Pleurisy Root

By Photo by and (c)2009 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Asclepias tuberosa-Pleurisy Root

Family: Asclepiadaceae

Other names: Butterfly Weed,Wind Root, Canada Root, Silkweed, Orange Swallow Wort, Tuber Root, White Root, Flux Root, Asclepias

Habitat:N. America – S. Ontario and New York to Minnesota, south to Florida and Colorado. Dry open sandy and gravelly soils and grassy places by the sides of roads. 

Although no specific reports have been seen for this species, many, if not all, members of this genus contain toxic resinoids, hazardsmallalkaloids and cardiac glycosides. They are usually avoided by grazing animals. The plant is poisonous if eaten in large quantities. Very large doses can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Avoid during pregnancy.

Pleurisy root is a bitter, nutty-flavoured tonic herb that increases perspiration, relieves spasms and acts as an expectorant. It was much used by the North American Indians and acquired a reputation as a heal-all amongst the earlier white settlers. Its main use in present day herbalism is for relieving the pain and inflammation of pleurisy. The root is antispasmodic, carminative, mildly cathartic, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, tonic and vasodilator. The root was very popular as a medicinal herb for the treatment of a range of lung diseases, it was considered especially useful as an expectorant. It has never been scientifically examined and warrants further investigation. It has also been used internally with great advantage in the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, rheumatism etc. Use with caution, This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women. See also the notes above on toxicity. The root is harvested in the autumn and can be used fresh or dried. A poultice of the dried, powdered roots is used in the treatment of swellings, bruises, wounds, ulcers, lameness etc.

By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Pleurisy Root:

Asclepias tuberosa, Pleurisy root is a PERENNIAL growing to 0.8 m (2ft 7in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in).
It is hardy to zone 3. It is in flower from Jul to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, insects, lepidoptera.

Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil.

Cultivation of Pleurisy Root:

Prefers a well-drained light, rich or peaty soil. Prefers a sandy soil and a sunny position. Prefers a slightly acid soil. Prefers a dry soil. Plants are hardy to about -20°c. Another report says that this species is only suited to the warmer areas of Britain. A very ornamental plant, but it is not easy to establish or to keep in British gardens. Resents root disturbance, plants should be pot-grown from seed and planted out in their permanent positions when young. Plants are particularly at risk from slugs, however, and some protection will probably be required until the plants are established and also in the spring when the new shoots come into growth. The flower can trap insects between its anther cells, the struggles of the insect in escaping ensure the pollination of the plant.

Propagation of Pleurisy Root:

Pleurisy root seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn or in late winter. We have also had good results from sowing the seed in the greenhouse in early spring, though stored seed might need 2 – 3 weeks cold stratification. Germination usually takes place in 1 – 3 months at 18°c. As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out when they are in active growth in late spring or early summer and give them some protection from slugs until they are growing away strongly. Division in spring. With great care since the plant resents root disturbance. Pot the divisions up and place them in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse until they are growing away strongly, then plant them out in the summer, giving them some protection from slugs until they are established.. Basal cuttings in late spring. Use shoots about 10cm long with as much of their white underground stem as possible. Pot them up individually and place them in a lightly shaded position in a greenhouse until they are rooting and growing actively. If the plants grow sufficiently, they can be put into their permanent positions in the summer, otherwise keep them in the greenhouse until the following spring and when they are in active growth plant them out into their permanent positions. Give them some protection from slugs until they are established.

Collection: The rhizome should be unearthed in March or April. Clean,split and dry.

Culinary uses of Pleurisy Root:

Edible Parts: Flowers,  Leaves,  Oil, Root, Seedpod.
Edible Uses: Oil,  Sweetener.

Whilst most parts of Pleurisy Root have been used as food, some caution is advised since large doses can cause diarrhoea and vomiting – see the notes above on toxicity. Flower buds – cooked. They taste somewhat like peas. Young shoots – cooked. An asparagus substitute. The tips of older shoots are cooked like spinach. Young seed pods – cooked. Harvested when 3 – 4 cm long and before the seed floss begins to form, they are very appetizing. The flower clusters can be boiled down to make a sugary syrup. In hot weather the flowers produce so much nectar that it crystallises out into small lumps which can be eaten like sweets, they are delicious. Root – cooked. A nutty flavour. Some reports say that it is poisonous. An edible oil is obtained from the seed. The seed is very small, however, and commercial usage would not be very viable.

pleurisy_root,Asclepias_tuberosaMedicinal uses of Pleurisy Root:

Actions: Diaphoretic, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, carminative, anti-inflammatory.

Part Used: Rhizome.

Indications: Pleurisy Root is effective against respiratory infections where it reduces inflammations and assists expectoration. It can be used in the treatment of bronchitis and other chest conditions. The addition of diaphoretic and anti-spasmodic powers will show why it is so highly valued in the treatment of pleurisy and pneumonia. It can be used in influenza.

Priest & Priest give the following specific indications:catarrhal complaints from cold and damp; hard dry cough.BronchitispleurisyperitonitisPneumonia,influenzaintercostal rheumatism and intercostal diseases.

To quote King’s at length: “It was one of the most common medicines employed by the eclectic fathers. It was favorably written upon by most of the earlier writers on American medicinal plants. The drug has fallen into unmerited neglect, and could profitably be employed at the present day for purposes for which much more powerful and sometimes dangerous, drugs are used. It has an extensive range of usefulness, being possessed of diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative, tonic, carminative, expectorant, and probably anti-spasmodic properties. Pleurisy root is one of the best diaphoretics of the Eclectic materia medica. It is not stimulating, and may be used to promote diaphoresis, no matter how high the degree of fever. Pleurisy root has a deservedly good reputation in respiratory diseases. It acts upon the mucous membrane of the pulmonary tract, augmenting the secretions and favoring easy expectoration. Besides its action on the respiratory mucous surfaces its action upon the skin as a true diaphoretic, establishing the insensible perspiration when the skin is dry and harsh, and correcting that weakness of the skin which allows the sweat to pour out too freely, renders it of value in the sweating of phthisis. As its popular name indicates, pleurisy root is of much value in treating pleurisyNot only is its action onserous membranes marked, but it is very effectual in intercostal neuralgia and rheumatism, as well as in pericardial painsThe chief action of Pleurisy root is to lessen arterial tension, and acute diseases are those in which it is of most value. With the indicated sedative it is one of the best known agents in the early stage of pneumonia, provided always the indications alluded to are present. Some cases will yield to Pleurisy root alone, but this is not generally the case, as the drug plays more the role of an assistant than a leading remedy. It is a safe drug, for while it may not act as efficiently when not indicated, it maybe said to never be contraindicated, so far as expecting any harm from its use is concerned. In pneumonia, as well as in bronchitisit is best adapted to the acute stage, where the lesion seems to be extensive, taking in a large area of lung parenchyma and mucous tissues. It undoubtedly acts upon the general circulatory apparatus, lowering arterial tension. In the convalescing stage of pneumonia, and other respiratory lesions, when suppression of the expectoration and dyspnoea threaten, small doses at frequent intervals will correct the trouble. In catarrhal troubles specific Pleurisy root, well diluted, is useful as a local remedy when used early in the disease. It, as well as Euphrasia and Matricaria, is among our best drugs for snuffles, or acute nasal catarrh of infantsIt is an excellent remedy for ordinary coldsIt is, in fact one of our best drugs for catarrhal conditions, whether of the pulmonary or gastro-intestinal tract, especially when produced by recent colds. Stomach troublesparticularly those of children, are often markedly benefited by small doses. Diarrhoea and dysenterywhen of catarrhal character and due to cold are benefited by alternating with other indicated remedies. As a remedy for gastric disorders it is well adapted to children and weak individuals.Headache from disordered digestion has been cured with it, and for flatulent colic in young children. Dioscorea may also be administered with it in cases of flatus in adults and children. Asclepias is a remedy for nervous irritability of children, especially when due to gastric disturbances. The dry forms of cutaneous affections are benefited by it especially where it is necessary to establish the true dermal secretions. It is not an active agent yet on the whole, though apparently a feeble remedy, when indicated, it accomplishes a purpose which no other remedy in the materia medica fulfils.”

Preparations & Dosage:

Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water onto 1/2-1 teaspoonful of the herb and let infuse for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Other uses of Pleurisy Root:

Fibre,  Latex,  Oil,  Pollution,  Stuffing.

A good quality fibre is obtained from the bark of Pleurisy Root and is used in making twine, cloth etc. It is easily harvested in late autumn after the plant has died down by simply pulling the fibres off the dried stems. The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc or is mixed with other fibres to make cloth. It is a kapok substitute, used in life jackets or as a stuffing material. Very water repellent. The floss has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea. The plant is a potential source of latex, used for making rubber. This species is the only member of the genus that does not have latex in its sap. The seedpods contain an oil and a wax which are of potential importance. Candle wicks are made from the seed floss. The seed contains up to 21% of a semi-drying oil.

Esoteric uses of Pleurisy Root:


The Chemistry:


* Cardenolides, including asclepiadin

* Flavonoids; rutin, kaempferol, quercitin and isorhamnetin

* Miscellaneous; friedalin, [[alpha]]-amyrin, [[beta]]-amyrin, lupeol, viburnitol, choline sugars.

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