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Gravel root, also known as Joe Pye weed, kidney-root, or by its scientific name Eutrochium purpureum, is a perennial flowering plant. Its native habitat is found in the eastern and central areas of North America. Gravel root was used historically by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, most significantly typhus, a bacterial disease transmitted by lice and other parasites. In modern times, the roots of the plant are used in herbal medicine to treat an assortment of medical conditions. This herb is most frequently used for its diuretic properties, meaning that it encourages frequent urination and promotes the health of the urinary tract.
The plants are usually quite tall, about 5 to 8 feet (1.5 to 2.5 meters) in height, and grow in tight clusters. They have sturdy, vertical stems covered in wrinkled, green, oval-shaped leaves. Gravel root flowers are small, spiky, and purple or pink in color. Flowers also grow in clusters and typically bloom at the end of summer or the beginning of fall.
Modern herbalists may use gravel root to treat a variety of conditions, most of which are related to urinary tract health. The herb is effective at preventing or treating kidney and bladder stones. In fact, the plant's common name comes from its efficacy in treating kidney stones, which are sometimes referred to as "gravel." Other conditions that can be treated or alleviated with gravel root include cystitis, or inflammation of the urinary bladder, and enlargement of the prostate gland. Due to the herb's ability to support the function of the kidneys, it can also be useful in treating gout, a disorder that can be caused by reduced kidney function.
Research indicates that a chemical compound called cistolin found in gravel root has anti-inflammatory properties. This may be why the herb is also effective in reducing fevers. It may also be used to manage the pain caused by menstrual cramps.
Although the herb has many beneficial effects, its usage can also lead to unwanted side effects. Pains in the stomach are a common side effect. The use of gravel root can also lead to liver problems. Due to the possibility of side effects, the herb should not be used by pregnant women or nursing mothers or by individuals whose liver is already compromised. Gravel root is also a member of the aster family of plants, which cause allergic reactions in many individuals, so people who have an allergy to ragweed, marigolds, or other plants from the aster family should avoid taking it.
It is typically the roots of the plant that are used in herbal medicine, although other plant parts may also be used with varying results. Usually, roots are ground and added in small doses to water. The water is then brought to a boil and made into a tea.