This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
This consists of the leaves and flowering tops of Eupalorium perfoliatum, an indigenous, perennial, herbaceous plant, growing abundantly, usually in clusters, in low moist grounds, in most parts of the United States. All portions of the plant are medicinal. It is in flower from July to October, and should be collected during that period.
Sensible Properties. Boneset is sometimes kept in the shops in bunches, sometimes in small oblong packages, in which it is much broken up. In the former state, it may be known by its perfoliate and decussating leaves, and by its flattish, dense summit of white, almost feathery flowers. The leaves may be considered as consisting of two, joined at their base, where they are perforated by the stem. Each leaf is broadest at the base, long, narrow, and gradually tapering to a point, serrate on the edges, wrinkled, whitish below and green above, and hairy. The pairs are so placed on the stem, that each one is at right angles with the one above and below it. The odour is feeble, yet dis-tiuct, and the taste strongly bitter and peculiar. It yields its sensible and medicinal properties to water and alcohol.
Active Constituents. Little is known, positively, on this point. There is little doubt that the bitterness resides in one or more proximate principles; but they have not yet been satisfactorily isolated. From the smell, it may be inferred to contain a small proportion of volatile oil, and the fact seems to have been established by the examination of Mr. Bickley. (Am. Journ. of Pharm., xxvi. 495.) The medicine is placed next to chamomile, more from its analogy to that medicine in effects, than from any known resemblance in composition.
Eupatorium, in moderate doses, produces on the system effects like those of the simple bitters; but superadds to these, especially when taken in warm infusion, and somewhat freely, a decided diaphoretic action. It is said, also, sometimes to be diuretic, and, in large doses, proves emetic and laxative. It is among the remedies derived from the aborigines, from whom it passed into popular use, and thence into the hands of the profession.
Eupatorium may be given, like the simple bitters, in pure dyspepsia or general debility; but, being more liable than they to irritate the stomach, and probably less efficient as a mere tonic, should not be allowed to supersede them, unless under peculiar circumstances of idiosyncrasy or prejudice. Dr. Burgon, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, preferred it to all other tonics, in the loss of appetite incident to the abuse of alcoholic drinks. (Am. Med. Record., iii. 331.) Dr. Eberle found it peculiarly useful in the indigestion of old people, in whom, while it restored tone to the stomach, it rendered the skin soft and comfortable. (Mat. Med. and Therap., 4th ed., ii. 219).
But its highest reputation has been as a febrifuge. From the inaugural dissertation of Dr. Anderson (New York, 1813), it would appear to have been employed with very great success, in the treatment of in-termittents, in one of the New York hospitals. Subsequent observation of its effects has proved less favourable; and, employed as a mere anti-periodic, in the ordinary mode of prescribing bark or quinia in the intermissions, it cannot be relied on. But I have known it to supersede the paroxysms of intermittent fever, when given in emetic doses, in the state of strong tepid infusion, shortly before the period for the return of the chills; and if, jointly with this method of exhibition, it be administered in moderate doses, at short intervals, during the apyrexia, there is little doubt that it will often prove successful. Still, it is greatly inferior to sulphate of quinia in certainty, while, in its effects as thus used, it is much more disagreeable. It may be very appropriately tried in obstinate and frequently recurring attacks of intermittent fever, in which quinia has become offensive to the patient, or inoperative from repetition. The same remarks are applicable to its comparative efficacy in remittents; in which, however, its tendency to produce perspiration is somewhat in its favour.
It was recommended, by Drs. Bard and Hosack, in yellow fever (Eb-erle, loc. cit.); and has been used as a tonic and diaphoretic in low fevers, and typhoid pneumonia; but its special merits in these affections are at best equivocal, and it is now seldom employed.
Perhaps its best application is to the treatment of catarrahal affections, more particularly the epidemic catarrh or influenza, which is frequently attended with an asthenic state of system, calling for supporting measures. The most effectual method of employing it, in these cases, is, very soon after the attack of the disease, to administer it freely at bedtime, in the form of hot infusion, the patient being well covered, so as to provoke copious and lasting perspiration; and if vomiting should take place the effect would be more certain. In the morning, the disease will often be found to have been arrested, or very much moderated; and afterwards the medicine may be given in small and repeated doses, so as not to nauseate. Dr. Chapman, in his Therapeutics (2d ed., i. 388), speaking of its employment in a species of influenza which had prevailed many years previously in the United States, and which, in consequence of the pain attending it, was commonly denominated break-bone fever, states that, from its prompt success in relieving this symptom, it acquired the popular name of boneset, by which it is still known. The probability is, that the epidemic alluded to by Dr. Chapman was that described by Dr. Rush as having occurred in Philadelphia, in the summer and autumn of 1780, called break-bone fever, from the violence of its pains, but which, there is every reason to suppose, was the disease since better known under the name of dengue. This fact would suggest a trial of eupatorium in that very painful epidemic disease.
In acute rheumatism, the medicine is said to have proved useful; and, in the atonic variety, occurring in feeble constitutions, without plethora, it might be very properly tried, with a view to its conjoined tonic and diaphoretic effects.
Though said to have been advantageously employed in obstinate cutaneous diseases, I have no faith whatever in its efficacy, except in so far as it may operate, like any other tonic, in promoting the general health. The same may be said of its remedial powers in dropsy, in which it has been recommended.
As an antiperiodic or tonic, the medicine may be given in powder, in doses of twenty or thirty grains, or more; but it is very little used in this form.
The Infusion (Infusum Ecpatorii, U. S.) is a more eligible preparation. It is made in the proportion of an ounce to a pint of water, and given in the dose of one or two fluidounees, repeated more or Less frequently, according to circumstances; three or four times a day, as a tonic, in chronic cases; and every hour, two, or three hours, as an antiperiodic, or joint tonic and diaphoretic, in those more acute. When its emetic effect is wanted, six or eight ounces of the hot infusion may be given at a draught.
A watery extract has been used in the dose of four or five grains.
Several other species of Eupatorium have been employed. Among our indigenous species, E. purpureum, or gravel root, has tonic and astringent properties, and is said to be diuretic. E. teucrifolium, or wild horehound, corresponds with the officinal species in properties, though less powerful; and E. aromaticum is considered, among the so-called eclectic physicians, as a valuable remedy in a number of diseases. The root of E. Cannabinum was formerly used in Europe as a purgative; and E. Aya-pana, of Brazil, resembles the boneset, but is weaker.