Boneset (Eupatorium purpureum)
It’s no secret that one of my favorite herbalists is Matthew Wood. I love Matthew’s approach to herbs because it is based on personal experience and not just “book learning.” As Matthew points out, in his book The Book of Herbal Wisdom, there are many modern herb books that say that boneset has no value. Matthew’s comment is, “Some people enjoy expressing opinions about things they know nothing about.”
Well, when it comes to boneset, I do know something about this plant. I’ve primarily used it as a remedy for flu, but it is also a remedy for colds, fevers, respiratory membranes, and arthritic and rheumatic pain. Most books claim the herb gets its name from its ability to treat “bone break fever,” that is, a fever that aches clear down to the bones. The indication is a valid one. I use the herb when people have the flu where they get deep aches in the muscles and bones. It’s a wonderful remedy for this purpose, but it is also helpful for the congestion.
When NSP introduced it as a single many years ago, I immediately took some capsules to see what it would do. I remember it made me feel somewhat nauseous, very much like the effect I get from lobelia. (NSP later discontinued it as a single because of poor sales.) But since that first experience, I’ve used boneset in formulas for children in place of lobelia and had very good success with the herb in helping ease congestion, viral conditions and muscle aches and pains.
Traditionally, the plant was used as an infusion and taken hot. When used in this manner, it really promotes perspiration. So, it can be used like yarrow for sweat baths or to create a sweat to break a fever.
A local herbalist named Joseph VanSeters (who has a company called Grandma’s herbs) tells the story of a man with arthritis who contracted the Asian flu. He was in terrible pain and the doctor couldn’t do anything. Someone suggested boneset tea, which he drank copiously, sweated profusely and felt a whole lot better. According to Mr. VanSeters, “Strangely enough, after that, his arthritis seemed to be a lot better.” Now, that’s a nice side effect. Being bitter and slightly astringent, boneset doesn’t taste that good, so you’d have to actually be sick to want to drink the tea.
Boneset contains flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones and immune stimulating polysaccharides. Echinacea, reshi mushrooms and other immune stimulating remedies also contain polysacchrides that stimulate the immune system, which puts boneset in the same class with other immune stimulating remedies.
Matthew Wood provides some great information about using boneset for respiratory problems and fevers, but he also contradicts most other herb books about boneset’s name. He says that boneset does help broken bones to heal and cites stories of Native Americans who used it primarily for that purpose. From what he writes in The Book of Herbal Wisdom, it’s very effective, too.
There are several other medicinal plants related to boneset (same genus) such as gravel root or Joe Pye weed (E. purpureum) which is used for urinary tract problems, including kidney stones. If boneset has some of the same calcium solvent properties, it could help to explain its ability to help bones heal.
Although boneset is not sold as a single by NSP anymore, it is still one of the key ingredients in a very popular combination for colds and respiratory problems, ALJ. It is also an ingredient in five of NSP’s homeopathic formulas including Influenza Remedy, Candida, Cold, Inflammation and Prevention. So, boneset is also a popular homeopathic remedy, too. This gives NSP Managers and Distributors several options for utilizing boneset’s healing properties.
The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier
Herbs and Old Time Remedies by Joseph VanSeters
The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
Materia Medica with Repertory by William Boericke