Podcast 186: Herbs A-Z: Erigeron & Eupatorium

We’re continuing on as we highlight the herbs in our home apothecary. Today we reach the end of our first shelf!

Erigeron canadensis, E. strigosus, & E. annuus are the species of fleabane we have worked with. We like the Canada fleabane best, but they’re all helpful herbs. All the fleabanes are very easy to grow – put some in your “feral garden” areas! In terms of taste, qualities, and actions, fleabane is very similar to goldenrod and yarrow – warming & drying & tonifying, with aromatic fluid movement, along with diuretic & vulnerary activity.

Eupatorium perfoliatum, boneset, has recently been confirmed to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Fortunately, the ones in boneset are the least dangerous! Also, we only work with boneset for short courses: 2-4 weeks max, then equal or greater time away from the herb. We also only take small doses (e.g. 1/2 dropperful of tincture) for the effects we want. Boneset is an excellent herb for viral infections and post-viral lingering symptoms. We’ve worked with it a lot during COVID and had great feedback on its efficacy from our clients & students.

These quick plant profiles were done off-the-cuff & on-the-spot. If you enjoyed them, we have more! Our organized & comprehensive presentation of our herbal allies is in the Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course. We have detailed profiles of 90 medicinal herbs! Plus you get everything that comes with enrollment in our courses: twice-weekly live Q&A sessions, lifetime access to current & future course material, discussion threads integrated in each lesson, guides & quizzes, and more.

If you have a moment, it would help us a lot if you could subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen. This helps others find us more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.


Episode Transcript

Katja (00:18):
Hi, I’m Katja

Ryn (00:19):
And I’m Ryn

Katja (00:20):
We’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:24):
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast. Yes. Okay. So, today we continue on herbs A to Z, well herbs on the shelf approximately A to approximately Z. And this time we are reaching the end of the top shelf.

Katja (00:40):
Yes, yes. The next podcast is going to start the second shelf. That’s very, very exciting. We’ve done a whole shelf, y’all.

Ryn (00:48):
Pretty good. All right. So, today we’re going to be talking about Erigeron and Eupatorium, perhaps more English-ly known as fleabane and boneset. Those are our herbs for today. But first the reclaimer. That’s where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.

Katja (01:08):
The idea is discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States, so these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (01:20):
We want to remind you that good health does not mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (01:34):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good ideas to think about and some stuff to research further.

Ryn (01:45):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean you are to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make.

Katja (02:02):
I never understand how I can make mistakes. It’s right there on the screen. I don’t know, man.

Ryn (02:07):
It’s fine. It’s fine. If you heard a little floppy sound there that was Elsie, shaking her head.

Katja (02:12):
Yeah. It’s funny because as we settle in to start the pod, all the animals make their way in and settle down.

Ryn (02:20):
Ethel cat has arrived in my lap, and we are ready to go.

Katja (02:23):
We’re ready to go. Elsie’s here beside me. Hey.

Ryn (02:27):

Katja (02:27):
Wait, no. Before we start I did just want to mention the herbal study tips course.

Ryn (02:32):
Herbal study tips.

Katja (02:33):
Herbal study tips.

Ryn (02:34):
Available now.

Katja (02:35):
So, this episode of the Holistic Herbalism podcast is sponsored by me, and also Ryn, and our very cool new free course. You can get it for free. You don’t need to put in a credit card or anything else. It’s called herbal study tips. You’ll find it at… Are you ready? You ready? online.commonwealthherbs.com. And it has all kinds of cool activities that will help you, whether you are taking courses with us, or at any other herb school, or even if you’re just learning from books and your own experience and whatever. It will really help you to translate what you’re learning into like real, tangible knowledge instead of just sort of abstract concepts. So, I hope you love it, and you should go get it right now. You can get it while we’re talking actually.

Fleabane: Erigeron spp. & Its Properties

Ryn (03:35):
Yeah, you’ve got time. online.commonwealthherbs.com. Herbal Study Tips. It’s free. It’s for you. Yeah. Okay then. So, for real this time, fleabane.

Katja (03:47):

Ryn (03:48):
Fleabane. So, this is the genus Erigeron. And we’ve worked with Canadian fleabane and daisy fleabane and possibly a couple of other species, because sometimes they’re a little hard to tell apart.

Katja (04:03):
Yeah. Sometimes they do get a little…

Ryn (04:05):
It’s not quite as intense as goldenrod.

Katja (04:10):
Right. Those can be very hard. I mean, sometimes you can really tell them, but sometimes they’re hard to tell apart. Fleabane, so this is an Aster family plant. And the two most common ones that you’ll see, one is daisy fleabane. And that is the one that has a long, tall, single stem. And towards the top it may branch a couple times, but it has those daisy like flowers that have the eyelash petals. Like they really look like eyelashes, white eyelashes around the yellow center. Whereas Canada fleabane, which is honestly the one that I prefer to work with. I have to say, it looks like a horsetail upside down really. Or like, you know what it looks like? It looks like when no, this is what it looks like. It looks like when a cat is like really angry or scared, and they puff their tail out. That’s what it looks like. So, it is a single stalk, but the daisy fleabane doesn’t get the flowers until the tippy tippy top. Whereas the Canada fleabane, it goes up a little way. And then it sort of brushes out with these petioles. That’s the stem that the actual flower is on. And they are all the way around the plant, like fairly uniformly. So that you have this stalk and then this like poof, like a brush, like a bottle brush, like you’re going to scrub out your water bottle or something. And then the flowers are very, very small daisy kind of flowers, just very, very small. And sometimes it’s even easier to identify this when it’s too late, like once it’s gone to seed. Because then all those little flowers become tiny little like pompoms of tufty seed parachutes. Just like a dandelion gets that globe of seed parachutes, all of the aster family plants do that to different extents. And so Erigeron, the canadensis does this. And it can be easier sometimes to identify at that point. Now of course at that point, that’s no longer really what we want to harvest to work with medicinally. However, at that point you can grab seeds, bring them home, put them in your own garden or just a bucket of dirt. Honestly, they will grow anywhere. And then you will have your own right there.

Ryn (07:09):
Yeah. Yeah. That was something I wanted to bring up about fleabane, is that this is very easy to grow. And it’s one that I would encourage people to put in their garden of feral plants. You know, so we do this, we’ve done this a few times, but having a garden bed or like half of the growing space not so much for like cultivated vegetables and even specifically cultivated herbs or whatever. But to say all right, well, if I just let this be a vacant lot, I would end up with fleabane, and goldenrod, and maybe nettle, and mugwort, and evening primrose like crazy. And I’m going to intentionally gather some of those seeds, and plant them in this good garden soil. And give them a little extra love and wow. They shoot up. They become large and giving and enormous. And it’s just great. So yeah.

Katja (08:05):
Yeah. And fleabane really also like it’s drought tolerant. It’s drought tolerant in New England. I’m not certain that it would be like drought tolerant in Arizona. But in terms of like, if you live in a reasonably temperate place, and you are going through a drought, like you won’t lose the fleabane. It’s really, really super hardy. You honestly don’t have to pay much attention to it at all. It really just does its thing. I mean, you should pay attention to it, just because it cool plant. And you can get to know it, and that’s fun. But you know, if you go on vacation, it’s not going to die. Don’t worry.

Ryn (08:47):
Yeah. We’re going to be all right. You know, this herb is really similar to goldenrod in a number of ways. The growing environments that it likes are similar. The kind of like sunlight exposure and moisture content and all of that, you often find them growing right next to each other in our neck of the world.

Katja (09:08):
Yeah. It really likes all the sun. It’s just very… It’s even happy on the side of the road where the asphalt is hot and everything. Like, it doesn’t matter.

Ryn (09:17):
Right. But it’s also like goldenrod in terms of medicinal activity and even flavor. So, okay, so fleabane has a warmth to it. It’s like the aromatic type of warmth that you also get in goldenrod or in say yarrow, something like that. There’s a lot of dryness to the herb. It’s for sure a diuretic and a fluid mover and drainer.

Katja (09:43):
It has astringency, like real astringency to it.

Ryn (09:46):
Yeah. That tonifying quality would be the third one, right?

Katja (09:48):
Yeah. Like goldenrod has that fluid movement and stuff like that too. And it is also drying. But if you tasted them like in a taste test next to each other, the Erigeron is quite a lot more astringent.

Ryn (10:03):
Yeah. Like you need to select all of your goldenrods, and then find the more astringent ones. And then you’re like moving into fleabane territory.

Katja (10:10):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ryn (10:11):
Just because goldenrods vary a lot, you know, in their flavors and all that. Yeah. And vulnerary qualities too, right? Topically on wounds and scrapes and so on, but also internally. And I think that internal vulnerary effect is one of the major things that we’ve called on, fleabane for when we’ve included it in formulas.

Katja (10:35):
Yeah. You know, I tend to work with Erigeron for digestive track stuff, and that really starts in the mouth. This is a plant that I worked with a lot when I had braces a few years back, you know, just to deal with the wounds that happen in your mouth, because the brackets scratch up your cheeks and stuff. And so like right from the very top it’s very, very helpful. But then all the way down, especially if you’re a person who is prone to like a little too much dampness in the gut. Like a little stagnancy, but not stagnancy that is dehydration. So, if you’re a person who tends towards constipation because you are dehydrated, then Erigeron might not be the best plant to work with. But if you’re a person who tends towards constipation because you’re super stagnant. You’re not a dry person, but sometimes maybe you just ate some foods that aren’t food for you.

Ryn (11:47):
More of a cold pattern than a dry or a tense pattern.

Katja (11:50):
Yeah, exactly. In that case then it can be really helpful. But even if you like… I wanted to make the distinction around constipation, because a lot of digestive stagnancy and a lot of digestive cold damp pattern can include constipation, but it isn’t necessarily dry constipation. It’s stagnant constipation. Well, okay you know, you’re listening to an herbal podcast. So, you’re not like shocked to hear people talking about poop. But it’s also not like the most fun thing to listen to on a podcast. So whatever, anyway we’re differentiating our constipation here. But when that issue is aside, and either it isn’t a factor or it’s not like just the most important thing, we’re really talking about just bogginess in the gut. So, if you deal with a bunch of bloating or like constant bloating. It isn’t even really bloating, it’s just there’s just a lot of fluid in your belly. I mean it is bloating. But we think of the word bloating, like culturally, as something transient. Like I ate. And now I am bloated. And then it will go away. And so I’m kind of more talking about like if you just sort of always have a bunch of extra fluid in your middle. That’s what I’m trying to say.

Working with Fleabane

Ryn (13:19):
Yeah. Try some fleabane. Yeah. We like it as tea primarily. And again it’s easy to dry your own. You know, a dehydrator helps of course.

Katja (13:31):
You can’t buy it anyway. Like you need to dry your own, right?

Ryn (13:35):
Yeah. It’s sort of why it came to mind in that like feral garden idea. Because we put certainly the evening primroses in there in particular to have that homegrown, and because you can’t really buy it easily other places. Some of the others like the mugwort, you know, that’s easy to buy. But man, if you grow your own.

Katja (13:53):
Oh, it’s so much better.

Ryn (13:55):
It’s really nice.

Katja (13:56):
It’s so much better.

Katja (13:57):
Erigeron, you know, if you’re going to dehydrate it, this is very similar to goldenrod. And in the Materia Medica course that we have, I’ve got pictures in there about what the goldenrod should look like when you harvest it. And I don’t actually have a picture like that of fleabane, but I’ll get one this year. When it gets to that point I’ll take one, and I’ll add it in there. I’ll make myself a note. But they look the same when you harvest them. And so it is like before the flowers. You know, normally if you’re harvesting something, and you want the flowers to be part of the medicine, you would harvest it at the point at which the flowers are the most beautiful or like just one moment before that is true.

Ryn (14:52):
Yeah. They’re mostly if not quite all the way open. Their color is good and strong. Scent is strong if there is scent. Yeah.

Katja (15:00):
Yeah. And so that’s not going to be true for Erigeron. It’s not true for goldenrod either. And the reason is because if you wait until those flowers are open and lovely, when you try to dry them the flowers will immediately go to seed, and you’ll get that fluffiness. Like it happens so fast. And so you’ll like load up your dehydrator with these beautiful flowers. And you’ll come back to it and it will be all dandelion fluff. Except it won’t be. It’ll be Erigeron fluff, but whatever. And so the point here is that you need to harvest it when the flowers are in fact just not quite open. Like they’re formed, but they’re still in there. You know what I mean? Like tomorrow they’re going to pop, but not today. That’s when you want them. And the reason is because that way when you dry them, they won’t fluff up. Or they will, but like just a tiny, tiny bit instead of a hundred percent fluff everywhere. Listen, if you dry your stuff, and it is a hundred percent fluff everywhere, don’t throw it away.

Ryn (16:17):
Yeah. Make tea anyway.

Katja (16:18):
Still make tea with it.

Ryn (16:19):
That’s fine.

Katja (16:20):
It’s not as good, but it is not bad. So, absolutely don’t waste it.

Ryn (16:24):
Yeah. And I mean, that factor is all about the actual flowering part. And, you know, fleabane can make a lot of flowers, but it’s not like goldenrod, where it’s just so much flower all in that one spot. When we harvest the fleabane we tend to take kind of the whole aerial portion all at once.

Katja (16:43):
Yeah. Way more of the leaf than is my preference for goldenrod. Listen, you know, the leaves of goldenrod are fantastic, but I prefer to work really just with the flowers. With Erigeron that’s not the case. It really is flower and leaf 50/50, or maybe even more leaf than flower.

Ryn (17:02):

Katja (17:03):
The leaves have a little heat to them. Just like… Maybe not as much as arugula, but like just a smidge of definitely more than goldenrod does. But maybe not quite like… Not as much as a really spicy arugula. Like some arugula is kind of just not even really worthy of the word spicy. So maybe, you know, but…

Ryn (17:27):
This is not… If it’s rocket, then it’s like the one you made in science class in middle school, as opposed to the Apollo stages and yeah.

Katja (17:40):
Right. This is like this is our scale of green leafy vegetables, you know, like with the chili pepper scale on it, yeah. Except it’s going to be rockets instead of chili peppers. Yeah. You guys y’all get it right?

Ryn (17:58):
Because people call arugula rocket sometimes.

Katja (17:59):
Yeah. I think in Britain maybe that’s where they say that the most. Anyway, that was a funny joke, ya’ll.

Ryn (18:09):
You can tell it’s funny when you have to explain it. Fleabane, fleabane. You know, the name is maybe worth commenting on. So, fleabane is one of several herbs that has a tradition as a strewing herb. And that means you throw it on the ground and stomp all over it. Or, you know, have it in the house and put it in places.

Katja (18:31):
Yeah. Like rushes, you know, to cover the dirt of the floor.

Ryn (18:34):
Yeah. And the idea is that as you stomp upon the fleabane, it releases some of those volatile oils that give it the scent and give it that warmth you’re talking about. And that the little bugs and lady critters and all that, they don’t like that smell. So, they go away. We have not covered the entire floor of our apartment in a plant matter that way, I suppose, except for when we’re working with the dehydrator that sort of happens.

Katja (19:00):
That does actually. But then we put like a sheet down, and then it doesn’t like get into the carpet.

Ryn (19:05):
We don’t really stomp on our plant material like it’s grapes for wine or whatever. No, but honestly I have done something like that when we went to the woods. And we were coming back, and we had the dog. And just like oh, before we jump in and drive home, let’s like chop down some goldenrod and fleabane and crush it up a bit. Throw it in the back of the car and…

Katja (19:25):
Yeah, there was that time that she was really kind of… I don’t know. We combed her a couple of times. Usually like I bring a tick comb or a flea comb in the car and like try to get the ticks off. And whatever that was what worked one time.

Ryn (19:38):
Yeah. But anyway, just to mention that as part of the history of the herb, and for the name of it.

Katja (19:45):
You know, one other thing that I want to include in here before we move on. Sorry, we kind of went out of order with this, because I was talking about digestive health. And then we were talking about other fun things. And now we’re back to digestive health. But that astringency plus the vulnerary action really makes fleabane an excellent candidate for, including in your gut heal tea, especially if you are dealing with like insult to the intestinal tract. So, you know, any kind of situation where you know that there’s irritation and potential ulceration. Yes. But it doesn’t have to be all the way to ulceration. It can be the thing that is between ulceration and irritation.

Ryn (20:39):
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be like a quarter sized patch of the intestines that are like totally worn away.

Katja (20:45):

Ryn (20:46):
Not like you burned a cigar through it or whatever. You know, like there’s like low grade, more distributed damage and inflammation that can happen. Yeah.

Katja (20:54):
Right. So, I think like ulcerative colitis is a thing. And it’s diagnosable and whatever. But like you don’t have to have that to have damage to the side of the intestine. And you can kind of think about it like if you have really dry skin. And then it starts to crack, and you can see the like red lines. But just imagine that on the inside of you on your intestinal tract.

Ryn (21:23):
Right. And that may not… And if we were choosing fleabane, this wouldn’t be where there was dryness in the intestines. It’d be more appropriate where there’s dampness, you know?

Katja (21:32):
Right. But yeah, no. I’m sorry. I was just trying to make a description.

Ryn (21:34):
And there’s like the laxity and the compromise of the intestines. And that often manifests with diarrhea. Like if somebody has IBS-D you know, IBS with diarrhea. So there’s spasm, there’s discomfort. There’s that water loss and everything. Fleabane would be a good choice for that. We may formulate it with other things for the individual, but it would certainly be one of our candidates. Yeah.

Katja (21:56):
Yeah. Anyway, so just to kind of think in those terms. But I just don’t want anybody to get hung up on the word ulcerative as like well, that’s part of a diagnosis. And more to keep it as an adjective of like there’s some amount of damage here. And it might be a lot, and it might just be a little bit. But it’s more than just woogie guts. It is like there is actually some damage to the wall of the intestines. That is a really awesome time to work with Erigeron. And again, you could just include it in with your calendula, and plantain, and catnip, and chamomile, and ginger, and fennel, and whatever else you would put into your gut heal.

Ryn (22:45):
Yeah. Cool. All right. So, those are some thoughts on fleabane. And, you know, like we’ve been saying, it’s less common than certain other medicinal herbs that are quite similar. So, if you have worked a bunch with goldenrod or with yarrow, and that’s a type of herb, and a flavor of herb, and a set of actions that you enjoy or that your body needs, then I would really urge you to experiment with Erigeron and see how that feels.

Katja (23:10):

Boneset: Eupatorium perfoliatum & Its Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

Ryn (23:13):
Okay. Let’s talk about boneset.

Katja (23:16):
I love boneset. I love boneset. But I kind of want to start with the pyrrolizidine alkaloid issue.

Ryn (23:30):
Let’s get that out of the way up front.

Katja (23:31):
Right. I want to get it out of the way, that’s the thing. Because I really do love boneset so much. And so they’re working now on the third edition of the Botanical Safety Handbook. And I know that in that addition they’re going to change their recommendation around boneset. And I don’t think that’s wrong. I just want to like talk about the nuance around it. And so we can do that right now.

Ryn (24:04):
Yeah. So, what are we even talking about? So, pyrrolizidine alkaloids are a particular type of constituent that occurs in a number of plants. They occur pretty broadly in the Asteraceae. Not in every single member of that family, but in quite a few of them they show up. And within the group of PAs, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, there are subsets. There are some that are what’s called saturated, and those are not very dangerous. And then there are unsaturated PAs, and those are more dangerous, because they’re more reactive. And the kind of problem that this compound causes is that if you have an herb, and you make tea of it, or you eat it. You digest it. It moves through your system. And it comes to your liver. And there, especially those unsaturated PAs, they can interact with actually the DNA in your liver cells and cause damage to it. And this is occurring only in the course of what would normally be called detoxification or biotransformation. Where your body is… The usual way we describe that process is your body is taking a foreign substance, breaking it down, or combining it with something else to make it no longer dangerous and help you to get it out of the system. The trouble is that this particular type of chemical, it reaches that point. And instead of becoming inert, it becomes dangerous. And this is why the damage from the PAs happens in your liver. It doesn’t happen in your stomach, or kidney, or whatever else. It happens in the liver. Okay. So, in boneset particularly, what we understand about the PAs so far is that there are some. They’re in there. They’re relatively small amounts, especially compared to what we’d call like the serious PA herbs, like comfrey, especially Russian comfrey, and ragwort, Senecio species. In coltsfoot, Tussilago species, there are some concerning PAs there. But the ones in boneset are not that dangerous by comparison, all right? Lisa Ganora, in the second edition of her book Herbal Constituents, she wrote that the ones found in boneset are the least dangerous type of the unsaturated PAs. So, that is a group of concern, yes. But within that group, there’s been like a scale.

Katja (26:31):
A spectrum, right.

Ryn (26:32):
Like this one, senecionine, is one of the scarier ones, one of the more dangerous ones. The ones that occur in PA, in boneset here, they’re the less scary, the less likely to be causing serious damage. But all that said, we’re not going to be like, oh great. Now I can have as much boneset as I want.

Katja (26:50):
Well kind of.

Ryn (26:52):
Maybe as much as I want.

Katja (26:55):
Right. Kind of we are, because boneset…

Ryn (26:56):
But not like unlimited amounts. Or we’re certainly not going to be eating boneset as a vegetable.

Katja (27:00):
Yeah. No, it’s not delicious. It’s super, super bitter. You really can’t take very much at a time. And so that’s a second factor in the sort of dangerous scale here. Is that it is of all the pyrrolizidine alkaloids that have potential to do harm, it has the least potential. And then there are also pyrrolizidine alkaloids that do not have the potential to do harm. We’re not talking about those. We’re talking about the ones that can actually hurt you.

Ryn (27:31):
Right. Like there are some PAs in echinacea, but nobody’s worried about them. They’re not the kind that can cause any problems.

Katja (27:36):
Right. You know, we hear about pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the borage family too. That is actually where people may be more familiar with pyrrolizidine alkaloids, like in comfrey and stuff. And Pulmonaria, lungwort, is in that family. But lungwort has a completely non-threatening type of PA. That one is fine. Whereas comfrey, for example, has one of these unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Ryn (28:01):
Yeah. So, you can see there’s wide variation here.

Katja (28:03):
Right. Okay. So, boneset has the least harmful of the harmful kind. However, when we work with boneset, you just don’t take very much. Even if you’re working with tincture, which honestly is my preferred way to work with it. You’re going to take like half a dropper full a couple of times a day for a couple weeks. And that’s going to be the end of it. Whereas the place where we would expect to see a real problem is like when people make those comfrey drinks. And they like drink a whole quart of it every day. Okay. Well, now we’re in an area where we could see some problems. But a half a tincture full, I mean a half a dropper full, or even a dropper full of tincture once or twice a day for a couple of weeks. The exposure that you’re getting is so small, that unless somebody really had liver compromise already, I would not feel any particular concern working with boneset.

Working With Boneset

Ryn (29:03):
Yeah. So, you know, when we’re working with this, we could say as a guideline that we’re going to take short courses with the herb. Like you say relatively small doses, two to four weeks maximum, right? And then take at least that much time, or even more time than that, off before you return back to this one.

Katja (29:21):
Which also boneset is not an everyday kind of herb anyway. It’s an herb that we really only turn to when we need it. Now, when we need it, we really kind of need it. But then you’re done with it, and you don’t come back to it again until like next year when you get that really bad flu or whatever. You know, it’s just not an every day herb like nettle, or chamomile, or catnip, or whatever.

Ryn (29:46):
There have been a couple of times that there have been like proposed situations to work with boneset longer term for some nerve health things and this and that, but…

Katja (29:57):

Ryn (29:58):
But there are other agents that are much safer. And so if we were like oh, I want to regenerate myelin sheaths. And we’ve heard that boneset has some capacity to do that. There’s some evidence for it. That’s cool. But it’s going to be safer to do that with lion’s mane mushroom. And honestly there’s better evidence for it, so…

Katja (30:17):
Yeah, I mean I have included boneset in formulas that way, but in part of a big rotation of formulas. You know, like okay, today we’re going to have this, and tomorrow we’re going to have… Especially, I have even put it in tea that way. Because, you know, in a formula with a bunch of better tasting herbs, a little tiny bit of boneset isn’t going to make the formula unpalatable. But so I might do that. And then so today we’ll have that tea. But then we won’t have that tea again for a while. Or maybe it, you know, sometimes it’s a little bit of boneset tincture, and another day it’s some golden… or some lion’s mane, and another day it’s some St. John’s wort, you know, intentionally rotating a lot. Not just that you’re not having the boneset too frequently, although yes. But because you want multiple mechanisms of actions, so that you are having this sort of broad spectrum rebuilding approach. And you know, like you have a whole team of herbs who are helping you instead of just one action over and over again. Yes.

Ryn (31:30):
Yeah. But you know, more traditional indications for the herb are acute, right? Even including, you know, if you’re doing Thomsonian herbalism, then you may run out of lobelia some day and need another emetic herb to make your friends vomit.

Katja (31:48):
You know, it’s so bitter.

Ryn (31:49):
For your fun and profit.

Katja (31:50):
It’s so bitter.

Ryn (31:52):
Yeah. Boneset is bitter enough that it can make you make you feel nauseous if you take too much all at once. It can also get things flooding out of the other end of you if you take it too much. Especially as cold tea, that might be the direction that it moves in.

Katja (32:08):
Yeah. The technical term for that is purgative and cathartic.

Ryn (32:13):
Cathartic. Yeah.

Katja (32:14):
So, you can have your directions there. Your up and out, down and out. Yeah, exactly.

Ryn (32:23):
Yeah. So, those effects come if you take large doses of the herb. Which for some people could be an entire mug of strong boneset tea, or a tablespoon of tincture all at once. That might get you.

Katja (32:36):
Honestly, that’s like one of those challenges that they tell people to do, because you can’t do it. Like go ahead. Drink a whole mug of boneset tea. Like you can’t actually do it.

Ryn (32:46):
No, we say that. But then I remember Annette. She was a student of ours like way back, when I was just getting started. And you were only 12 years into the game. But this was a student who was doing and herb of the month in one of our programs and chose boneset. And I don’t know if she did a whole quart every day – We could check – but a lot, like cups and cups.

Katja (33:10):
She did drink a surprising amount there for a minute. Surprising in that I was shocked that she was able to. Yeah. But you know, I kind of file that under that I think that chapparal makes a delicious tea. Like there’s always that potential for real weird stuff. And obviously, I just want to be clear. Don’t drink chapparal tea often, because it’s really rough on your liver.

Ryn (33:41):
Hey, don’t take boneset every day for a month either, honestly. Like at the time we didn’t know about the PA issue in boneset. And now we do.

Katja (33:47):
Yeah, it wasn’t…. yeah.

Ryn (33:48):
So, you know, if a student wants to work with this herb for herb of the week or herb of the month, we would find other methods to do it. Take it for a week, take a week off.

Katja (33:58):
Yeah. And to be clear, it did not hurt her. She’s still perfectly happy and living a good life. And if you were really going to do that, then just take some milk thistle with it. You know, it’s not like that’s going to automatically decapacitate your liver. It’s not like that.

Ryn (34:15):
Right, yeah. I mean, yeah.

Katja (34:17):
It’s just that it’s a real strain on the liver. And if you really did do it every day forever. Okay, now we’re going to start to get into some problems.

Ryn (34:25):
Right. I mean even the cases of people taking stronger PA, more dangerous PA herbs. It’s like they ate it every day for a month, or three months, or like a whole season, you know, something like that. And that’s really, really different from what I’m describing here with an herb with smaller content, less risky constituent type. Like okay, we’ve given all our caveats now.

Katja (34:45):
One of the problems with PAs and the damages that PAs can do is that you can’t really see them from the outside. And so it’s kind of a silent damage kind of thing. And so you can’t really know if it’s happening to you until it becomes really, really severe. But that’s also a good thing in terms of if you did like oops. I had boneset as an herb of the month, and I drank it every day. Okay listen, you didn’t do the damage overnight. So, just now work with St. John’s wort, or milk thistle, or calendula, or plantain, or any of your hepatoprotective herbs for a couple months. And it’s not irreparable – you can’t ever fix it kind of stuff. It’s just…

Ryn (35:45):
Right. We don’t want anybody to be scared by this discovery.

Katja (35:48):

Ryn (35:49):
And we’re just trying to practice as safely as possible. And so when we’re thinking about these kind of herbs over the long term, we’re just trying to be clear about what’s to be considered safe work. Yeah. All right. Well, if we don’t hurt our livers, and if we don’t make ourselves vomit, and if we don’t do the other things.

Katja (36:07):
Right. But so to be clear, some tincture every day for a couple of weeks in an acute sort of situation. Totally fine. I have zero concerns about safety with that. And I just recently really depended on that actually.

Ryn (36:26):
Well, not just you, but we had… I got like half of my family taking boneset for a minute there.

Katja (36:32):
Right. Well, yeah. Your mom had a lung thing that we weren’t really sure if it was a COVID variant, or if it wasn’t, or what it was. But she was real sick for a while, and then your dad got it. And they both were so excited about the boneset. And then we got omicron. And I have to say that boneset really helped a lot in dealing with that and recovering from that in a way that was very noticeable. In a way that like… I’m trying to describe how overt, how obvious it was that it was helping. Like you could see a difference in about 20 minutes after I took it. It was just like whoa, to just totally different things going on now.

Ryn (37:27):
Yeah. You know, boneset has a very long history of being taken for these purposes, for when there’s an ongoing, well today we’d call it a viral infection, or also lingering effects afterwards. But if we start with while it’s acute or while it’s still going on, boneset is particularly indicated when there is a bone ache. When there’s that feeling of soreness, that’s like down at the bone level. And that can happen in viral infections, especially ones that demand fever from the body, or to which the body responds with fever. Because that can really use up a lot of your proteins. And especially if you’re not hungry for several days, you know. Like a lot of people get this bone ache, because the body is kind of cannibalizing your muscle tissue for protein to turn into immune responders and all of that. Anyway, when you have that bone ache feeling in the course of a respiratory illness, viral illness more broadly, then boneset is really worth incorporating into your protocol.

Katja (38:32):
And that really I think that was the central factor for me with omicron. There wasn’t that much coughing. It was really that intense, intense fever, intense bone pain and muscle pain. And so that really is exactly the textbook time, you know?

Immune Support & Winter Elixir

Ryn (38:59):
Yeah. The herb does have diaphoretic qualities. It’s actually… And this one always throws me, because I often expect boneset to be a cold herb, but in fact it has warmth. It has pungency even. It has stimulating qualities. And of course we think of it as an immune stimulant in some ways. But you know, boneset is also a fluid mover. It can move some lymphatic fluid in the system and help that to drain. Of course, there’s a connection to immunity there. And boneset is, you know, you can consider it one of our alteratives. An herb that can improve the circulating fluids partly through that draining effect. And then the other part is through that immune stimulation. To get that kind of like cleanup, you know, pac-man eating up detritus and all of that in the immune system.

Katja (39:53):
You know, I want to write or something about immune stimulant, because that word is so frequently employed. And it’s almost always kind of militaristic in its description of what’s going on. Like put your immune system on the attack, you know, like whatever. And since it is almost always militaristic, I kind of want to categorize the different plants that fall into that category as different parts of the military system. So, not everything in the military is about attacking things, right? Some stuff in the military is about feeding people.

Ryn (40:43):
The army marches on its stomach, right?

Katja (40:45):
Right. And about like even, you know, maintenance of equipment, and making sure that you know where the things are, and you ship them to the right place, and all that kind of stuff, all that logistical support. And boneset falls into that category. Boneset isn’t really… It’s not like an herb with tiny guns that’s going to go shoot at other… Like it’s not going to kill all the viruses itself.

Ryn (41:19):
Right, yeah. It’s not like a major antimicrobial agent.

Katja (41:22):
Right. It’s not like you’re doing a thyme steam. And like each little thyme molecule is like attacking a little pathogen molecule right there in your respiratory tract, because it really does have antimicrobial action. Sometimes I compare thyme steams to like herbal Lysol. And every time I do it Ryn cringes. But sometimes I do it anyway. You know, like that germ killing action. Boneset is not like that. Boneset is like really about making sure that the places in your body where you are doing the logistical support for your own immune system, that those parts of your body are functioning well.

Ryn (42:10):
And which parts of our body are we thinking about? Bones, bone marrow. Yeah. Where red and white blood cells are born, and then they’ve got to go out there. Yeah. So boneset, it does have a stimulating effect. You will see white blood cell counts rise, for instance, when people take boneset.

Katja (42:27):
Yeah. But just exactly the same way as in World War II, when we increased production of airplanes and aircraft carriers. Or did we have those in world war II? I don’t know. Boats anyway, ships. And you know, all those things. And there’s all these statistics about how we went from a whatever economy to a wartime economy. And then we produced like an airplane a day or something like that. And like listen, y’all. I’m not like yay, war.

Ryn (42:53):
Yay. Military industrial complex, woo!

Katja (42:54):
No, absolutely not. However, this thing exists. And it can work as a metaphor. And we’re all in that place when we say immune stimulant anyway. So, I’m just saying if we’re going to talk about attacking pathogens. then I’m going to call on all the other parts of the complex to yes, to explain this action.

Ryn (43:18):
Yeah. And it is more than direct attack, right? And you’ve been emphasizing that. But I think a good way to bring that home is to say that this is also helpful in what you might call the post viral moments or post viral time. And this is where, okay, you got the flu, you got Corona, whatever. You fevered. You sweated. You had snot for a while, or you didn’t. Whatever your symptoms were, right? And now you’re mostly on the other side of them, but there is lingering fatigue. There’s a feeling that you are like oh, I feel like I’m just susceptible to the next thing that comes by. Like I don’t feel like my shields are up, you know. There’s a feeling maybe of some lingering aches and soreness that’s not going away. Other things like that that are hanging on. And also like what happened for my parents the other month. It can be that feeling of like I just still have this heaviness in my lungs, or this slow drip of congestion that keeps coming out. You know, and it’s like come on. I thought I was done with this two weeks ago. These are times when boneset can be really, really helpful. And you don’t need a lot. You know, 10 drops of tincture taken three or four times a day is a dosing strategy that I was taught by Paul Bergner. And I remember it well, and have turned to that same idea several times since then and found it really helpful

Katja (44:39):
Even I don’t take that much. Like you know, if you’re one of our students or a regular listener of the pod, then you probably are aware that I tend to take higher doses of things than Ryn does. Because my body is sluggish, and I just typically need a higher dose. And so I might take a tablespoon of something, and Ryn might take a teaspoon of it. And that’s just because bodies are different, right? But even for me, in the fact that I typically take higher doses, with boneset I don’t. Like a dropper full, that’s enough. I don’t need more than that. I’m not taking only a dropper full, because I’m afraid to take anything else. I simply just don’t need more. That’s just all I need.

Ryn (45:23):

Katja (45:25):
It just doesn’t take much.

Ryn (45:26):
Right. You know, one way that you can take your boneset, maybe you know you caught the flu, right? Everybody’s got the flu. Now you’re starting to get sick. You’re like that’s the flu, okay. So you may have some elderberry syrup around for such moments. And if so, great, good job. You’ve got yourself stocked up early. That’s great. What you can do is to take a shot glass or half a shot of elderberry syrup. And then take your boneset and squirt it right into the elderberry syrup.

Katja (45:56):
Makes it much more pleasant.

Ryn (45:57):
Half a dropper or one dropper, whatever. You won’t really taste it with the sweetness from your syrup. So, it’ll get in it. It’s kind of like a power boost for the elderberry syrup. And so that’s a great way to take it. And this would work if you were like you’ve got an herb shop you can go to. You can buy elderberry syrup. You can buy boneset tincture. If you make your own, you can get some boneset in there from the beginning, right? And we often make not an elderberry syrup, but a winter elixir, which does include elderberry. But this is mainly like a tincture and honey extraction mix.

Katja (46:31):
Yeah. So, I’ll take the elderberries and extract them in honey fresh. And then I will take a bunch of herbs that I want to include and tincture them, and then combine those two. And actually in the cold and flu course on our school website, online.commonwealthherbs.com, there is a video that shows all the herbs that I put in, the proportions that I put them in to make the tincture, and then to make the elderberry infused honey. And then combine those together. Sometimes I re-tincture the elderberries after I have strained them out of the honey, because you can still get quite a bit out of them. But then I combine that, and then you get that tincture. And the tincture usually has like a little boneset, some blue vervain, because it’s hard for me to rest when I get sick. And so I need an herb who will help me do that. It always has sumac, some catnip,

Ryn (47:44):
If it’s been a good St. John’s wort year, we’ll put some of that in.

Katja (47:47):
Yep. Usually some goldenrod, some purple loosestrife.

Ryn (47:52):
Yeah. That’s good stuff.

Katja (47:54):
Who else goes in there? It’s a little different every year, but those are the ones that are always in. And then sometimes you see something, and you’re like ooh, that looks really good. One year I put a bunch of nettle seed in, because the nettle seed looked really fantastic. Oh, ground ivy usually.

Ryn (48:14):
Ground Ivy. Yeah.

Katja (48:14):
Now listen, ground ivy I tincture much earlier in the year than these others. All these other plants that I’m talking about, they’re all ready to harvest at about the same time. Ground ivy is much earlier in the year, and so I tincture that separately and add it in.

Ryn (48:28):
The St John’s wort we might tincture earlier like in the summer.

Katja (48:30):
A little earlier, yeah.

Ryn (48:32):
And then it’s kind of towards the autumn time when the goldenrods are just about to fully pop, and it’s time to harvest them.

Katja (48:40):
And the loosestrife is so pretty.

Ryn (48:41):
Yeah. So, that’s our winter elixir. And the boneset does make a big difference, even though you’re only putting in small amounts.

Katja (48:48):
Yeah. You don’t need much. Like in the whole… I’ll make like a half gallon of it. And I don’t know. I put in like four flowering tops of boneset total in the whole half gallon. You know, it’s not like there’s very much in there, but it’s enough. It makes a big difference.

Ryn (49:08):
All right. So, that’s some thoughts on fleabane and on boneset. Next time we’re going to be looking at meadowsweet and fennel.

Katja (49:19):
Oh, that’s going to be pretty exciting.

Ryn (49:20):
Stay tuned for that one.

Katja (49:21):
Two plants we love to talk about. I mean, every single time we say that. Ooh, I want to talk about these plants. Yeah.

Ryn (49:27):
It’s true every time, folks. All right. So, we’ll be back next time with some more of that. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (49:37):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (49:38):
And we’ll talk to you again soon.

Katja (49:40):
Bye bye.


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