Boneset (Guan Ye Zelan)
Botanical Name: Eupatorium perfoliatum
Native to North America, boneset was a popular healing plant used by Native Americans. Do not confuse boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) with the purple flowered plant also commonly called “boneset” or “gravel root” (Eupatorium purpureum) or with the herb comfrey (Symphytum officinale), also commonly called “boneset” for its ability to heal broken bones, these are all different plants. This boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, is famous for treating all kinds of fevers and easing muscle aches. Until aspirin was discovered, this boneset was the herb of choice for fighting fevers and its symptoms.
Below is an overview of Boneset (Guan Ye Zelan), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Boneset (Guan Ye Zelan).
Western Name: Boneset
Also Known As: Thoroughwort, Agueweed, Indian Sage, Feverwort (not Feverfew!), Joe Pye Weed, Sweating Weed
Organs/Systems: Stomach, Liver, Bowels, Uterus, Lungs
Key Western Actions: Stimulant, Febrifuge, Laxative, Astringent, Mild Tonic, Diaphoretic, Emetic, Purgative, Cleansing, Antiparasitic.
Medicinal Uses: Fevers, Aching muscles, dropsy, colds, flus, catarrh, influenza, loss of appetite, arthritis, indigestion, constipation, typhus.
Pin Yin: Guan Ye Zelan
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Lungs, Liver
Key TCM Actions: Releases to the Exterior/Expels Wind Heat, Clears Heat/Relieves Fever.
Medicinal Uses: Thirst, deep muscle pain as if in bones, backache, cough, measles, asthma with hot conditions, intermittent fever, rheumatic fever, acute or chronic jaundice, congestion, fever, constipation.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Whole Herb, Leaves, Aerial Parts
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Astringent, Cold
Caution: Safe. Note – do not use the herb fresh as it contains a toxic chemical called tremerol that is eliminated by the drying process making the herb safe for young and old.
History/Folklore: Boneset acts slowly and consistently. In large doses it becomes more emetic and purgative. In mild doses it becomes a mild tonic and diaphoretic. It is best known for it’s ability to fight all kinds of fevers. It both promotes sweating and drives heat stagnation down and out of the body. Most particularly, it is both a stimulating and restorative herb.
The plant’s common name, “Boneset” derives from its use by early settlers to treat a flu known as “break-bone fever” (Dengue fever) which was characterized by symptoms that included a feeling of a person’s bones being about to break. These same symptoms led to its being used to treat influenza and other ailments with high fevers, intense muscle pain and the feeling of “steaming bones” or “bones-about-to-break” symptoms.
The Latin name, “Eupatorium” is derived from Eupator, the 1st century BCE king of Pontus, famous for his herbal skill. The species name, “perfoliate” refers to the plant’s stems seeming to perforate, or grow through its paired leaves.
The 17th century English herbalist, Culpepper, recommended that the leaves be dried and burned in rooms to drive away wasps and flies.
Boneset is popularly used for the treatment of influenza, and is considered by many herbalists to be one of the best herbs for treating this condition.
Studies indicate that the herb treats viral and bacterial infections because of its strong anti-inflammatory properties and by stimulating white blood cells to kill disease-causing organisms.
Traditional uses include stories of the leaves being used successfully to help treat broken bones despite the plant having no constituents that directly support bone health. The herbalist, Michael Wood, suggests that this application of the herb may be due to the plant’s ability to increase blood flow to the periosteum (the fibrous membrane that covers the surface of our bones) and thereby aiding the process of healing broken bones. As yet, there are no conclusive studies that prove this application of the herb.
Boneset can be combined with Echinacea (Zi Zhu Hua) and/or Licorice Root (Gan Cao) as these herbs are mutually beneficial and will hasten the healing process when combined together to strengthen immunity and help fight colds and flus.
Boneset is also good for treating ailments due to too much Damp Heat in the body causing bloating, indigestion and chronic sinus congestion with yellow mucous.
Sesquiterpene lactones (including Eupafolin, Euperfolitin, Eufoliate, Euperfolide and Helenalin)Volatile oil, Tannic acid, Eupartorin, Resin, Gum, Polysaccharides, Flavonoids (Quercitin, Kaempferol, Astragalin, Rutin), Alantoin.
Boneset is very bitter requiring only small doses to be effective.
Some species of boneset contain alkaloids that can damage the liver. The drying process for E. perfoliatum eliminates the toxic alkaloid tremerol. Still, to be safe, many herbalists will only use the herb externally and not internally.
Hundreds of Years
Boneset has been used by Native Americans, European settlers and African American slaves as the go-to herb for treating a wide variety of ailments, especially those exhibiting fever symptoms of any kind.
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