Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a stately native species, common to western New York and the eastern US. I often meet it along moist trail edges, roads, and in my parents' backyard. Its botanical name, perfoliatum, can be explained by the central stalk's apparent "perforation" of the opposite leaves.
There is debate amongst herbalists as to whether boneset is true to its name— an aid in healing broken bones. According to clinical herbalist David Hoffman, the name derives from "its well-known property of relieving the deep-seated pains in the limbs which accompany [influenza].” Others cite boneset's traditional use in treating dengue fever, or "breakbone." However, herbalist Dawn Combs argues that boneset contains properties which help to “recalcify teeth, ease bone pain, and repair crushed and broken bones.” Hoffman and Combs agree that its effects on limbs target the periosteum, or tissue surrounding the bones. Combs notes that it “seems to increase blood flow” to this tissue.
What no one can debate is boneset’s efficacy as a flu and cold remedy. The flu pandemic of 1918 was the most widespread epidemic that non-native Americans have experienced. WWI troops brought the illness home from abroad, and it claimed more than 600,000 American lives. Though vaccines had been created for some bacterial diseases, the 1918 flu was poorly understood. Researchers couldn't see the small virus through microscopes, and it was incorrectly assumed to be a bacterial infection. Vaccines were attempted, but didn't work. Thus, many people turned to folk medicines like boneset. Boneset was deemed one of the most effective remedies for treating flu symptoms.
Compounds in boneset's aerial parts have been shown to have immune-stimulating activity. In addition to relieving flu-related aches and pains, it acts as a decongestant in the upper respiratory tract. Kings American Dispensatory recommends it for cough and hoarseness related to colds. Boneset is an effective diaphoretic, stimulating sweating and a drop in high fevers. Hence another common name, "feverwort."
Boneset is a digestion-supportive bitter, and can stimulate the bowels for constipation relief. In fact, Dr. Sharol Tilgner describes it as "nauseatingly bitter." One could make a tea of its above-ground parts for medicinal use. But-- why would you want to? I make an alcohol-based tincture for the sake of getting it down quickly. All you need is fresh or dried plant material and 100 proof vodka (or something stronger.) Click here for easy instructions and recommended dosage.
When you taste that bitter flavor, just think to yourself, "That means it's working!"
- Combs, Dawn. Heal Local. 2015.
- Diggs, George, et al. Shinner's and Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas. 1999.
- Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism. 2003.
- PBS.org. "Introduction: Influenza 1918."
- Tilgner, Dr. Sharol. Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth. 1999.