Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) (PD)

Background & General Info

Boneset, also known as the thoroughwort, feverwort, Indian sage, or sweating weed, is a plant belonging to the genus Eupatorium, with a wide range of species amounting to some sixty in total, under the Asteraceae family. Because of the sheer breadth of its total species count, boneset, as it is known to herbal practices specifically denotes one species of the plant in general, that being Eupratorium perfoliatum.

Boneset is acknowledged as a medicinal herb by the indigenous populations of North America. [1][2] This hairy perennial herb is native to the Eastern parts of the United States as well as throughout Canada and 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]

Related species are also found in areas as far as China and Japan. Boneset is a relatively small shrub-like plant which grows to about one metre in height, and is possessed of delicate dark-green leaves that strongly clasp the stems. It is most distinctive for its inflorescence, which occurs as a dense white head of flowers that sprout above the foliage, sometimes in clusters. [3] Because of its unique appearance, it is now commonly employed as an ornamental plant for gardens and large-scale landscaping.

While it is indeed possible that other species of boneset other than E. perfoliatum have been employed by one culture or other for medicinal purposes (among other species being E. fortunei, throughout the majority of Europe, it is the aforementioned which takes precedence for medicinal applications. The sheer breadth of the whole genus has prompted scientists and botanists to move a number of interrelated but wholly distinct species into other subgenres or genera of their own. [4]

While it is called 'boneset' it was never truly employed by the ancients as a means to mend broken bones. The name boneset seems to have two distinct etymological origins - the first being that its distinctive foliage was believed, in the philosophy of esoteric healing (i. e. Doctrine of Signatures, and later on homeopathic healing) to 'knit' together broken bones, just as it wound tightly together unto itself. This belief resulted in the superstition that if leaves were wrapped around bandaged fractures, the injury would 'set' or fuse faster. [5] The second (and perhaps more plausible) explanation for its name is due to the fact that it was employed as one of the earliest cures for malaria and dengue fever - both diseases which caused severe pain and tremors seemingly originating from within one's skeletal system itself. The term 'boneset', it is believe, came from the fact that it helped to 'set' (that is, to ease) the pain that was caused by such diseases. Nowadays, boneset is rarely used as a medicinal plant due to the fact that it possesses compounds which are hepatotoxic, although some herbal practices such as homeopathy and allopathy continue to employ the plant for medicinal purposes, albeit in highly diluted forms. Boneset is of esteemed interest for individuals who specialise in the field of herbal medicine, as it is among one of the earliest known cures for the dread disease dengue fever and malaria.

Boneset - Botany

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]

Boneset - Traditional Herbal Uses

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]

In the old days, boneset was employed as a cure for a number of diseases, although it is more well-known for being an early cure for the dreaded diseases dengue and malarial fever. Unlike most 'old-fashioned' herbal medicines, only the aerial parts of the plant were predominantly employed, chiefly the leaves (but more often the flowers) and sometimes the roots, which were decocted and either employed topically or otherwise drunk. Employed traditionally, boneset was always dried prior to usage, and the whole of which later infused or otherwise decocted. Nowadays, if at all used medicinally, boneset is often harvested and employed fresh, although some specialty herbalist stores and occult shops may sell dried boneset leaves and / or flowers, albeit its employment may be strictly for spellcrafting or some other symbolic purpose than any literal attempts and brewing medicine.

Boneset was employed as a remedy for a number of bronchial diseases, among them influenza, bronchitis, nasal infections, pneumonia, asthma, croup, emphysema, and even swine flu. [6] When employed for the treatment of such diseases, the constituent parts a mild decoction of the plant parts are required, which is then drunk once or twice a day, usually in thimblefuls, but no more than a half-a-cup to a wineglassful per day. 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] This remedy is also a very potent diaphoretic which is given to decrease fevers (as a febrifuge) and encourage sweating, thereby hastening detoxification and helping to cool the overall temperature of the body. Milder decoctions or even milder infusions of the plant matter can also be employed as a remedy for colds and constipation. [7] It should be noted that even very mild infusions or decoctions of the plant may cause vomiting. While this is generally undesirable, it used to be used as a remedy for possible food poisoning (the esoteric Latin name of the plant in fact was based on a king renowned for his seeming immunity to poisons - Mithridates Eupator), although any attempts at purging poison from the body through vomiting is ill-advised, especially if done without the supervision of an expert herbalist or medical practitioner. Its ability to cause vomiting may have even prompted early herbalists to employ the plant as a type of purgative, using it to effectively rid the body of intestinal parasites, although the efficiency of such methods are at best unreliable and possibly very dangerous. [8] It was once believed that, depending upon the state in which the decoction was served, it would elicit different medicinal effects; generally, tisanes which were served hot acted as diaphoretics and as potent febrifuges, while cold tisanes acted as general tonics which nourished (it was believed) the spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and the digestive system as a whole. [9]

The use of boneset as a medicine persisted until the latter part of the 18th century, where it was strongly relied upon to treat and cure influenza, dengue fever, and malaria - diseases which, prior to the development of modern cures, caused highly debilitating symptoms and often death when left untreated. [10] In spite of the hepatotoxic nature of the herb, and its bevy of unwanted side-effects (nausea, dizziness, vomiting, overall feeling of sickness and malaise, possible worsening of symptoms being treated), being then the only cure for such deadly diseases made it a tolerated, and even a lauded herbal remedy. Moderately strong decoctions of the plant were even employed topically as a potent antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiseptic, antifungal agent and general disinfectant. [11]

Outside of its employment in Europe and in the pre-Industrial Era Americas, boneset has long been used by the Native Americans as a remedy for fever, flu, colds, and other respiratory ailments. A decoction of the leaves was often used as a disinfectant for the treatment of wounds, while chewed or crushed leaves were made into a poultice and applied to the forehead or affected area is employed to help lower fevers and to lessen swelling glandular or muscular swelling. Some Native American tribes may have even employed the herb as an emmenagogue and a rudimentary abortifacient - a practice which was later taken up by the Colonials, alongside much of all other herbal practices introduced to them by the First Peoples. [12] In Traditional Chinese Medicine (specifically employing the variety available in the area, generally E. fortunei), it is believe to be a tonifying herb that helps to increase heat to the spleen and other extremities, helping to treat general weakness, wasting diseases, tremors, and other yin imbalances.

Modern applications for boneset are rare, chiefly due to its highly toxic nature and the fact that it can easily be overdosed if employed by an inexpert herbalist. Some modern herbalists do suggest that boneset, if taken in minor dosages, could actually help treat certain types of cancers due to its assumed cytotoxic properties, although the need to consume significant amounts of the herb for prolonged periods of time poses great dangers to one's health and is ill-advised. [12]

Boneset - 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. [14]

Boneset - Medicinal / Scientific Research

Boneset as Antioxidant:

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. [15] 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. [17]

Boneset as Anticancer:

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]

Boneset as Anti-inflammatory:

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]

Boneset as Antimalarial:

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. [16]

Boneset as 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”. [20]

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. [21] 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. [22]

Boneset - 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]

Boneset - Esoteric Uses

Having a long reputation as a medicinal plant, the esoteric uses of boneset are nigh inextricable from its medicinal properties. Aside from being employed as a powerful medicine, it was highly valued and feared by Native Americans as a Power herb, a true Medicine in the shamanic sense. It was employed not only as a medicine however, but as a talismanic herb, which, it is said, were carried by hunters to help attract deer or elk. Some tribes, such as that of the Iroquois Nation employed the plant for divinatory purposes, and as a hexing herb. [23] In the practice of voodoo and hoodoo, the leaves or roots of the plant (often referred to as 'white snakewood') is often encased in juju bags and worn as a protective and curative amulet against disease. When burnt as a incense, the leaves are said to help hasten healing, and to negate any hexes, curses, and ills that may be present upon one's person. Modern herb spellcraft ascribes boneset leaves and flowers the power to 'cure any and all unnatural diseases'. [24] In modern shamanism, the leaves are used as a cleansing and banishing smudge, or, if decocted, as a cleansing bath to rid oneself of negative energy or malign forces that seek to disturb the balance of one's life.

Boneset - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: pei lan / jiegu mu / lin ze lan
Japanese: fujibakama
French: bois perfolie / eupatoire / eupatoire perfoliee / herbe a fievre / herbe a souder
Spanish: eupratorio
English: boneset / agueweed / crossword / feverwort / Indian sage / sweating plant / teasel / thoroughwort / vegetable antimony / snakeroot
Latin (esoteric): eupratorium
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Eupratorium perfoliatum


[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.












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

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

[17] 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.

[18] 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.

[19] 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

[20] 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.

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

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

[23] 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.

[24] 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 Ablir And Alexander Leonhardt for

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