Backyard Survival Herbs: Boneset- Just A Little Herb’ll Do Ya!


History is full of accounts where someone was on the brink of death from a viral infection -like typhoid or dengue or influenza- and because someone knew to use boneset to inhibit the virus’ ability to multiply and cause a person to sweat out toxins, a life was saved.  Many who survived the flu epidemic in 1918, were spared because they were treated with this amazing and powerful herb. You don’t need much of this herb to see results.

Distinguishing Features

Called Eupatorium perfoliatum in Latin, Common Boneset is one of many in the family Compositae. It is also known as thoroughwort, Indian sage and ague-weed.  I found mine in a drainage ditch below our property, where the water does not sit but runs in the spring thaw.  It is a unique-looking perennial herb, with a coarse, rough, hairy aspect, growing up to 6 feet tall.  Its leaves are what really define it: lance-shaped, taper-pointed,toothed, wrinkled, and very veiny are descriptors for the 4-8-inch leaves which are joined together at their bases around the stem of the plant.  It looks like the stem just kind-of pokes up through each leaf.  In August, the fragrant flower heads open, revealing small, white, tubular flowers in numerous heads, arranged in a multi-branched cluster up to 10 inches wide.


When to Collect
The aerial parts of boneset (shoots, leaves and flowers) should be collected as soon as the flowers open in late summer or early fall.  Definitely be on the lookout in the month of August in the US.

Tell Me a Story
Boneset was introduced by the Indians to American culture as a remedy for fever.  They used it to induce sweating in order to break fevers.  Supposedly they often fought dengue fever which causes a deep muscular ache so intense that it made one feel as if their bones were breaking – thus the name, boneset – as it rid the body of the fever, the bones no longer ached.  However, the history would seem to go farther back than our native Americans.  There are reports of the plant also being used as far away as Asia Minor as long ago as 100-ish BC.  Mithridates Eupator was the king of Pontus in Asia Minor from 120 to 63 BCE. He had to flee a murderous mother, supposedly, as heir to the throne and in his exile to the wilderness, he purposefully consumed small amounts of poisonous plants to build up his immunity.  One of the plants he was supposed to have ingested was from the genus that now bears his name, Eupatorium, of which common boneset is but one of 200 species.  He likely ate White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) which is extremely toxic and has the notoriety of having killed Abe Lincoln’s mother via the milk she drank from cows who’d eaten it.  I have to finish this story, though – legend has it that after fighting the three Mithridatic wars and being conquered by Pompey the Great, Mithridates, humiliated, tried to suicidally poison himself but could not because he’d succeeded in building up his immunity so well!  So he had to ask a soldier to run him through with a sword.


One more story….about purple boneset, also known as Joe Pye weed.  Many have assumed that Joe Pye was the name of an Indian who used the herb to cure an outbreak of typhoid or typhus in colonial America.  Hmmm, would the colonists have trusted an Indian offering a cure?  Noone can say for sure but it is interesting to note that the Indian word for the boneset plant is “jopi”.   Most likely, at some point the colonists learned of the many applications of jopi weed by the American Indians and selectively began using it themselves and calling it “Joe Pye weed”.

In the old days, boneset was an oft-used drug. Only the introduction of aspirin displaced it from its popularity as a relief for fever and colds.

What Properties Does Boneset Have?
Research on plants of this genus in Germany has indicated the presence of polysaccharides that are active in promoting immunities, which may validate some of the medicinal claims as well as enabling the possibility of the story about Mithridates to be about common boneset. The strong glycosidal constituents of the plant may also explain the practice of burning dried leaves to repel insects.  Let’s look at some more therapeutic aspects of this plant:

The boneset plant has various medical properties such as analgesic, antibacterial, anti-catarrhal, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, aperient, bitter, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, febrifuge, immune stimulant, laxative, stimulant, and tonic. It is also high in Vitamin C. No surprise there.  A total of 23 nutrients have been found in boneset.  Other nutrients found in this plant are: ash, calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, niacin, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc.

What Does It Do?
This herbal pharmacy stimulates the liver and the gall bladder and cleanses out the kidneys.

Boneset is perhaps the best remedy around for the many symptoms associated with influenza, possibly because of its ability to stimulate the immune system as well as eliminate toxins.

Boneset can be used in its aperient capacity for constipation, as a laxative, as well as an herb to increase urine flow as a diuretic.

Flavanoids have been found in boneset which have been shown hopeful to aid in the reduction of tumors.

Boneset may be used to clear the upper respiratory tract of mucous congestion.

It can also be used as a general cleansing agent but caution should be taken to never exceed 3 cups of the tea per day as it can overtax the liver.

There are folk medicine indicatives in using boneset to treat jaundice, migraines, intestinal worms, weak appetite, diarrhea, muscular rheumatism and fibromyalgia and as an anti-inflammatory and an aid for skin diseases.

This is one herb you don’t want to leave home without!


So How Do You Use It?
Make a tincture or an infusion.  The tincture’s applications are best as a tonic or a laxative.  An infusion is best when treating for a cold or fever.

Making a Tincture
To make a tincture, put 4 ounces of chopped or ground dried boneset into a glass container that can be tightly closed.  If you use the herb fresh, use twice the amount.
Next, pour a pint of 60-proof (30%alcohol)vodka on the herbs and close the container tightly.

Place the jar in a warm place for two weeks and shake it well twice a day.

Drain off the liquid, catching the herbs in some muslin or cheesecloth and wringing out all the liquid. (Put the residue in your compost pile)

Pour your tincture into a dark glass bottle.  Keep it well-stoppered in a cool, dark, dry location.

To use: Take 2-4ml (3/4 tsp)of the tincture 3X/day.

Making an Infusion
To make an infusion, pour a cup of boiling water onto 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb and allow it to infuse for 10-15 minutes.  This should be drunk as hot as possible.  During fever or flu, drink every half hour but do not exceed 3 cups/day.  Be aware that boneset is known as a bitter tonic for a reason: it is very bitter!  Adding some honey helps, but this isn’t a tea you drink for pleasure! Best timing is to drink a half cup before bedtime, pile on the blankets and watch it go to work.


Some Cautions
Note: This herb does contain minimal amounts of pyrrolizidine alkaloids- damaging to the liver in large doses, so do not overuse this herb!  And by all means, if you have liver problems or are pregnant or breastfeeding a baby, do not use this herb.  Also, too strong a dose will 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! ~Carin


Disclaimer: Of course we claim no responsibility for your experience with these herbs.  Everything we share is for information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional or medical advice. Do your own research!  Always consult a professional. Be wise. Consider always the chance of an allergic reaction. We are all unique in body chemistry.  We are NOT a medical professionals by any means, however we have saved our family a boatload of annoyance and money by being resourceful and using what is right at our feet – literally. See full disclaimer here.

4 Responses to “Backyard Survival Herbs: Boneset- Just A Little Herb’ll Do Ya!”

  • Elizabeth

    When making tinctures and infusions, do you use shoots, leaves and flowers combined? Do or can you use them separately? If so in what ways can you use the separate parts?

    • Carin

      The entire above-ground plant is used….shoots, leaves and flowers. I just dry and crumble it altogether into a big gallon-sized jar. I have never done a study on the separate parts, but I imagine the entire plant has similar properties.

  • Great information! I’ve made vinegars with herbs for cooking, but have not used boneset or tinctures yet for home remedies. Would you take it just when feeling symptoms?

    I’m wondering if you’ve considered using essential oils for emergency preparedness? Essential oils are one of the first things on my list for first aid. If you have a good quality oil they should last years. There is also growing information on how to use them safely. Would you consider posting a guest article on essential oils for emergency preparedness?

    • Carin

      Hi Susan- Thanks! Yes, we only pull out the “hard stuff” aka tinctures, when we know we’ve got something coming on. And yes we do indeed use oils! I love my oils and use them often. On deck here is indeed the idea of an article on essential oils and what might be good choices for a “survival kit” of oils. My one hesitancy is the great controversy and ugliness that can tend to break out over essential oil brands. I refuse to go there. So, not sure if you were asking to write one or have one written, but there is a good chance I may be posting an article like that relatively soon!

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