Boneset – Eupatorium Perfoliatum: Edible & Medicinal Uses of an Underrated Wild Plant

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In Chippewa, niya’wibukuk. In Plants Have So Much To Give another Ojibway name is given, ogaakananiibiish meaning “shield and lance plant”. Boneset is a slightly edible and mainly medicinal plant. It’s also an underrated addition to pollinator gardens.

Boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum) was common in damp areas when Haliburton Flora was compiled. However, I don’t see it very often now.

There is a slight resemblance to water hemlock, which can put you in the hospital without even consuming it. And they can grow in the same damp habitats. Be sure to familiarize yourself with our various water hemlocks.

Edible Uses of Boneset

Like its relation Joe-Pye weed, the ash from the burnt roots is a salt substitute.

The bitter calcium rich leaves can also be eaten in small quantities dried first or cooked uncovered to allow the volatile oils to evaporate. Cooking won’t remove the scant PAs/pyrrolizidine alkaloids though (see comfrey for the PA talk and note boneset has less. Oh, and note sometimes comfrey is called boneset! It causes some confusion.)

High in calcium.

Medicinal Uses of Boneset

Boneset is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Immune
  • Respiratory
  • Skeletal

Medicinal tags include Anticatarrhal, Antispasmodic, Diaphoretic, Emetic, Expectorant, Febrifuge, Immunostimulant, Laxative and Nervine. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the aerial parts in flower or just prior to flowering for fever from influenza or infections. The name sounds obvious, right? Like it’s used to set bones? But, apparently, the name actually refers to a type of fever that feels set in the bones, “breakbone fever”. A folk name for boneset is “sweating plant” for sweating out a fever, and similarly, “feverwort/agueweed” are some boneset folk names. In various herbal concoctions it’s mixed with Joe-Pye, yarrow, elder flowers, cayenne, ginger, etc. Scant research suggests use for flu and even immune system stimulation are legit (possibly better than echinacea!)

However, a traditional use in the Americas is for bone setting/healing. It is supposed to stimulate bone growth, specifically the periosteum tissues around the outside of the bone. Or perhaps it’s the calcium content. Either way it’s often combined with horsetail for support for bone repair. What I’ve seen of this is anecdotal as of yet, but that wouldn’t stop me from using such a combo to support bone healing. Early herbalists believed the perforated leaves (“Doctrine of Signatures”) meant it was good for your bones. For full disclosure, I don’t personally lean toward thinking a plants appearance is much of a hint for its usage. But I’m not ruling out that the universe has its mysterious ways. 😉

Dosage matters: A strong hot tea and larger doses are emetic/may induce vomiting and diarrhea. Just warm and in smaller doses it’s more of an expectorant that can loosen up phlegm, move lung secretions, and help clear sinuses. A shot of cool tea is a calming tonic and digestive aid.

Alternative Uses of Boneset Throughwort

You can obtain a pink or red dye from its fruits.

Growing Eupatorium Perfoliatum

Boneset is a wonderful native addition to your landscape. It has long lasting white blooms and can act is a support for weaker plants. It looks nice mixed with Joe-Pye weed, asters and goldenrod. All of these will readily fill in large areas. You can start from seed or divisions.

It’s also a powerhouse for nectar and pollen. The bees, beetles, butterflies, flies, moths and wasps will be all over it. Its nectar is readily accessible, unlike say dandelion. Various moth species caterpillars feed on it as well, including geometrids. Since I haven’t been able to find it in the wild much around Haliburton, I especially urge locals to plant some of this!


Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have liver or kidney damage.

May cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family including ragweed.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

Native Plants, Native Healing: Traditional Muskagee Way

Mi’kmaq Medicines (2nd edition): Remedies and Recollections

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

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The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask: Anishinaabe Botanical Teachings

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Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria

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