While you might have never heard of the herb boneset, it has been used for centuries for its medicinal uses. It is best known as a fever reducer, digestive aid, pain reliever and to stop coughs.
I am lucky enough to have some growing on my property and like to keep some on hand should we need it during cold and flu season.
On this page, you will learn all about the herb boneset and its traditional and medicinal uses.
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Boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum)
Folk names: Agueweed, Crosswort, Feverwort, Indian Sage, Sweating Plant, Teasle, Thoroughwort, Wood Boneset
What is the Herb Boneset?
Common Boneset is a plant in the aster family. It is characterized by its coarse, rough, hairy aspect; it grows up to 6 feet tall. Its leaves are what really define it: lance-shaped, taper-pointed, toothed, wrinkled, and very veiny. The 4-8 inch leaves are joined together at their bases around the stem of the plant. In August, it produces fragrant flower heads that open revealing small white tubular flowers in numerous heads arranged in a multi-branched cluster up to 10 inches wide.
History and Folklore
The herb Boneset has been used by Native Americans for centuries to treat colds, fever, and rheumatic pain. European settlers learned of the herb boneset and its benefits, and by the 18th and 19th centuries, it was regarded as a virtual cure-all. The common name derives from its ability to treat “break-bone fever” (or dengue fever), a mosquito-born illness once common in wet places in North America. The herb was also used historically to treat malaria.
Identifying the herb Boneset
You can identify the herb boneset by its distinctive appearance and by these characteristics:
- Height: Boneset is a native perennial wildflower that can grow 2–4 feet tall.
- Stem: The central stem is covered in long white hairs and is unbranched, except for a few flowering side stems near the very top.
- Leaves: The leaves are lanceolate, tapering to a point, and grow up to 8 inches long and 2 inches across. The bases of the leaves tend to grow together, making it seem as if the central stem perforates the leaves.
- Flowers: Boneset produces clusters of fragrant white flowers in late summer or early fall. Each composite flowerhead contains ten to twenty florets with a shaggy appearance.
- Seeds: The florets produce tiny, dry seeds that are dispersed by the wind and have hairlike bristles.
- Roots: Boneset’s fibrous root system often produces rhizomes, or horizontal stems with shoots that grow above ground and roots that remain below the surface. This system can help boneset spread over large areas, creating a colony of plants.
Where, When, and How to Wildcraft
The herb boneset grows in a variety of wetland habitats across eastern North America, from Quebec south to Florida and west to Texas and Manitoba. It is most commonly used for colds and flu and can grow in meadows, marshlands, and sometimes even roadside ditches and prefers full or partial sun.
The upper third of the plant is hand-picked in late summer and early fall when it is in bloom and dried. They can be brewed into a tea or made into a tincture that can be added to foods and beverages.
Boneset is used in herbal medicine to treat fevers, colds, arthritis, and gastrointestinal upsets.
Boneset is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, and diaphoretic. Boneset, elderflower, and spearmint make a great tea to drink as a remedy for flu-like symptoms. It alleviates respiratory congestion, reduces fevers, and soothes aches.
Boneset stimulates a weak appetite and relieves constipation. It is particularly useful for patients with poor appetites, debility, and weakness of the abdominal muscles.
If you find boneset in the wild, be careful to leave enough behind so that the plant can regenerate. It’s a good rule of thumb to only harvest the aerial parts of a small portion of the plants. Propagate boneset by dividing plants when they go to seed in the fall or when they start to grow new shoots in spring.
You can read more about foraging sustainably here: 9 Basic Principles of Ethical Wildcrafting for Beginners
Boneset is a wonderful herb, but it must be used in moderation. If you have liver problems or are pregnant or breastfeeding a baby, do not use this herb. Also, too strong a dose can potentially cause nausea and vomiting. Just cut it back next time. If you are allergic to chamomile, feverfew or ragwort, you may well have an allergic reaction to boneset. Otherwise, as I always say – DO YOUR RESEARCH- and be wise! See my full disclaimer below. To your health!
Disclaimer: outdoorapothecary.com is informational in nature and is not to be regarded as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. While we strive to be 100% accurate, it is solely up to the reader to ensure proper plant identification.
Some wild plants are poisonous or can have serious adverse health effects. We are not health professionals, medical doctors, nor are we nutritionists. It is up to the reader to verify nutritional information and health benefits with qualified professionals for all edible plants listed in this website. The information provided is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the guidance of your qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.