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Background & General Info

Boneset, also known as the thoroughwort, feverwort, Indian sage, or sweating weed, is acknowledged as a medicinal herb by the indigenous populations of North America. [1][2] Scientifically termed Eupatorium perfoliatum, this hairy perennial herb is typically distributed along the swamps, meadows, and embankments of the eastern United States, with habitats extending from Nova Scotia to Florida, inland to the Dakotas and Texas. [2]


A 2–4-foot-tall perennial, boneset is mostly unbranched except for some flowering side stems located close to the apex. Long white hairs cover the plant’s side stems and central stem, which is surrounded by perfoliate light or yellowish green leaves. Furthermore, the leaves are lanceolate in shape and have long narrow tips and serrate margins, with their pubescent lower surface having an evident network of veins. During the blooming period from late summer to early fall, white flowerheads, each consisting of around 15 disk florets, cluster at the end of the upper stems and emit a pleasing floral scent. Achenes, which replace the florets, are covered with small tufts of hair and are readily dispersed by the wind, while the fibrous roots produce several rhizomes. [1]

History & Traditional Use

For several centuries, the native Indians of North America have vastly exploited boneset as a medicinal plant. Europeans on the other hand regard the extracts from boneset as an immunostimulating remedy for fever and colds. [2] Normally consumed as a tea with a very bitter taste overnight, boneset is believed by natives to relieve sore throat, fever, chills, irregular menstrual cycle, epilepsy, gonorrhea, and kidney disorders, to trigger vomiting, to cure snakebites, to expel worms, and to treat colds and flu. [2]

General Herbal Uses

Boneset is a traditional treatment of fever, malaria, and other diseases with inflammation as hallmark and is currently regularly used as an agent that activates the immune system. [2] A systematic research in ethnopharmacological literature would associate antiplasmodial, antioxidative, and immunomodulating activities with boneset as well. [2] In addition, boneset serves as an antibacterial and antiparasitic sweat promoter, febrifuge, decongestant, mild laxative, mucous membrane tonic, smooth muscle relaxant, mild emetic, peripheral circulatory stimulant, and gastric bitter. [2] According to recent preclinical studies, the anti-inflammatory property of boneset ethanol extracts can be attributed, on a molecular level, to eupafolin and sesquiterpene lactones. [2]

Constituents/Active Components

In terms of phytochemical composition, boneset contains flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, triterpenes and steroids, and small quantities of volatile oil. Maas, Petereit, and Hensel (2009) isolated and identified six caffeic acid derivatives from the ethyl acetate-soluble fraction of boneset methanol/water extract. In addition to the common quinic acid derivatives, namely, 5-caffeoylquinic acid (chlorogenic acid), 3-caffeoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid), and 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid, three depsides of caffeic acid with glucaric acid have been isolated: 2,5-dicaffeoylglucaric acid, 3,4-dicaffeoylglucaric acid, and 2,4- or 3,5-dicaffeoylglucaric acid. [4]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


Habtemariam (2008) performed activity-directed fractionation and isolation procedures on extracts derived from dried powdered boneset leaves to identify their constituents with antioxidant activity. The ethyl acetate fraction of boneset, in comparison to light petroleum, chloroform, and n-butanol fractions, displayed the strongest antioxidant activity, highest reducing power, and greatest phenolic content. Sephadex LH-20 chromatography and then repetitive preparative TLC identified protocatechuic acid as the major antioxidant component of boneset. There are other antioxidants also recognized but in small amounts, including hyperoside, quercetin, and rutin. [5] An earlier study published in the journal Phytochemistry identified immunologically active homogeneous polysaccharides from alkaline aqueous extract of both Eupatorium cannabinum and Eupatorium perfoliatum. Three immunological test systems, namely, carbon clearance, granulocyte, and chemiluminescence tests, determined these polysaccharides to augment the process of phagocytosis. [7]


An ethanol extract derived from the leaves of boneset was demonstrated by Habtemariam and Macpherson (2000) to display potent cytotoxicity, with EC50 values ranging from 12 to 14 µg/mL. Such cytotoxicity was noted to be comparable to that of chlorambucil, a chemotherapy drug used to treat various cancers such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma. Albeit weak, this extract also displayed antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus megaterium. [1]


A number of animal studies and in vitro experiments on boneset plant extracts demonstrate anti-inflammatory effects, which can be beneficial to relieve clinical symptoms of conditions such as common cold, rheumatism, arthritis, etc. [2] Maas, Deters, and Hensel (2011) observed anti-inflammatory effects for boneset extracts. Specifically, the methanol and ethanol extracts of boneset exhibited anti-inflammatory activity against lipopolysaccharide-stimulated macrophages, as evidenced by inhibitory action on the release of nitric oxide. Eupafolin and dimeric guaianolide, constituents of aerial parts of boneset, have also been shown to present noticeable nitric oxide-inhibiting activity. Furthermore, at gene and protein levels, cytokines such as colony stimulating factor-3 ( CSF-3), interleukin-1α, and interleukin-1β and chemokines such as CCL2, CCL22, and CXCL10 were significantly downregulated, as well as tumor necrosis factor (albeit moderately only). [2]


Lira-Salazar et al. (2006) highlighted the potential alternative or complementary role of boneset against malaria, particularly its antiparasitic effect against Plasmodium berghei in infected mice. A significant inhibitory activity on the parasite’s multiplication was demonstrated for boneset, with a level of 60% at 30 CH potency. However, this homeopathic medication’s mechanism of action remains unexplained in this study. [6]

Anti-dengue Fever

Among the several herbs cited in homoeopathic literature as treatment of dengue fever, boneset stands as one of the most repeatedly prescribed alternative medicines for this mosquito-borne disease. In fact, the Central Council for Research in Homoeopathy in New Delhi, India, using its online data recording software, collected data from different cases during the 2014 epidemic and found frequent mention of Eupatorium perfoliatum or boneset as dengue treatment. Furthermore, based on the clinical presentation of dengue fever recorded by the Central Council’s teams from many New Delhi hospitals, boneset was suggested as a key drug, and most studies on dengue have used the plant as the only or one of the drugs. These observations and facts led the Central Council to recently declare Eupatorium perfoliatum 30 as a “preventive drug for ongoing outbreak”. [10]

A 2008 study in Brazil administered a single dose of Eupatorium perfoliatum 30C as a homeopathic remedy to 40% of residents belonging to neighborhood most highly affected by dengue fever and found an exceedingly significant reduction in dengue incidence by 81.5% in comparison to neighborhoods not receiving homoeopathic boneset prophylaxis. [11] Dengue patients receiving homeopathic boneset intervention in a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial during a dengue epidemic manifested improvement in most symptoms, including headache, fever, and myalgia. [12]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The Botanical Safety Handbook categorizes boneset as a class 4 herb, that is, an herb for which insufficient data is available for classification, although its long history of documented use as a medicinal plant reflects its safety. Few side effects have also been reported, except for emetic and purgative effects due to inappropriately large doses of intake and contact allergic dermatitis in cases of individuals with known hypersensitivity reaction to plants belonging to the Asteraceae family, which generally contain sesquiterpene lactones. Boneset, as a precaution, should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. [2]


[1] M. Maas, F. Petereit and A. Hensel, "Caffeic acid derivatives from Eupatorium perfoliatum L.," Molecules, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 36–45, 2009.

[2] A. Pengelly and K. Bennett, "Appalachian Plant Monographs: Eupatorium perfoliatum L., Boneset," Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies, September 2011.

[3] G. Robinson, G. Agurkis and A. Scerbo, "Medical Attributes of Eupatorium perfoliatum - Boneset," Wilkes University, July 2007.

[4] "Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)," EOL: Encyclopedia of Life.

[5] A. Hensel, M. Maas, J. Sendker, et al., "Eupatorium perfoliatum L.: phytochemistry, traditional use and current applications," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 138, no. 3, p. 641–651, 2011.

[6] M. Maas, A. Deters and A. Hensel, "Anti-inflammatory activity of Eupatorium perfoliatum L. extracts, eupafolin, and dimeric guaianolide via iNOS inhibitory activity and modulation of inflammation-related cytokines and chemokines," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 137, no. 1, p. 371–381, 2011.

[7] S. Habtemariam, "Activity-guided isolation and identification of free radical-scavenging components from ethanolic extract of boneset (leaves of Eupatorium perfoliatum)," Natural Product Communications, vol. 3, no. 8, p. 1317–1320, 2008.

[8] A. Vollmar, W. Schäfer and H. Wagner, "Immunologically active polysaccharides of Eupatorium cannabinum and Eupatorium perfoliatum," Phytochemistry, vol. 25, no. 2, p. 377–381, 1986.

[9] S. Habtemariam and A. Macpherson, "Cytotoxicity and antibacterial activity of ethanol extract from leaves of a herbal drug, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 14, no. 7, p. 575–577, 2000.;2-1/abstract

[10] G. Lira-Salazar, E. Marines-Montiel, J. Torres-Monzón, F. Hernández-Hernández and J. Salas-Benito, "Effects of homeopathic medications Eupatorium perfoliatum and Arsenicum album on parasitemia of Plasmodium berghei-infected mice," Homeopathy, vol. 95, no. 4, p. 223–228, 2006.

[11] R. K. Manchanda, "Dengue epidemic: What can we offer?," Indian Journal of Research in Homoeopathy, vol. 9, no. 3, p. 137–140, 2015.

[12] R. Marino, "Homeopathy and collective health: the case of dengue epidemics," International Journal of High Dilution Research, vol. 7, p. 179–185, 2008.

[13] A. Novaes, "Homeopathic Intervention In Users Treatment Network Public Advised With Dengue In Victory, Brazil," in Proceedings of 70th Congress of Liga Medicorum Homoeopathica Internationalis, Victory, 2015.

[14] N. P. Kurade, V. Jaitak, V. K. Kaul and O. P. Sharma, "Chemical composition and antibacterial activity of essential oils of Lantana camara, Ageratum houstonianum and Eupatorium adenophorum," Pharmaceutical Biology, vol. 48, no. 5, p. 539–544, 2010.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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