Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum L.)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum L.)

Compositae Composite family

Parts used and where grown: Boneset’s leaves and flowering tops are employed medicinally. It belongs to the same botanical family as echinacea and Asteraceae (daisy). Boneset grows primarily in North America.

In what conditions might boneset be supportive?

Â¥ common cold/sore throat

Â¥ influenza

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

Historical or traditional use: Native Americans pioneered the use of boneset as a treatment for a wide range of infectious, fever-related conditions. Europeans eventually adopted the use of the plant, and some claimed it was even occasionally effective in treating malaria.1

Uses: 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.

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.

Active constituents: Boneset contains sesquiterpene lactones, such as euperfolin, euperfolitin, and eufoliatin, as well as polysaccharides and flavonoids. In test-tube and other studies, extracts of boneset have been shown to stimulate immune cell function.2 This may explain its ability to help fight off minor viral infections, such as colds and the flu.

How much should I take? Traditionally, boneset is taken as a tea or tincture. To prepare a tea, boiling water is added to 1&endash;2 U.S. teaspoons (5-10 grams) of the herb and allowed to steep, covered, for ten to fifteen minutes. Three cups a day should be drunk (the tea is quite bitter). Tincture is often taken in a quantity of 2&endash;3 ml three times per day.

Are there any side effects or interactions? A small number of people experience nausea and/or vomiting when using boneset; the fresh plant is much more likely than the dried herb to cause this. Although potentially liver-damaging chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in some plants similar to boneset, the levels are minimal in boneset and no liver damage has been reported. Nevertheless, patients with liver disease should avoid boneset, and no one should take it consistently for long periods of time. Boneset is not recommended in pregnancy or lactation.


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


The Herb Book, by John Lust, pgs., 131, 485, 486, 499.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Plate 3, pg., 78, 140.
Herb Gardening, compiled by The Robison York State Herb Garden, pg., 164.
American Folk Medicine, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 285.
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, pgs., 57, 134-135, 158-159, 180.
Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, pgs., 60-61.
Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible, by Earl Mindell, pgs., 55-56.
The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 85.
Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., pgs., 117, 120, 220.
Complete Herbal & English Physician, by Nicholas Culpeper, pgs., 53, 223.
The Yoga of Herbs, by Dr. David Frawley & Dr. Vasant Lad, pgs., 59, 64, 195.
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, pg., 159.
How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts, by Frances Densmore, pg., 295.
An Instant Guide to Medicinal Plants, by Pamela Forey and Ruth Lindsay, pg., 39.
Old Ways Rediscovered, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 33.
The Rodale Herb Book, edited by William H. Hylton, pgs., 90, 98, 369-371, 478.


1. Castleman M. The Healing Herbs. New York: Bantam Books 1991, 124&endash;28. 2. Woerdenbag HJ, Bos R, Hendriks H. Eupatorium perfoliatum LÑthe boneset. Z Phytother 1992;13:134&endash;39

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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