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Phytochem Anal. 2018 Nov;29(6):613-626. doi: 10.1002/pca.2775. Epub 2018 Jul 2.

Potentially toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids in Eupatorium perfoliatum and three related species. Implications for herbal use as boneset.

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USDA, ARS, Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory, Logan, UT, USA.
Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, UT, USA.
American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Scotts Valley, CA, USA.
Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.



Pro-toxic dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids are associated with liver disease in humans. The potential for long-term, low-level or intermittent exposures to cause or contribute to chronically-developing diseases is of international concern. Eupatorium perfoliatum is a medicinal herb referred to as boneset. While the presence of dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids in some Eupatorium species is well-established, reports on Eupatorium perfoliatum are scant and contradictory.


To investigate the presence of dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids in a survey of boneset samples and related alcoholic tinctures, and hot water infusions and decoctions.


Methanol, hot water or aqueous ethanol extracts of Eupatorium perfoliatum and three closely-related species were subjected to HPLC-ESI(+)MS and MS/MS analysis using three complementary column methods. Dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids were identified from their MS data and comparison with standards.


Forty-nine samples of Eupatorium perfoliatum were shown to contain dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids (0.0002-0.07% w/w), the majority dominated by lycopsamine and intermedine, their N-oxides and acetylated derivatives. Alcoholic tinctures and hot water infusions and decoctions had high concentrations of the alkaloids. Different chemotypes, hybridisation or contamination of some Eupatorium perfoliatum samples with related species were suggested by the co-presence of retronecine- and heliotridine-based alkaloids.


Sampling issues, low and high alkaloid chemotypes of Eupatorium perfoliatum or interspecies hybridization could cause the wide variation in dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloid concentrations or the different profiles observed. Concerns associated with dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloids provide a compelling reason for preclusive caution until further research can better define the toxicity and carcinogenicity of the dehydropyrrolizidine alkaloid content of Eupatorium perfoliatum. [Correction added on 12 July 2018, after first online publication: The 'Conclusions' section in the abstract has been added.].


Eupatorium perfoliatum; Eupatorium pilosum; Eupatorium serotinum; Eutrochium purpureum; boneset; pyrrolizidine alkaloids; tisanes; decoctions; tinctures

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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