What is Boneset?
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum L.), also known as agueweed, thoroughwort, feverwort, Indian sage, and sweating weed, is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, which includes daisies and asters. It is native to eastern Canada and the United States, extending north to Nova Scotia and south to Florida, and can be found eastward in Manitoba and Texas. Boneset grows about 2 to 5 feet tall, and can be identified by the long, white “hairs” on its stem, and its tapering, perfoliate leaves (meaning they encircle and attach around the stem). In late summer or early fall, small, fragrant, white florets appear in bunches. Boneset is a perennial plant, and thrives in swamps, marshes, and other damp areas.
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Boneset Benefits and Uses
Immune Booster, Antibacterial, and Anti Inflammatory
\Boneset is used by herbalists and homeopathic practitioners, primarily as an alternative to mainstream cold and flu remedies. Although extensive scientific research has not been done on the herb, there is evidence that it possesses immune-boosting, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and cytotoxic properties, which help fight off infections. For example, a set of 1000 patients during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic were treated with herbal remedies including boneset, and showed very positive effects, ranging from symptom relief to prevention of complications and death – ultimately, only 5 patients in the trial succumbed. Additionally, a 1981 study, which followed 53 people suffering from the common cold who were given either aspirin or boneset, revealed that both remedies were equally efficient at treating the patients. A recent study on malaria-infected mice, which were given boneset showed that the herb caused a “significant inhibitory effect” on parasite multiplication. Lastly, boneset was effectively used in combination with other herbs to treat arthritic dogs, according to a 1978 US patent file. Although the mechanism of boneset on treating the above diseases is mostly unknown, the plant has been shown to contain compounds such as polysaccharides, sesquiterpene lactones, and flavonoids, as well as various vitamins and minerals. Some studies suggest that these compounds treat diseases by stimulating white blood cells to attack viruses and bacteria more effectively, and by reducing inflammation. Although the research done to date is inconclusive, experts believe boneset could be a promising natural treatment for the above conditions.
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Fevers and Colds
Before European colonization, boneset had a lengthy history of use by the indigenous peoples of North America. It was used by some groups as a hunting charm, but it was primarily considered a remedy for fevers and colds, especially as a means to promote sweating to help a fever pass.
Muscle Pain and Rheumatic Conditions
Boneset was used to alleviate the painful muscle and joint aches from fevers and rheumatic conditions, which may explain the common name “boneset.” (Another explanation says that the herb was used to help broken bones heal.)
Digestion and Laxative
Boneset was also used as a digestive aid, and in larger doses, as a laxative and emetic to expel parasites. Its popularity as a remedy for a wide variety of ills remained strong throughout the nineteenth century, and it was an official entry in the US Pharmacopeia from 1820 to 1900.
European settlers arrived in North America, they learned from the native population of how to use boneset, which was particularly effective at treating dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that causes severe joint aches.
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Boneset Dosage Information: Tea or Tincture?
Boneset, like other herbal medicines, can be consumed as a tea or a tincture. However, it should be taken with considerable caution as it can be harmful in large doses. The traditional dosage for boneset tea was 2 grams of dried leaves and flowers per pint of boiling water, but New Zealand herbalist Richard Whelan recommends as little as a half teaspoon of the herb, explaining that “less is more” to achieve the best results (see information on side effects and toxicity below). If there is a concern about the body’s ability to tolerate boneset, tinctures should generally be avoided, as they are much stronger than teas. However, if you do decide to use a tincture, Whelan recommends a maximum of 1-2 millilitres a day, combined with other herbs to treat your symptoms. Overall, starting off with a mild tea is the best way to take boneset, as even small amounts can be effective at treating severe colds and flus. The intensely bitter taste of the herb will also likely be a deterrent in consuming too much of it.
Boneset Side Effects
Boneset must be prepared carefully and correctly, as the side effects can be unpleasant or even dangerous. For example, boneset should never be ingested fresh, as the fresh plant is toxic due to a volatile oil called tremerol, which is deactivated by drying. Pyrrolizide alkaloids, which are harmful to the liver and can be found in some Eupatorium species, are also a potential hazard. While it hasn’t been proven that Eupatorium perfoliatum contains these alkaloids, they cannot be completely ruled out as of yet. Therefore, only small amounts of the dried leaves and flowers should be used to avoid ill effects. Additionally, as mentioned above, large doses (including doses of the dried plant) will cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Richard Whelan suggests to immediately stop drinking boneset tea if you begin to feel nauseated – your body is responding that it has had enough of it. Those who are allergic to other Asteraceae plants may develop contact dermatitis from boneset. The FDA has deemed boneset “An Herb of Undefined Safety,” and it should be not be consumed by pregnant or lactating women.
Should I take Boneset?
Yes, despite these hazards, when taken correctly boneset is a potent herb that has been used for centuries to treat fevers, colds, and flus. A common sight in nineteenth century farmhouses was seeing clusters of the plant hung to dry, ready for use, and it can be easily grown from seeds or cuttings, as well as gathered in the wild or purchased. As long as care is taken in using only the dried leaves and flowers, selecting the right dosage, and preferably consuming it with other herbs recommended for colds and fevers (such as echinacea), boneset can be an effective natural remedy for treating these common ailments from the source. Despite my recommendation, you must consult your health care professional before taking Boneset.