Queen of the Meadow, Joe Pye Weed, Gravel Root
An American native plant, a moisture lover, producing large deep
purple flowers in the fall. Named after a North American Indian
medicine man named Joe Pye. Pye became famous for his ability to
cure grateful New Englanders of typhus fever and other diseases.
Queen of the
Meadow grows in low places, dry woods or meadows, in
the northern, western, and middle states, flowering in August and
September. Its trivial name, Joe Pye weed, is said to have become
attached to it through an Indian of that name, who lived in New
England and employed it as a diaphoretic
low fevers. The root is
the medicinal part. As found in commerce, it consists of a blackish,
woody caudex, from which proceed numerous long fibers, from 1 to 3
lines in diameter; externally they are covered with a dark-brown,
longitudinally-furrowed cortex, beneath which the internal portion
is white, or whitish-yellow, according to its age, the last color
being the oldest. It has an odor somewhat resembling old bay, and a
slightly bitter, aromatic, and faintly astringent, but not
unpleasant taste, and yields its properties to water by decoction,
or to spirits.
The Latin name, Eupatorium, is derived from Eupator, a 1st century
BCE king of Pontus, famed for his herbal skills. According to Pliny,
Eupator was the first to use a plant of this genus for liver
Gravel root was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1916 and
the National Formulary from 1926 to 1950.
There are at least thirty species of boneset in North America, with
each receiving its name because of its effectiveness,
mending broken bones, but also because of its effectiveness against breakbone fever (now called dengue), a mosquito-transmitted viral
infection marked by chills, fever, headache, and muscle and bone
pain. Dengue fever is common in tropical and subtropical regions,
and is the leading cause of childhood mortality in several Asian
Boneset attained popularity about 1800 when a particularly virulent
flu swept the East Coast and was characterized by intense bone pain.
A specific reference to this was made by an early 19th century
physician (C.J.Hemple) who noted that the herb "so singly relieved
the disease'that it was familiarly called bone-set".
Boneset was used by many tribes of North America for a wide variety
of ailments, including colds, sore throat, fever, flu, chills,
menstrual irregularity, epilepsy, gonorrhea, kidney trouble,
rheumatism, and to induce vomiting. The Mesquakies used the root to
cure snakebites. One of their doctors, named McIntosh, used a leaf
and flower tea to expel worms. The Iroquois, Mohegan, Menominee,
Delaware, and Cherokee have all used boneset to treat colds and
fever. The Alabama relieved stomachache with boneset tea. It was
also used by several tribes, including the Cherokee, as a laxative.
Boneset was named in all early American books on medicinal plants,
including Hand's House Surgeon and Physician (1820). During the 19th
century, very few houses did not have the herb hung from rafters for
use at the first onset of chills and fever.
Boneset was used particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, not
only by Native Americans and pioneers, but also Civil War troops.
Before the coming of aspirin, boneset was one of the remedies to
treat the aches and fevers that accompanied various ailments.