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This member of the aster family was widely used by Native Americans, who referred to the herb as ague weed. European settlers learned how to use the plant from the Menominee, Delaware, Mohegan, Iroquois, and Cherokee, all of which who made infusions of the leaf and bark whenever fevers broke out.
In fact, the common name for this plant likely came from its use in the colonies to counter dengue fever, a mosquito-transmitted viral infection known as break-bone fever at the time. The herb was so dependent in the 19th century that it traveled with soldiers into battle during the Civil War.
The tannins and alkaloids in this herb lend astringent properties, which makes the boneset suitable for various topical applications.