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Gravel root is a diuretic used for both urinary and arthritic problems

Gravel root

Eutrochium purpureum Asteraceae

The roots and rhizomes of Gravel root have a long history of use as a medicine. Traditionally they have been used primarily for pain and inflammation within the urinary tract and for chronic arthritic presentations.

  • How does it feel?

    Gravel root is extremely hard. When harvested it has to be chopped with an axe to divide the firmly matted roots. It feels strong, like it can break something, such as a stone. It is acrid, heavy and descending.

  • What can I use it for?

    Gravel root has been used for all manner of presentations affecting the urinary tract that are accompanied by pain, infection and inflammation. It causes an increase in urine production and can help flush out waste products.  This action means it can also be of benefit in chronic joint pain.

    Traditionally often combined with Hydrangea and Parsley piert or Pellitory-of-the-wall for urinary gravel.

    It is important to ensure you are obtaining an authenticated source of this plant. There can be hybridization with other species or adulteration and contamination with other related species such as Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

    Please refer to the safety section for further detail.

  • Into the heart of Gravel root

    Due to its diuretic properties gravel root has been used to good benefit in the urinary system for infections and urinary gravel, hence its common name.  It has been used to good effect along with herbal analgesics and anti-inflammatories in cases of prostatitis.

    It can be of help in gout and ‘rheumatism’ – the latter, a catch-all term used to describe conditions characterised by pain and stiffness in the muscles, joints or surrounding fibrous tissue. Useful here as it helps the body to rid itself of waste products via the kidneys.

  • Traditional uses

    Traditionally gravel root was used in a similar way to its relative Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) for fevers and as a tonic for debility, especially in older people.

    The plant was widely used by Native Americans. The Cherokee used the roots as a remedy for the kidneys and for rheumatism. It was also used as a partus preparator (to prepare the womb for labour) and to tone the uterus. The Chippewa used it when with a cold, inhaling the vapours from an infusion of the plant. The Potawatomi people used a poultice of the leaves for burns, and the Navajo used the herb as an antidote for poison.

    Adopted by white settlers it was also used for urinary infection, gravel and stones and as a diaphoretic to help break a fever.

    Gravel root was considered a valuable remedy for dropsy – a term once used for fluid retention/oedema and stranguary – another old term used for painful spasm in the bladder and urethra with frequent need to urinate, often whilst only passing small amounts of urine.

    Also used for blood in the urine, gout and rheumatism, it was said to exert a special influence on chronic renal and cystic issues.

  • Traditional actions

    Western herbal actions are

    • Diuretic
    • Anti-lithic
    • Anti-rheumatic
    • Tonic
    • Astringent
    • Cooling
    • Descending
  • What practitioners say

    Genitourinary tract: In urinary tract infections it has been put to good use when combined with demulcents such as corn silk and urinary antiseptics such as thyme or buchu.

    Useful in cystitis, urethritis, dysuria (painful urination) and prostatitis, it combines well with pasque flower for such situations.

    Musculoskeletal: The diuretic properties of gravel root make it helpful in osteoarthritis and gout, drawing out impurities by increasing the flow of urine.

    Liver remedies are often combined to assist the body excrete waste products via the bowel, thus utilising both these routes of elimination.

  • Research

    There is scant scientific data on the medicinal actions of gravel root.

    In vitro anti-inflammatory activity has been demonstrated from an isolated constituent of gravel root known as cistifolin, a benzofuran flavonoid which may contribute to the plants reputation as an anti-rheumatic herb.

    Please also refer to the safety section.

  • Did you know?

    The common name of Joe-pye weed comes from the name of Joe Pye, a New England medicine man who was said to have halted an epidemic of typhoid fever in colonial Massachusetts with use of the plant. The ashes from burnt roots have been added as a kind of salt to flavour foods.

Additional information

  • Safety

    Whilst gravel root can help in reducing the risk of recurrent issues with urinary gravel, kidney stones require conventional medical attention.

    Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) are naturally occurring phytochemicals found in certain plant families. They are produced by the plants as a defence mechanism against being eaten. Some PAs can be carcinogenic, hepatotoxic and mutagenic.

    It is possible, but certainly by no means definite, that Gravel root may contain hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

    Adulteration of Gravel root with other family members such as Boneset can be a risk, along with that of the common occurrence of interspecies hybridization, which has the potential to cause an alteration in the plant’s phytochemical profile.

    Overall the research is contradictory and contamination issues are a likely possible issue here.

    The European Herbal and Traditional Medicines Professional Association (EHTPA) have decided at present to adopt a watch and wait approach on both boneset and gravel root until more formal research is undertaken where identification/DNA bar coding can be used to identify adulteration issues.

    Chemotype and hybridisation issues are more complex but the EHTPA are working with specialists on this.

    They are liaising with herbal suppliers to see what can be done to ensure contamination and adulteration risks are limited.

  • Contraindications

    Contraindicated in children, pregnancy and lactation.

  • Dosage

    2-4g dried root and rhizome one to three times daily

    Decoction – half to a teaspoon simmered in a mug-sized amount of water for 15-20 minutes. Half a cup per dose

    3-8 ml per day 1:3 tincture

  • Plant parts used

    The roots and rhizomes harvested in the autumn after the plant has finished flowering.

  • Constituents

    • Volatile oil: 0.07%
    • Flavonoids: euparin, euparone and cistofolin
    • Resin: Eupurpurin
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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