The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum

Common Name

Boneset, feverwort, Indian sage, ague weed, thoroughwort, thorough-stem, thoroughwax, sweating plant, vegetable antimony, wild sage, wild isaac, teasel, wood boneset, and crosswood

Related Species

E. teucrifolium, wild horehound, has been used as a substitute for E. perfoliatum. Rheumatism has been treated with E. occidentale. Several other species in this genus, including gravel root (E. purpureum) and hemp agrimony (E. cannabinum) also have a history of uses (Chevallier, 1996).

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Eupatorium perfoliatum  inhabits the eastern and mid-west United States and into Canada (USDA). It is most commonly found in wetlands. It grows in moist soils with abundant organic matter and thrives in full to partial sun (USDA). Habitats include the edges of streams, thickets, and swamps. Various caterpillars, such as Phragmatobia lineate (Lined Ruby Tiger Moth), Papaipema cataphracta (Burdock Borer Moth), Schinia trifascia (Three-lined Flower Moth), Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (blackberry looper), Semiothisa continuata (Geometrid Moth sp.) and Haploa clymene (Clymene Moth) eat various portions of the plant.(USDA)

Description

Eupatorium perfoliatum is a wildflower that grows between 1 and 5 feet high. The leaves are at most 8 inches long and 2 inches wide and have a unique arrangement. They are opposite and joined at the base, making it appear as one leaf with the stem in the middle. In late summer and early fall clusters of tubular white flowers make a head. Seeds are small, dry, and have bristles. They are wind dispersed. The roots often produce rhizomes (USDA).

Portion of the Plant Used

All above ground plant parts have been utilized, but primarily the leaves and flower tops that are collected when the plant is in bloom.

Traditional Uses

It has been said that boneset is good for everything. Known to Native Americans as feverwort, they used the above-ground parts alleviate aches, reduce fevers, colds, and sore throats, as well as to treat arthritis, malaria, and pneumonia. It has previously been used to treat dengue fever, also know as breakbone fever, and the common name “boneset” was likely derived from this (Buhner, 1999).

Eupatorium perfoliatum has also been used to relax peripheral blood vessels, promote bile flow, as an anti-spasmodic by relaxing smooth muscles, a laxative, and an expectorant (Ody, 1993). One of the most important and widely accepted uses of boneset is as an immunostimulant (Buhner, 1999). Modern uses are as an expectorant and a sedative for healing fever, bronchitis, and respiratory problems (Garrett, 2003). Boneset seems to be most often used as an immuno-stimulant, pain reliever, fever reducer, and a mucous membrane tonic (Buhner, 1999). The fever reducing quality of boneset is most likely due to its diaphoretic properties, which promotes perspiration and helps to break a fever (Garrett, 2003).

E. teucrifolium, wild horehound, has been used as a substitute for E. perfoliatum. Rheumatism has been treated with E. occidentale. Several other species in this genus, including gravel root (E. purpureum) and hemp agrimony (E. cannabinum) also have a history of uses (Chevallier, 1996).

Research

Although one of its more common modern traditional uses is as an immuno-stimulant, research findings cannot yet confirm that Eupatorium perfoliatum has such immunostimulating properties. However, a number of studies strongly indicate an anti-inflammatory activity and an anti-plasmodial effect against the protozoan parasite  Plasmodium falciparum (Maas et al., 2011a; Maas et al., 2011b; see Hensel et al., 2011 for a review).

E. perfoliatum is also one of the few species in the Eupatorium genus that has not been shown to fight Staphlycoccus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Buhner, 1999). Antibacterial effects were found to be very small for gram-positive bacteria and no activity against gram-negative bacteria, even at high concentrations (Hensel et al., 2011).

Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications

The only side effects listed for Eupatorium perfoliatum are its emetic and laxative properties. For these symptoms to appear, high doses of the plant must be ingested (Ody, 1993). In addition, common boneset may also contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that may be damaging to the liver (USDA).