Pleurisy Root – Butterfly Weed
Asclepiadaceae (milkweed family)
Both the family and genus of this stunning herb are named for the Greek god of medicine, Asldepios. The species name, tuberosa, means “full of swellings or knobs” and describes the enlarged root system characteristic of this plant. The milkweed family is noted for both toxic and healing properties. The distinguishing feature of many members of this family is a milky sap that oozes out when plant parts are broken.
Each of the two hundred or so species of perennial herbs in this family, mostly native to North America and Africa, draws most butterflies and some hummingbirds to their blossoms, as well as many other insect pollinators. Some very distinctive species are found throughout the Americas, and many of these make beautiful additions to the herb garden.
Also known as Choctaw root, Indian paintbrush, and orange swallowwort, pleurisy root will grow up to three feet tall from its stout, woody root-stock. This herb prospers in dry, sandy earth and grows naturally from southern Ontario through New England south to Florida and west to Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. Its lance-shaped leaves crowd along a slightly hairy stalk. Clusters of showy bright yellow-orange flowers bloom from May through September in most of these areas. The vibrant flowers draw many butterflies for the nectar.
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, has an equally broad range and grows up to six feet tall. The dense cluster of white to pale pink flowers emits a heavenly fragrance. All plant parts are poisonous except for the very young spears, blossoms, and very young pods. The toxic substances are cardiotonic glycosides. The monarch butterfly, which depends completely on the milkweeds for food, is protected by these toxins because they render it inedible by predators. Native Americans used these properties to treat heart problems and numerous other health needs.
Horsetail milkweed, A. verticillata, grows to almost three feet tall through the central and eastern United States, and the southern antelope milkweed, A. viridifolia, grows up to five feet tall from Massachusetts to Georgia and west to Arizona and New Mexico. The striking blossoms of these plants, pale green to
whitish gold, make them most appealing for cultivation in the herb garden.
Pleurisy root was one of the most important Menomini medicines. They used the roots as wound dressings and for many other remedies, often mixing the roots with other botanicals in particular formulas. Penobscot Indians used them as cold medicines and as a dressing for sores. The Omaha Indians used this plant as one of their sacred medicines in the Shell Society. Special ceremonies accompanied the digging, consecration, and preparation of the roots over a four-day period. Many tribes gathered and steamed the blossoms to eat for food and medicines. This was a special plant for dreaming and magic.
Pleurisy root is used for pain and inflammations. It is used for tight conditions in the chest. It is used to cough up phlegm and reduce fevers by stimulating sweating. Pleurisy root is also taken for asthma, dysentery and diarrrhea.
Do not take during pregnancy. Vomiting may occur if taken in large doses.
Growth needs and propagation:
Pleurisy root grows well in most soils and propagates readily from seed and root divisions. Follow traditional methods for each.
Cayenne / Chili peppers, blue flag, bayberry, and evening primrose are good companions for pleurisy root.
We are ruled by the examples set for us by all our relations of the Creator. Our leaders take responsibility for the care and well-being of all the people. They are to see that no one is hungry when others are well-fed, and no one is cold when others are warm. The strong ones are to protect the weak ones, and all are to respect the wisdom and experience of the elders.
– Nanepashemet, the late Wampanoag artist and historian, 1983