Boneset

Eupatorium perfoliatum

boneset
Boneset in bloom in late August along Tom’s Creek in Blacksburg

Common boneset is a perennial native that can be found growing locally in wet or damp areas. There are about 20 other white wildflowers that resemble boneset, but this plant is relatively easy to tell apart from the other look-alikes. Notice how the base of the leaves appear to wrap around the stem.  It actually looks like the stem is piercing through the leaf! This perforated or “perfoliate” arrangement of the leaf and stem led to the  the species name E. perfoliatum.

Boneset is in the aster family of plants.  This group includes flowers that are composites of both ray flowers and disk flowers (think about a daisy that has white ray flowers around a central disk of smaller yellow disk flowers). Boneset is an unusual aster because it lacks ray flowers. The small, white disk flowers occur alone in a flat cluster at the top of the plant.

Do you think that boneset was used medicinally for setting broken bones? It was! Early herbalists often looked at a plant’s structure for clues as to how it might be used as medicine (read about The Doctrine of Signatures).  Because the leaves of boneset were wrapped securely around the stem, it was guessed that the plant would be good for setting bones. Thus, boneset leaves would be incorporated as a poultice along with other bandages that were used to set a broken limb.  Boneset had many other medicinal uses too. Tea made from boneset was used to treat fevers and colds, as well as a variety of digestive ailments.

Other related, local plants include Joe Pye Weed, White Snakeroot, and Mist Flower.  Other plants with perfoliate leaves include Perfoliate Bellwort.

Bloom time for boneset is typically late summer and fall. Lately I’ve noticed it starting to bloom, in early August.

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