Joe Pye Weed: A Tea Herb From New England

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Joe Pye weed is a native North American herb and was supposedly named after a Native American medicine man, but historians recommend taking this story with a grain of salt. According to some, the man named Joe Pye may have been a myth invented by New England colonists. Other names for Joe Pye weed include gravel root and purple boneset. 

Numerous legends surround the name, including one stating that Joe Pye is the anglicization of Jopi or Jopai. Other etymological theories about Joe Pye posit that the name derived from eupatory, which comes from the genus (Eupatorium) in which the plant was placed at one point. 

Joe Pye’s name supposedly became widely known because he used the herb to cure European settlers of typhus or typhoid — the diseases differ from legend to legend. The decoctions that he made with the herb are said to have stopped an epidemic early on in Massachusetts history. 

Joe Pye’s name is generally associated with the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are records from the period that mention Native Americans with whom the colony had relationships. No one named Joe Pye is mentioned in those writings. If he existed or was as famous as later writers claimed, some historians say that his name would most likely have turned up somewhere. That said, there is at least one study claiming that the name belonged to a Mohican who lived in Massachusetts and New York and who changed his name to Joseph Pye. 

The first time that the name was published was in 1818 when botanist Amos Eaton used it in his book Manual of Botany for the Northern and Middle States of America. Eaton said that the name Joe Pye belonged to a Native American rather than someone of European descent. He wrote that the President of Williams College used a tea made from Joe Pye weed to cure a fever. Eaton noted that the plant was for inducing perspiration and its use was mainly in the western part of Massachusetts. 

It is important to note that the Joe Pye weed name is applied to multiple plants belonging to the Asteraceae family, making it a relative of echinacea and burdock

Joe Pye weed flavor profile

Joe Pye weed gives off a sweet aroma similar to that of vanilla. The flavor of root decoctions has been likened to old hay with a hint of bitterness. 

Joe Pye weed health benefits

You get health benefits from consuming Joe Pye weed because it contains:

  • Flavonoids: The flavonoids in Joe Pye weed help to fight free radicals and the many serious health conditions they can cause. 
  • Euparin: The active ingredient in Joe Pye weed root extract has been named euparin. 

Use Joe Pye weed to correct or prevent the following health problems: 

  • Urinary tract issues: A decoction of the root is a traditional treatment for kidney stones, painful urination and bladder infections.
  • Gallstones: Joe Pye weed is considered effective for dissolving existing gallstones and preventing the formation of new ones.  
  • Fevers: One of the earliest uses for Joe Pye weed was as a febrifuge, and it still works for that purpose today. 

Common uses

The most common way to use Joe Pye weed is as a tea. All parts of the plant may be used to make this tea.