Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum ) is a common perennial that is native to the eastern United States and Canada, with a range from Nova Scotia to Florida. Other names for boneset are feverwort, sweat plant, and thoroughwort. The Native American name for boneset translates into ague-weed (ague is the name for malarial fever ). The common name, boneset, comes from breakbone fever, an influenza-like illness causing severe bone pain that was treated with Eupatorium perfoliatum.
Boneset prefers a damp environment and is found in marshes and meadows, often at the edge of a wooded area. Although boneset can reach a height of 5 ft (1.5 m), it is usually only 2–4 ft (0.6–1.2 m) tall. It has an erect, round, hairy stem that branches at the top. The leaves are large (4–8 in, or 10–20 cm, long), directly across from one another, and are joined at the stem. Lower leaves are large, and they become progressively smaller higher up the plant. They are spear shaped with toothed edges and pointy tips, have prominent veins, a rough topside, and a downy, dotted, sticky underside.
Boneset blooms between July and September. Large, numerous, white or purple flower clusters, which appear at the ends of the branches, are comprised of 10–20 florets (small flowers). Boneset has a faint aroma and a very bitter taste.
Constituents and bioactivities
Boneset contains a wide variety of compounds with biological activity that contribute to its medicinal value. Constituents of boneset include:
- sesquiterpene lactones (euccannabinolide, eufoliatin, eufoliatorin, eupafolin, euperfolide, euperfolitin, and helenalin)
- polysaccharides (4-0-methylglucuroxylans)
- flavonoids (astragalin, eupatorin, hyperoside, kaempferol, quercitin, rutin, etc.)
- diterpenes (dendroidinic acid and hebenolide)
- volatile oil
- tannic acid
Sesquiterpene lactones have antimicrobial, antitumor, and cytotoxic activities. The flavonoid eupatorin has cytotoxic activity. Sesquiterpene lactones and polysaccharides stimulate the immune system. Boneset extracts also activate defense mechanisms against viral infections .
Boneset has stimulant, febrifuge (reduces body temperature), laxative (promotes bowel movements), diaphoretic (promotes sweating), bitter, tonic (restores tissue tone), anti-spasmodic (relieves muscle spasms),
carminative (relieves intestinal gas ), and astringent (causes skin contraction) activities.
Boneset was used by Native Americans (who later taught the colonists) to treat influenza , colds, and other infectious diseases as well as fever, arthritis, and rheumatism. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, European settlers considered boneset to be a cure-all. As a result, boneset was used to treat many different diseases and conditions. It was, perhaps, among the most widely used herbal medicines in the United States. Dried boneset was kept on hand by families, as well as doctors, for immediate use, especially during the flu season.
Boneset is used to treat colds, influenza, fevers, coughs, upper respiratory tract congestion, migraine, headache , skin conditions, worms, malaria, constipation , arthritis, muscular rheumatism, jaundice , and general debility. Boneset is also used to treat secondary infections that arise during colds or flu. Secondary infections, such as bronchitis, pneumonia , or tonsillitis , are infections that occur while the patient has another illness. Currently, herbalists recommend boneset primarily for relieving the aches and pains associated with fever, clearing congestion, and relieving pain caused by arthritis and rheumatism.
Boneset is considered to be among the best remedies for the flu. Its wide spectrum of activities brings relief to the many symptoms associated with the flu. It helps reduce fever by promoting sweating, reduces aches and pains, and relieves congestion by loosening phlegm and promoting coughing. Boneset also stimulates the immune system, which promotes the destruction of the influenza virus.
All above-ground portions of the plant have medicinal value. Boneset is harvested after flowering has begun. The biological activities can be extracted either in water or alcohol, or the plant can be used as the fresh or dried herb. Boneset is used in the dried form and is available commercially as dried flowers and leaves, as a tincture (an alcohol solution), and in tablets and capsules.
Boneset is usually taken as an infusion (tea). To make the infusion, 2-3 teaspoons of dried herb are steeped in one cup of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. To improve boneset's bitter taste, lemon and honey may be added to the infusion, or the infusion may be mixed with a flavorful herbal tea or fruit juice.
Boneset may be taken as soon as flu symptoms appear. To treat influenza, fever, or colds, one cup of hot boneset infusion should be drunk every two hours—up to six cups daily—for two days. Then the dose can be reduced to four cups daily. High doses shouldn't be taken over a long period of time. The tea should be stopped if it has been used for a week and has not helped improve symptoms. To act as a diaphoretic, the patient should remain in bed covered with multiple blankets. Sweating begins after the patient has drunk four to five doses of the hot infusion. Up to four cups may be drunk within six hours; however, the patient should not drink more than six cups within 24 hours. Alternatively, 2-4 ml of the tincture may be taken three times a day.
When taken in larger doses, boneset infusion can act as an emetic (causes vomiting ) and purgative (causes evacuation of the bowels). Boneset infusion is drunk cold, in moderate doses (one-fourth cup), to act as a tonic to treat indigestion and general debility.
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.
Fresh boneset contains tremerol, a toxic chemical which can cause rapid breathing and vomiting. Higher doses can cause coma and death. Dried boneset does not contain tremerol. Boneset may cause liver toxicity, so alcoholics and people with liver disease should consult an herbalist before using this herb. Boneset should not be taken for longer than two weeks at a time.
Boneset does not generally cause any serious side effects. However, taking large doses of boneset may cause nausea or diarrhea . Boneset may cause liver toxicity in chronic high doses.
As of early 2000, there was no evidence of interactions between boneset and other herbals or conventional medicines.
Sharma, Om P., Rajinder K. Dawra, Nitin P. Kurade, and Pritam D. Sharma. "A Review of the Toxicosis and Biological Properties of the Genus Eupatorium." Natural Toxins 6 (1998): 1-14.
"Boneset." A Modern Herbal. <http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/bonese65.html.>
"Boneset." Planet Botanic. <http://www.planetbotanic.com/boneset.htm>.
Hoffman, David L. "Boneset." HealthWorld Online. <http://www.healthy.net/library/books/hoffman/materiamedica/boneset.htm.>