Common Names

Boneset , Agueweed, Indian Sage, Feverwort
Botanical Name
Eupatorium perfoliatum
ASTERACEAE or COMPOSITAE ~ Sunflower family

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What is it?

The dried leaves of Boneset, a large, long-lived herb which likes to grow in damp, marshy places. This fact was not lost on herbalists of old who saw connections between where a plant grew and how it could best work in the body.




How has it been used?

Boneset was a favourite remedy of the Native North American tribes. The Menominees used it to reduce fever, the Iroquois and Mohegans for fever and colds, the Alabamas for upset stomachs and Creeks for body pain. Native Americans also used Boneset for arthritis, indigestion, constipation and loss of appetite.

Among European settlers Boneset soon became a popular remedy, in 1887 Dr Millspaugh wrote ''there is probably no plant in American domestic practice that has more extensive or frequent use that Boneset; the attic or woodshed of almost every farm house has bunches hanging from the rafters, ready for immediate use should some family member of neighbour be taken with a cold'.

David Hoffman says 'Boneset is perhaps the best remedy for influenza' and Simon Mills says 'Boneset provides an excellent diffusion of heat out of the body, particularly useful for respiratory sources of fever, such as influenza and for catarrhal conditions generally'.

Boneset’s name comes from its popular use in the 19th century for a dreadful kind of flu that was known as 'break-bone fever' which was characterised by a pain that felt as if all the bones of the body were going to break! Today this is known as Dengue fever, a mosquito borne virus that is fortunately now quite rare.


Science on Boneset

~ European studies show that Boneset helps treat viral and bacterial infections by stimulating white blood cells to destroy disease-causing micro-organisms more effectively. (Habtemariam, S. and Macpherson, A. M. Cytotoxicity and antibacterial activity of ethanol extract from leaves of a herbal drug, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum). Phytother Res  2000;14(7):575-577)

~ Another study showed that Boneset has anti-inflammatory properties lending support to its traditional uses. In the Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1st September 2011, Pages 371–381 after testing Boneset via LPS-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells by NO/iNOS quantification, gene array, real-time PCR and ELISA the authors concluded its anti-inflammatory effects can be seen as a verification of the traditional use against inflammatory diseases.

~ In a study, boneset increased the activity of phagocytosis, more so than a pure Echinacea angustifolia mono-extract. (Wagner, H. and Jurcic, K. [Immunologic studies of plant combination preparations. In-vitro and in-vivo studies on the stimulation of phagocytosis]. Arzneimittelforschung  1991;41(10):1072-1076)

~ Boneset contains sesquiterpene lactones, including eupafolin, euperfolitin, eufoliatin, eufoliatorin, euperfolide, eucannabinolide, and helenalin; immunostimulatory polysaccharides, primarily 4-0-methylglucuroxylans; flavonoids, such as quercitin, kaempferol, hyperoside, astragalin, rutin, eupatorin; diterpenes, including dendroidinic acid and hebenolide; sterols; and volatile oil. (Herz, W., Kalyanaraman, P. S., and Ramakrishnan, G. Sesquiterpene lactones of Eupatorium perfoliatum. J Org Chem 6-24-1977;42(13):2264-227) These sequiterpene lactones that stimulate the digestive tract and in larger doses would be expected to help expel parasites. Researcers experimenting with a sequiterpene lactones from Boneset called EVP concluded that it possessed anti-tumour properties.

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of a handful of further studies and articles on Boneset are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Boneset

Boneset should not be taken as a fresh herb as it contains a toxic chemical called tremerol that is eliminated by drying. Boneset in its dried form is a very safe herb if used wisely and can be taken by young or old. The caveat to this is that if you use too much Boneset then you will feel mild nausea all the way up to vomiting and diarrhoea. The intense bitterness of Boneset warns that this is a herb to treat with respect and not to overdo. Taking too much will quickly trigger some reaction in the stomach, if you are drinking Boneset tea and you feel nausea then stop, it will still act as a potent medicine in low doses and this is your body's way of telling you that you have had enough.


Personal experiences

When I have used Boneset as a tea for severe colds and flus I have found it to be remarkably effective and I most certainly can attest that this herb does help with awful ache in the bones of a bad flu or fever.

For guidelines on how to use Boneset, along with several other immune herbs, when there is an acute infection and you want to sweat it out, read here

I also frequently use Boneset as a tonic in immune boosting formulae, albeit in carefully moderate doses, and believe it can convey a singular kind of fast-acting intensity to an immune tonic that has no comparison. The invaluable Echinacea, by comparison, may convey much more widespread benefits to a struggling immunity but combining Boneset with it can get things moving in a positive direction far more quickly than if you didn't think to include it. .

Boneset also has a notable cleansing action and can be very useful for conditions where there is too much damp congestion in the body. People with problems such as night sweats, bloating, indigestion, fluid retention or chronic sinus congestion can do particularly well on Boneset.

Boneset has an intense and penetrating bitterness; only small doses are needed to achieve its therapeutic effects and in tincture form I probably only look to use around 1 or 2 mls of in a day combined with other herbs as a tonic. In tea form, not much more than a half a tsp or even less will be more than enough for most people to get a strong action from the herb.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine then you might want to acquire some Boneset and take a very small dose of its tea or tincture with a quiet and attentive mind so you can experience its action for yourself. I think you will find that it reliably produces a rather distinctive 'action' that will give you an appreciation of the herb beyond the limit that an academic understanding can bring you to.

Of course, what you feel will be something that only you can know for yourself but the kinds of words that typically get used to describe this herb are penetrating, stimulating, cleansing, activating...

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

Boneset combines exceptionally well with Elder flower and Limeflowers for colds and flus and it works perfectly with the great tonic herbs Echinacea and Licorice root for boosting the immune system.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Boneset is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat condition A with plant/substance B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second. and in this light Boneset can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' more about that here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Boneset is a very valuable medicinal agent as a tonic and it is useful in remittent typhoid fevers, dyspepsia, and general debility.

In epidemic influenza Its popular name, "boneset," is derived from its well-known property of relieving the deep-seated pains in the limbs which accompany this disorder, and colds and rheumatism.

It is a remedy for the cough of the aged, that cough in which there is an abundance of secretion, but lack of power to expectorate. The cough of measles, common colds, of asthma, and hoarseness are also relieved by it.

Unless given in excess it acts as a good tonic to the gastric functions, increasing the appetite and power of digestion.

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd