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  • Eupatorium perfoliatum L.
  • Compositae
  • Composite family

Common Names

herbsIndian sage
herbsSweating plant
herbsVegetable antimony
herbsWood boneset

Parts Usually Used

Aerial parts, usually dried leaves and flowering tops

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Boneset is an indigenous perennial plant 3-4 feet high; the rough, hairy stem grows to a height of 1-5 feet from a horizontal, crooked rootstock. The leaves are 4-8 inches long, rough, serrate, and taper to a long point. Leaves perfoliate (stem appears to be inserted through the middle of leaf pairs), wrinkled. Terminal corymbs of numerous, fuzzy, white or pale purple flower heads are borne in dense, flat-topped clusters terminating the stems, blossoms appear in August and September. The fruit is a tufted achene. The plant has only a weak odor but a very bitter taste.

Note: there is another plant called feverwort (Triosteum perfoliatum L.) also called the coffee plant, of the honeysuckle family.

Where Found

Found in swampy areas, moist meadows, low-lying damp ground, wet woods, and along stream banks in eastern North America. From Nova Scotia and Quebec to Florida, and west to Minnesota and Louisiana.

Medicinal Properties

Laxative, antispasmodic, expectorant, vasoconstrictor, cholagogue, cathartic, emetic, febrifuge, tonic, aperient, diaphoretic, diuretic, nervine, carminative, stimulant

Biochemical Information

Euparin, which is yellow and crystalline (C 12, H 11, O 3), eupurpurin is an oleoresin that is precipitated from an alcoholic tincture of this herb.

Legends, Myths and Stories

Boneset was one of early America's foremost medical plants, a popular panacea of extraordinary powers. Native Americans introduced the settlers to this New World herb. Its name reflects its use during a particularly harsh strain of flu called "break bone fever". Come cold and flu season, boneset can be invaluable in relieving coughs and upper respiratory congestion. Today, it is chiefly regarded as a weed with an interesting past.

First used by the Native Americans, who passed along their high esteem for the plant to the settlers.

The botanical name, Eupatorium, was selected to connote Mithridates Eupator, a king of Ponus about 115 BC, who supposedly discovered an antidote to poison among the species of this particular genus. When taken captive by his enemies, he preferred death to captivity, but had to have a slave stab him, for he had so thoroughly fortified himself against poisoning. The genus includes some 400 species, quite a number of which are reputed to have medicinal virtues. Boneset and Joe-pye weed are among the latter species. Boneset was never used as an antidote to poison.

Boneset was a popular bitter of early Americans. The infusion is taken cold; the hot tea induces sweating.


A common home remedy of 19th century America, extensively used by Native Americans and early settlers. Widely used, reportedly with success, during flu epidemics in 19th and early 20th century.

The effect of boneset depends on the form it is taken in. Taken cold, the infusion has tonic and mildly laxative effects. Taken warm, it is diaphoretic and emetic and can be used to break up a common cold, for intermittent fever, cough, and for the flu. The hot infusion is both emetic and cathartic. Used for malaria, rheumatism, spasms, cystitis, urinary stones, relieves night-time urination, fluid retention, jaundice, wounds, urinary stones, pneumonia, pleurisy, dyspepsia, relieves constipation (taken in a cold drink, it is a mild laxative), has calming effect, ague, gout. Leaves poulticed onto tumors. German research suggests nonspecific immune system-stimulating properties, perhaps vindicating historical use in flu epidemics.

Promotes sweating, relaxes peripheral blood vessels, muscle cramps, sore throat, cough, headache, stuffy nose.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: use 1 level tsp. herb with 1 cup boiling water; steep for 30 minutes and strain. As a tonic, take cold, 1 tsp. 3-6 times a day.

Tincture: take 10-40 drops in liquid at a time.

A salve for external application may be made by combining equal parts of the powdered herb and vaseline.

Tse-lan, or boneset, is the main ingredient in a Chinese formula for colds, flu, etc.
Tse-lan (boneset) 1/2 oz.
Wu-pa-ho (peppermint leaves) 1/2 oz.
Chieh-ku-mu (dried elder blossoms) 1 oz.
Simmer the elder blossoms in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes, strain. Place boneset and peppermint leaves in a separate container, and add 1 pint of boiling water (do not continue to boil). Cover, allow to stand for 1/2 hour, and then strain. Add this brew to the elder tea, and then reheat the mixture and drink 1/2 pint, hot, every 15 minutes until relief is obtained.

There are different species of elder. This one is Sambucus canadensis.


Emetic and laxative in large doses. May contain controversial and potentially liver-harming pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

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