Plant Family: Apocynaceae/ Subfamily Asclepiadaceae (Elpel, 2018)
Genus and species: Asclepias tuberosa
Common Names: Butterflyweed, Butterfly Milkweed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root, Chigger Flower
(Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 2014)
Parts Used: Root
Tissue State: Hot/Excitation, Dry/Atrophy
Taste: Sweet, salty, slightly bitter, slightly acrid, initially slightly astringent then evolves into prominent demulcent coating.
Degree of Action: 3rd Degree
Botanical Description: 1-3 ft tall; leaves lance-shaped, Figure 1. Pleurisy Root, Pickens, SC. Jun 16, 2017
predominantly alternate; bright orange flowers, tuberous root;
Grows in dry, open fields; Range Main to Florida, Plains region, Southwest; high drought tolerance
Properties: Demulcent, Cooling, Expectorant, Diaphoretic
I recall fondly the first time I saw the bright, orange flowers of pleurisy root in a derelict roadside field. There were only 2 plants in a vast sea of green grasses and variety of weeds. Her showy bloom invoke a heartwarming smile and wonder. I didn’t know it was pleurisy root at the time. The experience prompted me to learn more about her. That lead me to a field guide to make her identification. The last time I saw her in the wild was in summer of 2017. I was walking along a new trail and there was one plant in full bloom in a field.
I have only experienced the tinctured for of pleurisy root. Hoping to avoid an emetic action, I took 1ml tincture 1:5 in 50% ETOH. I felt a distinct focused movement of energy firmly directed in the chest and stomach. I felt a warming sensation pushing to the periphery then a secondary settling of cooling taking residence. The taste was quite unique and multilayered. Initially the taste was sweet, salty with slight bitterness and acrid. I’m uncertain if the initial astringency I experienced was true to the plant or related to the ETOH. I would like to try it in a tea to get a better profile. But unmistakable was the persistent lingering demulcent coating I felt on my tongue. I am excited to use this plant more in practice.
Curious about the origin of the genus name and its link to Greek mythology, I found the following on the USDA website, “The genus name Asclepias is named after the Greek god of medicine Asklepios. The species name tuberose refers to the tuberous (knobby and with swellings) roots” (Stritch, n.d.). Pleurisy root was popular in the 19th century as a moistening expectorant with affinity to the lungs (Wood, 2009). The plant is native to North America. Native Americans were known to chew the root for a variety of lung conditions and boil the root to aid in cases of diarrhea (Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 2014).
William Cook, 19th century physiomedicalist, documented a warm infusion as the best preparation method (Cook, 1869). He also describes its action as “slow…void of stimulation…[lacking] sudden and powerful effects” (Cook, 1869). Cook further describes pleurisy root action as mild, persistent, and certain (Cook, 1869). He punctuates the virtues of pleurisy root by saying, “The root of this plant is probably one of the most reliable and serviceable relaxing diaphoretics in the whole Materia Medica” (Cook, 1869). In Cook’s view, pleurisy root was best deployed in acute conditions and avoided in chronic ailments given the primary action to open the sweat glands and vasodilation with secondary influence to promote mucous membrane secretion (Cook, 1869).
The Eclectic Harvey Felter gives specific descriptions of pleurisy root’s effectiveness when there is pain with thoracic movement accompanied by a cough that is restrained due to the pain (Felter, 1922). He further describes the characteristics of the indicated cough as “short, short, hacking, barking, rasping” (Felter 1922).
Key Uses: Dry, tight, constricted, nonproductive cough; hot, dry, irritated chest conditions; lower respiratory tract inflammation/infections; pleuritis; hot, dry mucous membranes (Hoffman, 2003; Wood, 2009)
Pleurisy root is not used as prolifically as in the past. However it continues to be employed to cool, promote expectoration and moisten tissue in hot, dry chest conditions. Its historical use during pleuritic chest pain continues today. Pleurisy root is used as a relaxing diaphoretic to promote sweating and peripheral vasodilation.
No relevant clinical studies found.
Constituents: (Hoffman, 2003)
Flavonoids (rutin, kaempferol, quercetin,, isorhamnetin)
Dosage and Method of Delivery: (Easley & Horne, 2016)
Cold Infusion: 1-4 oz TID
Tincture: 1:5, 50%, dried; 5 drops to 1ml up to 4x/day
Cautions and Contraindications: (AHPA, 2013)
May cause nausea and vomiting; Emetic. Do not use during pregnancy.
American Herbal Products Association. (2013). Botanical safety handbook (2nd ed.). Boca
Raton, FL: CRC Press Taylor & Francis Group.
Cook, W.M. H. (1869). The Physio-medical Dispensatory: A treatise on therapeutics, materia
medica, and pharmacy, in accordance with the principles of physiological medication.
Cincinatti, OH: WM. H. Cook. Retrieved from http://medherb.com/cook/cook.pdf
Easley, T. & Horne, S. (2016). The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide.
Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Elpel, T. (2018). Botany in a Day: The patterns method of plant identification (6.1 ed.). Pony,
MT: HOPS Press, LLC.
Felter, H.W. (1922). The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Retrieved
Hoffman, David. (2003). Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.
Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. (2014). Asclepias tuberosa [Data File]. Retrieved from
Stritch, L. (n.d.). Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa L.). Retrieved from
Wood, M. (2009). The Earthwise herbal: A complete guide to new world medicinal plants.
Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.