All of the information covered by Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
The young Quaker watched and listened closely to his pastor as they visited the home of a church friend. A concerned father and worried mother had called for him to come and see to the needs of their son who had been thrown from a horse. A slight bend in the forearm of the boy indicated that he’d broken his arm. The friends first prayed for the boy and then they prayed that God would guide the pastor to the right treatment. As pastor his job was also to be the doctor for his church. The stepped out of the small cottage with his companion and they searched the edges of the field. Growing in a drainage was a plant whose leaves joined at the base. The pastor rejoiced and pointed out to his apprentice that the joined leaves was a sign from God that this plant would heal the young boy’s bones. They collected the leaves in a basket and took them to boy. They placed leaves over the broken bones and wrapped them in a bandage. The bones would need time to knit but the leaves did their job and it took less time than was expected.
Virginia Boneset is a native Appalachian plant that was used by the many Eastern tribes and colonists alike. As the name suggests it was used to set broken bones and it actually seemed to work. The story above exemplifies a European belief in the Doctrine of signatures. While the doctrine was older than the Quaker church it certainly would have been adopted by them. It was the belief that a plant’s anatomy would give clues on how God intended the plant to be used. The joined leaves was the sign for healing broken bones.
In Image “Virginia Boneset 92520b we can see a good example of the leaf base. We can also see that the plants are pretty hairy. This is important because there is a very toxic look-alike in White Snakeroot. The leaves of White Snakeroot do not join and are not as hairy.
Virginia Boneset wasn’t just used as a poultice on broken bones. During the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1819 it was used by some people as a tea to reduce fever and “cure” the flu similar to Joe Pye Weed and in fact the two plants are first cousins. They are also both called “Boneset” and probably produce the same chemicals in their leaves. Which brings me to a warning. It is now thought that like Coltsfoot, Virginia Boneset may contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that damage the liver. One source suggests that they also have a substance that stimulates T-cell production and that’s why it was effective against viruses but I have not been able to find a second independent source on this and so I’m not sure if that’s so. Virginia Boneset is said to be a diuretic as well and therefore help flush diseases from the body that way.
Virginia Boneset is associated with wet conditions as you can see in Image Titled “Virginia Boneset 92520c” with cattails in the background. This photo was taken on the edge of a pond where the ground was moist but not muck.
Virginia Boneset flowers in the late season and some even refer to it as “Late Boneset” because it appears as the Joe Pye Weed is fading away. As such it’s going to be an important late season resource for pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies. If you want to see butterflies as late in the season as possible or if you raise honeybees then allowing this plant to have some space is a good idea.
One last note is that all of the sources I reviewed that have actually drank the tea made from either Boneset say that it is a terrible tasting tea. It’s actually listed as an emetic and known to cause vomiting so there’s no culinary uses for this one.
That’s it for tonight. Please keep in mind that I am presenting this as trivia and history only and be blessed throughout your days.
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