mixture. Drink one cup hot, every 15-20 minutes to get relief.
Preparation and Dosage
Boneset may be taken as tea or tincture.
Tea: Cold: 1ounce (25g) of herb in 1 quart (1 liter) boiling water let steep overnight, strain and drinks throughout day. The cold infusion is for the mucous membrane system and is a liver tonic.
Hot: 1 teaspoon herb in 8 ounces (237 ml) hot water, steep 15 minutes. Take 4 to 6 ounces (118 to177 ml) up to 4 times per day. Note: Boneset is only a diaphoretic when hot and should be consumed hot for active infections, chills and fevers.
Tincture: Use fresh herb in flower 1:2 with 95 percent alcohol, use 20 to 40 drops up to 3 times day in hot water. Dry herbs: 1:5 with 60 percent alcohol use 30 to 50 drops in hot water up to 3 times a day. In acute viral or bacterial upper respiratory infections, use 10 drops of tincture in hot water every half hour up to 6 times a day. In chronic conditions when the acute stage has passed but there is continued chronic fatigue and relapse, use 10 drops of tincture in hot water 4 times a day.
Flu treatment using dried boneset
- one ounce of dried boneset leaf
- one quart of boiling water
- a quart mason jar
- Put the dried boneset in the quart jar and pour enough boiling water over it to fill the jar.
- Let this infusion steep for four hours.
- Strain and drink.
- This flu remedy is very bitter tasting. We recommend heating it back up after straining it, and drinking it warm.
- Some herbalists recommend it should not be used with a high fever in excess of 102F.
- Also suggest to not using boneset for more than 6 months.
- As potentially toxic should not be used during breast feeding.
- Ingestion of large amounts of teas or extracts may result in severe diarrhea.
- Hot infusion in quantity may cause vomiting.
- Plant only contains trace amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids those who are suffering from liver disease should not use it.
- Boneset may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family.
- Boneset should never be ingested fresh, as the fresh plant is toxic due to a volatile oil called tremerol.
- Boneset may cause excessive fluid loss from the body, possibly also decreasing the body’s potassium supplies. Low potassium levels can result in muscle weakness and potentially dangerous changes in heart rhythm.
History and Foliage
The leaves have a crinkled green appearance. The perfoliate leaves are jointed at the base. It was the leaves' appearance that led people to believe that making poultices of the leaves would help to heal broken bones, according to the Connecticut Botanical Society. It is also believed that the plant received the name "boneset" due to the outbreak of the influenza virus in the 1800s known as "break bone fever." The leaves were used at the time of the outbreak as a diaphoretic--a medicine to produce perspiration to break a fever.
Indian sage is widely used in borders, wildflower gardens, around cottages and near decorative ponds. It grows with ease and spreads rapidly. The flowers are a favored cut flower for wildflower bouquets. They can also be dried with ease for lasting enjoyment.
- The leaves have a crinkled green appearance.
- It was the leaves' appearance that led people to believe that making poultices of the leaves would help to heal broken bones, according to the Connecticut Botanical Society.
Late boneset: A fragrant late-summer pollinator favorite
Late boneset is a native plant, common in pastures, forest openings and along roadsides throughout the east and westward as far as Kansas. If you’ve ever done any bush hogging, you’ve mown tons of it. Most people consider it just another weed.
But, like so many things we know only from a distance, there is much more to late boneset. Native Americans and early settlers used it for medicinal purposes, hence the name. Late boneset also has the intrinsic value of being native to the land. This flower is part of an ecosystem unique to North America for millennia.
Late boneset is a pollinator bar. The rotating number of species that find and use this plant is astounding. Photos I took a few days ago show buckeyes, hairstreaks, skippers, three types of wasps, an ailanthus webworm moth, beetles, honeybees and a chartreuse crab spider waiting in ambush.
This particular plant in the photographs is a component in one of my many native wildflower beds. It’s the stopgap, along with frostweed, as cone flowers and butterfly weed wane along with the summer sun, and golden rod is just thinking about a bloom.
The late boneset in my yard will have at least a dozen different species on it at any given time. The nectar must taste really good, and nectar-sweetened pollinators are probably like candy to the crab spider. As of today, my yard is now a Certified Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation since it contains the four components of habitat – food, water, cover and places to raise young – and is maintained in a natural, sustainable way. Certification can make a difference for wildlife and communities by helping spread the message of wildlife-friendly gardening.
To be completely honest, I’ve often wondered if the bees are really onto something and have considered chewing on a flower myself to see if it tastes as sweet and intoxicating as its perfume. Flowers of late boneset have one of the most pleasing and potent scents of any native wildflower in my region. I can smell it within 50 yards downwind, so given the heightened olfactory powers of insects, the flower is detectable to any pollinator flying through the neighborhood.
With the office door open, late boneset’s lacy fragrance wafts through the room as I work. It’s a signature scent of September and a welcome distraction. I’m then persuaded to get outside and enjoy these glorious days as the cloak of autumn draws ever tighter.
And if you see pollen in my beard later this afternoon, you’ll know that I tried a nibble and learned that the bees and butterflies and wasps were right.
Note:You should never, ever ingest any plant unless you are absolutely 100 percent sure it’s safe.
About the Author: Freelance writer/editor/photographer Johnny Carrol Sain is from the River Valley and southern Ozarks of Arkansas. Johnny’s work can be found in ABOUT the River Valley magazine, Hatch Fly Fishing magazine, Arkansas Life, and various other regional and national publications. He is proud to have certified his yard through the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program.