Pleurisy Root

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Pleurisy Root

Botanical Name: Asclepias tuberose (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Asclepiadaceae

Synonyms: Butterfly-weed. Swallow-wort. Tuber Root. Wind Root. Colic Root. Orange Milkweed.
Part Used: Root.

The genus Asclepias contains about eighty species, mostly natives of North America, a few being indigenous to South America and Africa.

Asclepias tuberosa, common from Canada southwards, growing from Ontario to Minnesota, most abundantly southward and southwestward, is known popularly as Pleurisy Root, from its medicinal use. Its stem forms an exception to Asclepias in general, by being almost or entirely devoid of the acrid milky juice containing caoutchouc, that distinguishes the rest of the genus and has gained them the name of Milkweeds.

Description: It is a handsome, fleshy rooted, perennial plant, growing 1 to 1 1/2foot high and bearing corymbs of deep yellow and orange flowers in September. When cultivated, it does not like being disturbed, and prefers good peat soil.

The rootstock, the part used medicinally, is spindle-shaped and has a knotty crown, slightly but distinctly annulate, the remainder longitudinally wrinkled.

The dried root as found in commerce is usually in cut or broken pieces of variable size, 1 to 6 inches long and about 3/4 inch in thickness, externally pale orange-brown, becoming greyish-brown when kept long, internally whitish. It is tough and has an uneven fracture; the broken surface is granular; that of the bark is short and brittle. The wood is yellowish, with large white medullary rays. The drug is almost inodorous, but has a bitterish and disagreeable, somewhat acrid taste.

The powdered drug is yellowish brown and when examined under the microscope shows numerous simple or 2 to 4 compound starch grains, also calcium oxalate crystals.

The Western Indians boil the tubers for food, prepare a crude sugar from the flowers and eat the young seed-pods, after boiling them, with buffalo meat. Some of the Canadian tribes use the young shoots as a potherb, after the manner of asparagus.

Constituents: The root contains a glucosidal principle, Asclepiadin, which occurs as an amorphous body, is soluble in ether, alcohol and hot water. It also contains several resins, and odorous fatty matter, and a trace of volatile oil. It yields not more than 9 per cent of ash.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant, tonic, carminative and mildly cathartic.

From early days this Asclepias has been regarded as a valuable medicinal plant. It is one of the most important of the indigenous American remedies, and until lately was official in the United States Pharmacopoeia.

It possesses a specific action on the lungs, assisting expectoration, subduing inflammation and exerting a general mild tonic effect on the system, making it valuable in all chest complaints. It is of great use in pleurisy, mitigating the pain and relieving the difficulty of breathing, and is also recommended in pulmonary catarrh. It is extensively used in the Southern States in these cases, also in consumption, in doses of from 20 grains to a drachm in a powder, or in the form of a decoction.

It has also been used with great advantage in diarrhoea, dysentery and acute and chronic rheumatism, in low typhoid states and in eczema. It is claimed that the drug may be employed with benefit in flatulent colic and indigestion, but in these conditions it is rarely used.

In large doses it acts as an emetic and purgative.

A teacupful of the warm infusion (1 in 30) taken every hour will powerfully promote free perspiration and suppressed expectoration. The infusion may be prepared by taking 1 teaspoonful of the powder in a cupful of boiling water.

The decoction is taken in doses of 2 to 3 fluid ounces.

The dose of the fluid extract is 1/2 to 1 drachm; of Asclepin, 1 to 4 grains.

A much-recommended herbal recipe is: Essence of composition powder, 1 OZ.; fluid extract of Pleurisy Root, 1 OZ. Mix and take a teaspoonful three or four times daily in warm sweetened water.

It is often combined with Angelica and Sassafras for producing perspiration in fever and pleurisy and for equalizing the circulation of the blood.

More than a dozen other species have similar properties.