Herb: Pleurisy Root

Latin name: Asclepias tuberosa

Family: Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)

Medicinal use of Pleurisy Root:

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.

Description of the plant:


75 cm
(2 feet)

July to

Habitat of the herb:

Dry open sandy and gravelly soils and grassy places by the sides of roads.

Edible parts of Pleurisy Root:

Whilst most parts of this plant 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.

Other uses of the herb:

A good quality fibre is obtained from the bark 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.

Propagation of 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 18C. 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.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry open sandy and gravelly soils and grassy places by the sides of roads.

Known hazards of Asclepias tuberosa:

Although no specific reports have been seen for this species, many, if not all, members of this genus contain toxic resinoids, alkaloids 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.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.