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Boneset as an Herb

Boneset as an herb

Eupatorium perfoliatum

The medicinal part of Boneset is the herb after flowering. The taste is astringent and bitter.

Other Names: Agueweed, Crosswort, Feverwort, Indian Sage, Sweating Plant, Teasel, Thoroughwort, Vegetable Antimony

The popular name boneset is derived from the value of this remedy in treating a species of influenza in the United States. The pain attending it was commonly called break-bone fever (also known as dengue). Symptoms of classic dengue include fever, joint ache, severe headaches, weakness, and skin rashes. This form is not fatal and rarely affects children. Mild dengue has the same symptoms but lasts just three days. Recovery is complete but weakness and depression can linger for weeks.

Boneset attained popularity about 1800 when a particularly virulent flu swept the East Coast and was characterized by intense bone pain. A specific reference to this was made by an early 19th century physician (C.J.Hemple) who noted that the herb "so singally relieved the disease...that it was familiarly called bone-set".

Boneset as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

Wine Glass Boneset is common in the eastern marsh areas of North America. Boneset was used in North American during the 1900's as a standard remedy for coughs, colds, and fevers. It was used to combat the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, as well as an outbreak of "James River Ringworm" in Virginia. It was not typically used as an infusion until the 1900's.

Before the coming of aspirin, boneset was one of the remedies to treat the aches and fevers that accompanied various ailments. During the 19th century, very few houses did not have the herb hung from rafters for use at the first onset of chills and fever.

As a remedy in influenza, it has been extensively used and with the best effects, given in doses of a wineglassful, warm every half hour, the patient remaining in bed the whole time. After 4 or 5 doses it causes profuse perspiration and relief is obtained.

One to two tablespoons of the tincture in hot water is used for sweat therapy to break a fever. The infusion is also drunk once or twice per day to aid in healing broken bones. It acts slowly and persistently, and its greatest power is manifested upon the stomach, liver, bowels and uterus.

Native Americans used boneset for aches, pains, rheumatism, and to assist healing broken bones as a topical plaster or poultice. They also used an infusion of the leaves and flowers for indigestion, dyspepesia, catarrh, snakebite, pneumonia, malaria, typhoid, and for female disorders and bladder problems. Doses were limited to spoonfuls or 1/2 cup doses.

A weak infusion of 1 teaspoon herb to 1 quart boiling water was used to treat rheumatism.

The Chippewa pulverized the root fibers and combined them with those of milk weed to create a whistle for calling deer.

During the United States Civil War, Boneset was used by the Confederate troops for fevers.

In the South, indigenous groups, such as the Alabama tribes, used boneset for upset stomachs (Weiner and Weiner 1994). Folk practitioners named the plant boneset, ague weed, feverwort, or sweating plant. Dengue once again began to spread and it is now found in areas where it was eradicated. The spread has been largely attributed to the colonization of many areas with the vectors, the Asian Tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito. Both mosquitoes live in much of the Eastern United States. In Maryland, tire importers introduced the Asian Tiger mosquito from Asia and it became established in Baltimore City. (Source: Maryland Department of Agriculture)

Historically, folk practitioners used boneset as folk remedy for colds in Southern Appalachia (Cavender 2003). The consumption of boneset produces perspiration and can result in vomiting, purging, and the expectoration (emetic) of phlegm. The PDR for Herbal Medicines noted that the plant stimulates the immune system. People also used boneset to treat influenza.

An Old Remedy

A popular remedy during the influenza epidemic of 1891. 1-1/2 ounce each of Boneset and False Boneset. One ounce each of Vervain, Culver's root, and Agrimony. One ounce of combined herbs added to 1 pint of boiling water and infused. Two to four tablespoons to be taken every 2 to 3 hours as needed.

Culinary Uses of Boneset

Not applicable or recommended.

Folklore

Boneset is used to ward off evil spirits.

Cautions

Health risks or side effects following the proper administration of disgnated therapeutic dosages are not recorded.

Sensitization after skin contact with the plant is possible.

Common Boneset is emetic and laxative in large doses, and it may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are potentially harmful to the liver.

Do not take boneset for more than two weeks at a time, and do not exceed recommended amounts.

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