Tuesday, March 9, 2010


OK. So this isn't one of the wild forms, but rather a variegated one we grow in the garden. However, if you imaginve the leaves treen, you pretty much have the same plant. There are actually two Eupatoriums that grow around here, perfoliatum also known as boneset and purpureum also known a joepye weed, which is related to the one in the photo.
Boneset is found throughout most of the U.S., and likes swamps, marshes and low grounds. Here it also grows just about anywhere else, including the shady edges of woods. It usually grows about 3-4 feet tall. It's name would seem to indicate that it would help in setting broken bones, but rather, it refers to the plant's value in treating colds and flu which in early days were known as 'break-bone fevers.' In 1798, a Dr. Barton wrote "this medicine is used by our Indians in intermittent fevers." Someone else mentioned that boneset tea, often taken at night to break up a cold Iwhich it usually did) was surely bitter enough so it should do something. To make the tea, the upper leaves and flowering tops are dried, and infusions made at the rate of 1 ounce of the dried herb to 1 pint of boiling water, taken in doses of a wineglassful. Take hot to induce perspiration for colds.
Joepye also is widely distributed , but does not seem to grow in the most southern parts of this country and is slightly larger than it's cousin, often reaching 6 feet. It blooms in August with purplish to white flower heads. The Latin name eupatorium is said to have come from Mithridates Eupator, a king of Pontus, the first to use the plant medicinally. "Joe Pye" is said to be the name of a Native American who cured typhus fever with extractions of the root.
Unlike it's cousin where the leaves are used, in Joe Pye it is the roots. It seems to have been used for 'urinary disorders', accoring to old herbals, and as a nervine or tonic.
The roots smell like old hay and have a slightly bitter, aromatic taste. While not poisonous, overdoses cause nausea, pains in the stomach, increased heart action and a run-down feeling. Another reminder that although these are 'just herbs', they are very powerful and can be dangerous to those who don't know enough about them.
The cultivated forms of these are easy to grow and, especially nice, the variegated form comes true from seed. We often find a plant (or two or three or twenty) popping up elsewhere in the garden.
This sunny and slightly warm weather has been wonderful for starting the spring cleanup in the yard. I still find it hard to believe that we'll be opening for the season in just a few weeks. We still have a lot of snow in anyplace that is shady and ice in places where we've walked, but it is going away and the snowdrops are blooming and the early daffodils have buds, so spring is sort of officially here, at least in the hollow.

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