Scientific Name(s): Eupatorium perfoliatum L.
Common Name(s): Agueweed, Boneset, Crosswort, Eupatorium, Feverwort, Indian sage, Sweating plant, Thoroughstem, Thoroughwax, Thoroughwort, Vegetable antimony, Wild Isaac
Boneset is a ubiquitous plant found growing in swamps, marshes, and shores from Canada to Florida and west to Texas and Nebraska. The plant is easily recognized by its long, tapering leaves that join each other around a single stout stem giving the impression of one long leaf pierced at the center by the stem. Hence its name perfolia, meaning "through the leaves." The plant grows from July to October to a height of about 1 meter. It flowers in late summer with white blossoms that appear in small upright bunches. The entire plant is hairy and light green.Hensel 2011, USDA 2016
Boneset has been used as a charm and as a medicinal remedy for centuries by indigenous North Americans. As a charm, the root fibers were applied to hunting whistles with the belief that they would increase the whistle's ability to call deer. As an herbal remedy, American Indians used boneset as an antipyretic. The early settlers used the plant to treat rheumatism, dropsy, dengue fever, malaria, pneumonia, and influenza. The name boneset was derived from the plant's use in the treatment of breakbone fever, a term describing the high fever that often accompanies influenza. Boneset was official in the US Pharmacopeia from 1820 to 1900. Based on data from early medical compendia, boneset is believed to have diuretic and laxative properties in small doses, while large doses may result in emesis and catharsis. Boneset had been used by physicians to treat fever, but its use was replaced by safer and more effective antipyretics.Bolyard 1981, Erichsen-Brown 1989, Hensel 2011, Herz 1972
Boneset leaves and roots contain a variety of sesquiterpene lactonesBohlmann 1977, Herz 1977 as well as a number of sterols and triterpenes, including sitosterol and stigmasterol.DomInguez 1974 The flavonoids quercetin, kaempferol, and eupatorin and their glycosides also have been identified in the plant.Herz 1972, Wagner 1972 Boneset has not been shown to definitively contain alkaloids; however, 2 of 7 samples screened in 1 program tested positive.Raffauf 1996 A number of related species of Eupatorium have been shown to contain unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids of the type that can cause serious liver damage.Locock 1966 Acidic polysaccharides containing principally xylose and glucuronic acid have been elucidatedVollmar 1986 as well as caffeic acid derivatives.Hensel 2011, Maas 2008
Uses and Pharmacology
An ethanolic extract of the aboveground parts of the plant was found inactive in a carrageenan-induced rat paw model of inflammation.Benoit 1976, Khan 2009 In vitro anti-inflammatory properties of E. perfoliatum and its extracts have been demonstrated in vitro.Maas 2011
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of boneset as an anti-inflammatory agent.
The isolated polysaccharides and an extract of E. perfoliatum combined with other herbs have been shown to stimulate phagocytic activity in vitro by a carbon particle clearance technique.Wagner 1985, Wagner 1991
In vitro activity against the influenza virus via preventing attachment to the host cell has been reported.Derksen 2016 Reports of studies evaluating homeopathic E. perfoliatum preparations existHensel 2011; however, these have not been validated by any quality clinical studies.
There is no recent clinical evidence to guide dosage of boneset. Traditional use was at a dose of 2 g of leaves and flowers. Internal use should be tempered by the occurrence of hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids in this plant.
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
The ingestion of large amounts of teas or extracts may result in severe diarrhea. The identification of pyrrolizidine alkaloids in related Eupatorium species is cause for concern until detailed phytochemical investigations are carried out on boneset. This class of alkaloids is known to cause hepatic impairment after long-term ingestion. While direct evidence for a hepatotoxic effect from boneset does not exist, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that any plant containing unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids should not be ingested. E. perfoliatum is considered a toxic plant.Duke 2002, Khan 2009, Quattrocchi 2012
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