Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
Pleurisy root, Asclepias tuberosa, is also known by many other names including butterfly weed (it is the food of both Monarch and Queen butterfly larvae), Canada root, chigger flower, flux root, Indian paintbrush, Indian posy, orange milkweed, orange swallow-wort, silky swallow-wort (also used for the closely related common milkweed), tuber root, white root, wind root and yellow milkweed – there is also a yellow-flowered variety. It is not related to greater celandine (also sometimes called swallow wort).
Pleurisy root is an attractive plant which is found from Ontario in Canada to Southern Florida. It is a hardy perennial which reaches a height of around 2.5 feet (80cm). It does not like heavy soil, but is otherwise happy in any well drained soil not in full shade.
Like its close relative, most parts of this plant are edible once thoroughly cooked. Take care if you decide to use the shoots that they are really from this plant, as there are much more dangerous plants whose shoots look very similar: Apocynum cannabinum (Common Dogbane) and Apocynum androsaemifolium (Spreading Dogbane) – click on the names to find out how to distinguish them. It is inadvisable to eat large quantities, and you should never eat it raw because it contains toxins which are destroyed by cooking.
Propagation is the same as for a half-hardy annual: start the seeds off at about 65ºF (18ºC) under cover in spring, transplant into pots and plant out after all risk of frost has passed. Pleurisy root resents root disturbance, so if you can use rootrainers instead of regular pots, this would probably be helpful. It’s also prone to slug damage, so provide some protection if possible – for example surround with fresh wood ashes (which will need to be topped up regularly) or a copper collar.
Roots are harvested from 2 year old plants in the fall and dried for later use: cut into evenly sized pieces (it’s used a teaspoonful at a time) and lay out in a single layer in a dry airy place out of the sun. Turn regularly until completely desiccated, then store in dark colored airtight containers in a cool place.
As is fairly obvious from the name, the part used is the root, either fresh or dried. Make a decoction using 1 teaspoon of root to 475ml (2 US cups, 0.75 UK pint) in a pan of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the liquid reduces by half. The dosage is up to 1 cup per day, which can be split into 3 separate doses. Dried powdered root is used to make a poultice, by mixing it with very hot water and wrapping closely in a bandage, which is applied to the area to be treated and refreshed in hot water as required.
Pleurisy root is mainly used for disorders and infections of the respiratory system, for colds, bronchial conditions such as pneumonia and pleurisy, and as an expectorant. It is also sometimes used to treat rheumatism, dysentery, diarrhea and feverish conditions.
Externally a poultice is used to treat bruises, external ulcers, and similar problems.
It’s important to grow pleurisy root organically to avoid corruption of its essential constituents. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.