Boneset: A Native Plant with Healing Powers

Eupatorium purpureum, Queen of the Meadow, Joe Pye Weed, Gravel Root

An American native plant, a moisture lover, producing large deep purple flowers in the fall. Boneset is 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

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 to 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 complaints. 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, not only in mending broken bones, but also because 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 countries.

Boneset Popularity – Get Yours Here.

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 bonesets 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.

The Herb In Every House

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 by Civil War troops. Before the coming of aspirin, boneset was one of the remedies to treat the aches and fevers that accompanied various ailments.


Little Herb Encyclopedia, by Jack Ritchason; N.D., Woodland Publishing Incorporated, 1995
The Ultimate Healing System, Course Manual, Copyright 1985, Don Lepore
Planetary Herbology, Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., Lotus Press, 1988
Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, by James A. Duke, Pub. CRP Second Edition 2007
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Published by Dorling Kindersley

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