Truth about Japanese boneset or bog orchid, science confirms

japanese boneset

The scientific name of the Japanese boneset or thorough-wort is  Eupatorium chinense L.

Scientific names Common names
Eupatorium chinense L. Apanang-gubat (Tag.)
Eupatorium crenatifolium Hand.-Mazz. Japanese bog orchid (Engl.)
Eupatorium glehni F.Schmidt ex Trautv. Japanese boneset (Engl.)
Eupatorium hakonense Nakai Japanese thorough-wort (Engl.)
Eupatorium japonicum Thunb.
Eupatorium laciniatum Kitam.
Eupatorium mairei Leveille
Eupatorium melanadenium Hance
Eupatorium sachalinense (F.Schmidt) Makino
Eupatorium sinense J.F.Gmel.
Eupatorium tozanense Hayata
Eupatorium wallichii DC.
Eupatorium japonicum Thunb. is a synonym of Eupatorium chinense L.
Eupatorium chinense L. is an accepted name.
Other vernacular names
CHINESE: Bai tou po, Chen gan cao.

Japanese boneset is an erect, leafy branched, smooth herb, 60 to 90 meters high. Leaves are fragrant, up to 19 centimeters long, divided quite to the base into three segments – the upper leaves subtending the branches of the inflorescence being deeply divided. Segments are elliptic-lanceolate or elliptic-ovate, up to 13 centimeters long, pointed at both ends, and toothed at the margins. Inflorescence is terminal, measuring up to 14 centimeters across. Flowering heads are 3 to 4 millimeters across. Flowers are white and fragrant.


– In thickets at low altitudes in many Islands.

– Occurs in Japan to China and Taiwan.


– Yields essential oil thymol.

– Contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids—class of hepatotoxic and tumorigenic compounds that have been detected in herbal plants and dietary supplements.

– Study of flowers and leaves yielded volatile oils. Main constituents were germacrene D (27.3%, 37.1%), gemacrene B (12.4%, 11.7%) and β-caryophyllene (8.6%, 10.1%).


– Considered anodyne, antibacterial, antidandruff, antiviral.

– Carminative, diaphoretic, diuretic, nervine.

– Leaves and stems considered vermifuge.

– Studies have shown ovicidal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-osteoporosis, hepatotoxic properties.

Toxicity concerns

– Plant reported to be poisonous, especially the leaves. However, leaves have reported use as tea or flavoring.

Parts used

Leaves, roots.


– In Japan, leaves consumed as tea or used as flavoring. (see toxicity note above)

– In Nepal, powdered plant used to prepare marcha, a fermenting cake from which liquor is distilled. (see study)

Folkloric traditional uses

– Leaves used as diuretic and anthelmintic.

– Also used as tea for indigestion.

– In China, used for diseases of women.

– Milky latex applied to goiter.

– Used by Rukai tribe of Wutai, southern Taiwan, for ulcer, fever, headaches, fractures. (see study)

– Root is beneficial to the circulation and restorative to women after parturition.

– Herb soaked in oil is applied to the hair as treatment for dandruff.

Other uses

– Fragrance: Fragrant leaves used to perfume hair and clothes. (see study)

Scientific studies Japanese boneset

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids:

Study on the pyrrolizidine alkaloid composition of three Chinese herbs (E. cannabinum, E. japonicum and Crotolaria assamica) yielded viridiflorine, cynaustraline, amabiline, supinine, echinatine, rinderine and isomers of these alkaloids were found in the Eupatorium species.


Study concludes the alkaloid in Eupatorium species is metabolized to “pyrrole” and an N-oxide metabolite in the liver, but the hepatotoxicity is much lower when compared to that caused by Crotolaria.

Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids / Hepatotoxic and Tumorigenic:

Studies have indicated that pyrrolizidine alkaloids induce tumors via a genotoxic mechanism mediated by 6,7-dihydro-7-hydroxy-1-hydroxymethyl-5H-pyrrolizine(DHP)-derived DNA adduct formation.

Ovicide and Larval Growth Inhibitor:

In a study with test insects Drosophila melanogaster, an ovicide identified as coumarin and a larval growth inhibitor, a new sesquiterpene lactone called euponin, were isolated from leaf extracts.

Antibacterial / Volatile Oils:

Study of volatile oils showed significant antibacterial activities against Micrococcus tetragenus, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus subtilis.

Osteoporosis Prevention:

A previous study showed bioactive constituents can reciprocally regulate adipogenic and osteogenic fates of bone marrow cells. This study showed stems extracts suppressed lipid accumulation and inhibited the expression of adipocyte markers. Results showed bioactive anti-adipogenic and pro-osteogenic components in the stem extracts, suggesting a potential as a functional food and therapeutic alternative for preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Anti-Inflammatory / COX and iNOS Suppression / Flowers:

Study investigated the ethanol extracts of flowers on nuclear factor (NF)-kB activation and expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) by TLR agonists in murine macrophages. Results showed EJE can regulate TLR signaling pathways and suggests a potential as anti-inflammatory drug.

Safety Issues on Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids:

PAs have been shown to cause toxic reactions in humans, particularly veno-occlusive disease, when ingested with food and herbal medicines (ex: comfrey). PAs are found primarily in three plant families: Asteraceae (Eupatorium and Ageratum), Boraginaceae, and Fabaceae. Peilan, a commonly used Chinese herb, contains Eupatorium fortunii and E. japonicum.

Eupalinin A / Autophagocytosis in Human Leukemia HL60 Cells:

Eupalinin A, a natural phytoalexin, exibited marked inhibitory effect on cell growth of HL60 cells. Results suggest the eupalinin A-induced cell death was mainly due to autophagy, initiated by increased ROS.



Extracts and supplements in the market.

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