Boneset: A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information about boneset

Boneset, a hardy perennial of the Asteraceae family, is a 1 to 1.5 m high shrub. The erect, bluntly-edged stalk rises from the root stock. The stalk is roughly haired, often red at the base, and branched in the upper part.

The undulant, softly-haired leaves are lanceolate and tapering, serrated with notches, and characterized by a marked central vein. They grow 10 to 15 cm long and are opposed. The lower pairs are fused at the base, they give the impression of being one large leaf with a stem growing up through the middle.

The flower heads with white, bell-shaped tubular blossoms stand in cymes at the ends of the stalks. They form small fruits with a bristly pappus, which are distributed by the wind. It flowers from August to October.

Boneset’s odor is weak, but its taste is extremely bitter.

common names & nomenclature
The Latin name Eupatorium derives from the Greek eupatória, which derives from hepatoria, Latin for liver. The species name perfoliatum derives from perfoliátus, for “grown through leaves” in regards to the way the stem appears to perforate the leaves.

Also known as:
eupatorium, thoroughwort, wood boneset, indian sage, sweating plant, teasel, feverwort, crosswort, eupatorium, vegetable antimony, agueweed, common boneset

Boneset, the woodland flowering herb
Boneset: Where in the World
habitat and range for boneset

Boneset is native to the Eastern United States and Canada, with a range from Nova Scotia to Florida, and from Louisiana and Texas through North Dakota.

Boneset: Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting boneset

Boneset grows near riverbanks and in swaps in part to full sun.

Boneset prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil but tolerates poorer soil.

Boneset grows easily from seeds planted in spring or root divisions planted in spring or fall. Start seeds indoors about 3 weeks before the last expected frost of the season. Begin with a period of cold, moist stratification. Mix seeds with a moistened, suitable starting medium and place into sealed plastic bag, then into refrigerator for 30 days. During this period be sure to check bag periodically to make sure it remains moist. If seeds start to germinate, plant immediately outdoors, or to a container if still anticipating spring freezes.

After 30 day stratification, remove from refrigerator and sow seeds either in a greenhouse or warm indoor location, or direct sow outdoors. Seeds are very small and require light for germination. Cover with a very thin layer of soil, and keep moist with a spray bottle or similar technique that will not disturb the seeds as they begin to germinate. Keep moist until seedlings are well established.

Harvest the flowers by cutting the entire plant a few inches above the ground before the flowers wither.

Hang plant upside-down to dry completely. Cut stems and flowers into tiny pieces and store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Boneset: The Rest of the Story
boneset history, folklore, literature & more

Boneset is easy to identify because its long, narrow, pointed leaf pairs are not distinct, but rather connected and pierced by the stem.

The herb has round, erect, hairy, hollow stems which grow 5 feet, then split into three branches, which produce tiny, densely clustered white to bluish florets from midsummer through fall.

A hardy perennial, boneset grows easily from seeds planted in spring or root divisions planted in spring or fall. It prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil under full sun but tolerates poorer soil and partial shade.

Harvest it as it flowers by cutting the entire plant a few inches above the ground.

Do not eat fresh boneset. It contains a toxic chemical (tremerol), which causes nausea, vomiting, weakness, muscle tremors, and increased respiration. Drying the herb eliminates tremerol and the possibility of poisoning.

The Food and Drug Administration lists boneset as an herb of "undefined safety".