Family: Asteracea (Sunflower)
Scientific name: Eupatorium perfoliatum
Native perennial wildflower from 2-4 ft tall. Prefers low, moist to wet soils with plenty of organic material, with full to partial sun.
Watch for: The stem is covered with white hairs and forms branches at the top. Leaves are opposite along the stem and tend to grow together. Clusters of white flowers appear in late summer to early fall.
Other names: Throughwort, Wild Sage, Ague Weed, Feverwort, Vegetable Antimony
History: Boneset is mentioned in nearly every early American book on medicinal plants. In early Anglo history, the whole plant would be hung downward from house rafters throughout the year for immediate use for colds, nausea, or fevers. A wide variety of 1st Nations use it for a variety of purposes, including sore throat, fever, cold, flu, chills, epilepsy, gonorrhea, snakebite, kidney trouble, and to induce vomiting. It’s recorded that the Menominis of the Great Lakes region learned to use Boneset for fevers from white people, which is a rare case of 1st Nations adopting an Anglo use of a medicinal plant, since it’s typically the other way around.
Tidbits: A German study in 1981 showed that certain compounds extracted from Boneset were just as effective as aspirin in curing the common cold. A toxic concentration of nitrates have also been found in the plant. Boneset was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1916, but the FDA now refers to it as a herb of “undefined safety” with a diaphoretic effect.
Gardens/ Cultivation: The cultivation of Boneset has historically shown little economic incentive, which still holds today in it’s lack of cultivars. Joe-pye Weed (pictured pink) is a similar plant commonly cultivated for gardens. However, Boneset is still used in gardens and raingardens. It prefers saturated to moist conditions, is able to last 3.5 days inundated with water, and can withstand frequent flooding. Planting works well for Boneset when planted in cold spring or fall soil with high light exposure. The plant adds texture to gardens, although usually not a highlight in terms of color. Great for habitat and ground cover, and does well in raingardens and along shorelines. For wildlife, Boneset is attractive to Monarchs, Cresent, and Fritillary Butterflies. Turkeys, swamp sparrows and some waterfowl eat the fruit, while Mallard and Ruffed Grouse eat the leaves. It also provides cover for small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Kindsher, Kelly. Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide.
University Press of Kansas. Lawrence, Kansas, 1992.
Schmidt, Rusty and Shaw, Daniel. Plants for Stormwater Design. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 2003.