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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

a.k.a. Butterfly Root, Canada Root, Colic Root, Flux Root, Indian Nosy, Indian Posy, Orange Milkweed,
Orange Swallow-wort, Pleurisy Root, Silkweed, Swallow-wort, Tuber Root, White Root, Wind Root

(Asclepias tuberosa)
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Unlike other milkweeds, A. tuberosa contains none to very little milky juice.

• No longer used medicinally as it contains TOXIC CARDIAC GLYCOSIDES!
• All milkweed contain these POTENT CARDIAC GLYCOSIDES, large doses of which are TOXIC and can cause diarrhea and vomiting!
• Fresh leaves cause nausea!
• Animals have been POISONED by feeding on the leaves and stems.

CONTAINS: Glycosides, resins, essential oil, bitters, up to 9% ash: asclepiadine, asclepione, ascepin, and possible estrogenic compounds.

One of the few native orange wildflowers of North America (now naturalized in Australia), this perennial native was used by Native Americans for over 1000 years. Grows 3 feet tall to about 2 feet wide. Stems are erect, round, hairy, green to red, growing in bunches from the root. Flowers are a clear, bright orange, sometimes appearing orange-yellow to red-orange in coloration, appearing in clusters June to August. Leaves are stiff, lanceolate, hairy, 2 to 5 inches long, alternate, dark green above, pale green beneath. Fruit is a long, narrow, furry pod which juts at right angles to the stem and which contains ovate seeds, terminating in long, silky hairs. Root is spindly, fleshy, stout and white with an acrid smell, has a knotty crown with the rest being longitudinally wrinkled. Can be found in open woods, sandy soils, and fields of New England, southwestern Quebec, Ontario to Minnesota, and south to Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and Mexico.

It appeared in the European pharmacopoeias in the 18th century. Was official in the USP 1820 to 1905 and the NF 1916 to 1936. Also appears on the Canadian list of medicinal plants.

Its scientific name is taken from Aesculapius, a Roman god of healing said to have apprenticed the healing arts with Chiron whose own skills were said to come from Apollo.

PROPAGATION: By SEED (germination 3 to 4 weeks) in spring at 59ºF in sandy, well-drained soil, pH 4 to 5, or, with a bit of skill and luck, division. Divide early in season. Once plants attain height of 3 inches or more, they resent being moved. You will have plenty of time to note their arrival as these push up through the soil later than other perennials. Also by root division in spring or autumn, but the plants are never quite as robust afterwards.
NEEDS: Perennial to Zone 3. Grown as an ornamental in dry, sandy, neutral to acid soil in full sun. Once planted is difficult to transplant successfully. Takes about 3 years to establish itself to the point of a full display, so requires a bit of patience. A modern cultivar called 'Gay Butterflies' is worthy of mass planting in any garden setting. Tolerates drought and blooms through July tapering off in early August. Both the wild and the cultivar are good butterfly and bee plants. Susceptible to cucumber mosaic virus.
HARVEST: Root in autumn (was used fresh in syrups only, but otherwise HAS to be used DRY!)
SOLVENT: Boiling water.
A. curassavica image: Native to Mexico. Was explored in the early 1970's for possible anticancer activity.


Expectorant, bitter, diaphoretic, carminative, cathartic, antispasmodic. Has been primarily used to relieve congestion, inflammation and breathing difficulties. There is some belief that it influences the flow of blood toward the skin, relaxing the capillaries and thus reducing tension to the heart and arteries.
Was used internally for pleurisy, bronchitis, consumption, pneumonia, measles (was considered a primary herb for this), asthma, dry cough, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, puerperal fever, gastritis, eruptive fevers, peritonitis, rheumatic fever, fever stages of colds and flu, diarrhea, dysentary, uterine problems, or in any condition evidenced by a rigid pulse and hot skin. Used as a warm infusion to increase sweating and to suppress coughing. Was sometimes combined with Angelica and Sassafras (or Cayenne) to encourage perspiration during fever and in cases of pleurisy; also to equalize circulation of the blood. Another combination for fevers was to combine 2 oz of powdered Pleurisy Root with 1/2 oz of Ginger; adults were dosed with 1 tsp of the mix to 1 cup of hot water, steeped 15 to 30 minutes, then taken warm with the dregs left at the bottom of the cup.
An old flu remedy was to combine 2 oz each of powdered Pleurisy root and powdered Goldenrod, 1/2 oz Ginger, 1 tsp Capsicum; this was taken in infusion form using 1 tsp of the combined mixture to 1 cup of hot water; as the condition improved, the Capsicum was gradually increased while gradually DEcreasing the Pleurisy root.
Another old rememdy used for dysmenorrhea and amenorrhea accompanied by cramping was 1 oz of powdered Pleurisy root combined with 1/2 oz each of Blue Cohosh and wild Yam, plus 1/4 oz of Ginger; an infusion was made using 1 tsp of the mixture to 1 cup of hot water and taken in wineglass full doses every few hours.
Was used externally for bruises, wounds, ulcers and rheumatism.
The root was chewed raw by Native Americans for lung problems. The Menomimi used the dried powdered root on wounds to stop bleeding, as well as old, obstinate sores. They also half-boiled the root, then pulverized it to strings (sometimes combined with Ginseng, Man-in-the-Ground [Echinocystis lobata] and Sweet flag) for use as a poultice on cut, wounds, and bruises. Other tribes simply pounded the fresh root into a poultice for bruises, rheumatism, inflammations, and lameness.The dried root was also chewed for bronchitis, pneumonia, and dysentary (the Catawbas used a decoction). The dried powdered root was also applied externally to venereal sores and ulcers with fungal infections.
Was used by the Potawatomi as an EMETIC to OTHER POISONS. The Penobscot used it as a diaphoretic and cold remedy.


!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
INFUSION = 1 tsp powdered root in 1 cup boiling water; steep 10 minutes; taken warm as a diaphoretic, otherwise taken cold a mouthful at a time during the day, total being 2 cups.
DECOCTION = 1 tsp root simmered 15 minutes in 1 cup of water; 1 to 2 cups taken daily, a mouthful at a time.
TINCTURE = 1/2 to 1 tsp, or, 5 to 40 drops every 3 hours, depending on age and overall condition; 5 to 15 drops was given in hot water at the beginning of a cold and 3 grains of cayenne every hour until body felt warm throughout; CHILDREN = 1 to 5 drops every 1 to 2 hours.
ASCLEPIN = 1 to 4 grains

A tincture of the fresh root is used for: Alopecia, asthma, bilious fever, bronchitis, catarrh, canker, colic, cough, diarrhea, dysentary, headache, heart problems, flu, opthamalia, pericarditis, pleurisy, pleurodynia, rheumatism, scrofula, syphilis.

The Sioux boiled the roots for food and prepared a crude sugar from the flowers. The young seed pods were boiled with buffalo meat.
The Delaware used the young shoots like asparagus and dried the buds for winter use.

A yellow dye was produced from the flowers by Native Americans to dye baskets; the Meskwakis were one tribe known to utilize the plant in this fashion, although early writings indicate they produced a red dye.

The seed pods have been used in dried floral arrangements.

The larvae of Monarch butterflies feed exlusively on milkweeds and retain a large quantity of the glycosides with females retaining 24% more than the males. Birds who eat these larvae suffer poisoning symptoms and vomit for up to 30 minutes (research from Amherst College in Massachusetts).

The Omaha tribe delegated a certain member of the Shell Society to be the keeper of this medicine. Duties of this person involved digging the root and distributing packs of it to each member of the Society. The process involved 4 days of preparation, ritual, and distribution.
Were used by some Native Americans to make fiber and bow strings from the stalks.
Fibers dating from 700 BC to 1000 AD have been found in Ohio archeological sites.

©2000 & 2005 by Ernestina Parziale, CH