Pleurisy Root

This genus of about 120 species of tuberous annuals, perennials, shrubs, and subshrubs, some evergreen, is found mainly in N America and Africa. Several species are grown as border plants for their colorful flowers, and for pods that split open to show the silk-tufted seeds. Asclepius is named after Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. Asclepius tuberosa is widely regarded as one of the finest plant expectorants. The common name "pleurisy root" refers to its primary role in treating pleurisy. It was used by native Americans for over 1,000 years before entering European pharmacopoeias in the 18th century. In Ayurvedic medicine, the leaves of the related Tylophlora indica (syn. T. asthmatica) have been well researched as a remedy for asthma and other respiratory disorders. The root is a good substitute for Caphaelis ipecacuantha (see ipecac).

Pleurisy root was first used by Native Americans as an internal remedy for pulmonary infections and an external remedy for wounds. It gest its name from the herb's ability to ease the pain and difficulty in breathing seen in pleurisy, the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the lugs and lines the rib cage. Pleurisy root is a powerful expectorant and sweat inducer that is used to treat colds, respiratory problems, and flu.

Perennial with large, tuberous roots, erect, hairy stems, and narrowly oval leaves, 10-14cm (4-5½in) long. Clusters of orange-red flowers appear in summer, followed by slender seed pods, to 15cm (6in) long.

Common Name:
Pleurisy Root
Other Names:
Butterfly Weed, Canada Root, Orange Milkweed, Swallow-Wort, Tuber Root
Botanical Name:
Asclepias tuberosa
Native Location:
Eastern and southern N America
Dry, sandy, neutral to acid soil in sun. May be attacked by cucumber mosaic virus. Asclepias tuberosa is sensitive to disturbance.
By seed sown in spring; by root cuttings in autumn or spring; by basal cuttings in spring.
Roots are lifted in autumn and used fresh in a syrup or dried for compresses, powders, decoctions, ointments, and tinctures.
60-90cm (12-24in)
23-45cm (9-18in)
Parts Used:
Chemical Constituents:
  • Asclepiadin
  • Asclepione
  • Galitoxin
  • Volatile Oils
  • Properties:
    A bitter, nutty-flavored tonic herb that increases perspiration, relieves spasms, and acts as an expectorant.
    Known Effects:
  • Decreases thickness and increases fluidity of mucus in lungs and bronchial tubes
  • Irritates mucous membranes
  • Stimulates and irritates gastrointestinal tract
  • Possible Additional Effects:
  • Potential mild laxative to cause, watery, explosive bowel movements
  • May increase perspiration
  • May help treat pleurisy
  • Medicinal Uses:
    Internally for pleurisy, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, dry cough, gastritis, eruptive fevers, rheumatic fever, feverish stages of colds and influenza, and uterine disorders. Excess causes diarrhea and vomiting. Not given to pregnant women. Externally for, bruises, wounds, ulcers, and rheumatism.
    To treat cough, pleurisy, pain, rheumatism, and difficulty in breathing.
    Possible Side Effects:
    Pleurisy root's side effects include gastrointestinal irritation, nausea and vomiting. Pleurisy root contains cardiac glycosides, which can help control irregular heartbeat, reduce the backup of blood and fluid in the body, and increase blood flow through the kidneys, helping to excrete sodium and relieve swelling in body tissues. However, a buildup of cardiac glycosides can occur, especially when the herb is combined with certain medications or other herbs that contain cardiac glycosides, causing arrhythmia, abnormally slow heartbeat, heart failure, and even death
    Warnings and Precautions:
    Don't take if you:
  • Are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future
  • Have any chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, reflux esophagitis, ulcerative colitis, spastic colitis, diverticulosis, or diverticulitis

  • Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs including aspirin, laxatives, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs

  • Pregnancy:
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Infants and Children:
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
  • Store in cool, dry area away from direct light, but don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Don't store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe Dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    Drug Interactions:
    Common Name: Sectral
    Combination Drug: Secradex
    Purpose: Acebutolol is used to treat high blood pressure and certain forms of heart arythmia, and is in a family of drugs known as beta-andregenic blockers.
    Instruction: Adverse reactions may occur. Consult with physician or pharmacist before using this herb.
    Taking pleurisy root with this drug may be harmful:
    Digitalis, (Digitek, Lanoxin)—may increase the risk of cardiac glycoside toxicity
    Disease Effects:
    May worsen heart disease.
    Supplement Interactions:
    Increased risk of cardiac glycoside toxicity when used with other herbs that contain cardiac glycosides, such as Black Hellebore, Calotropis, Motherwort, and others.
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects or Overdose Symptoms:
    Signs and Symptoms What to Do

    Appetite loss Discontinue. Call doctor when convenient.
    Coma Seek emergency treatment
    Diarrhea Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Lethargy Discontinue. Call doctor when convenient.
    Muscle weakness Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Nausea or vomiting Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited Pg 134
    A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Viatimn interaction by Alan R. Gaby, M.D. copyright © 2006 Healthnotes Inc. pg. 3
    The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide by Geo. T. Grossberg,MD and Barry Fox,PhD Copyright©2007 Barry Fox,PhD. pg. 370
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith, MD Copyright©1998 Fisher Books pp. 415-416