Botanical: Asclepias tuberosa (also known as Aesclepias tuberosa)
Family: Apocynaceae (dogbane) - formerly Asclepiadaceae (milkweed)
Other common names: Pleurisy Root, Butterfly Milkweed, Silkweed, Flux Root, Tuber Root, White Root, Wind Root, Canada Root, Orange Swallow Wort, Orange Milkweed, Colic Root, Swallow Wort, Chiegerflower
Butterfly Weed is considered an herbal cold remedy and one of the finest plant expectorants that has been used to ease pleurisy, pneumonia and other pulmonary and respiratory ailments. It also has been used to promote sweating, which will help to cool the body and reduce eruptive and burning fevers.
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Butterfly Weed is an herbaceous milkweed that is native to North America, and unlike other milkweeds, it does not produce a milky, latex-like sap. It is a handsome, fleshy-rooted perennial that may grow to a height of three feet and bears beautiful clusters of deep yellow and orange flowers. The plant is sensitive and difficult to establish and thrives in dry, sandy, neutral-to-acid soil in full sun, but when cultivated, Butterfly Weed does not like to be disturbed and prefers good peat soil. It is considered rare and protected in some states. Butterfly Weed is an important nectar source for bees and other insects and a larval food source for Monarch butterflies, thereby giving rise to its name, Butterfly Weed. The seed pods in the plant contain soft filaments that are known as "silk," which suggests another of its common names, Silkweed, and this material is considered a fine insulation that may be superior to down feathers for warmth. Its botanical genus, Asclepias (sometimes spelled Aesclepias) is derived from the Greek god of healing, Aesclepius, because of the plant's many medicinal applications; and another of its common names, Pleurisy Root, is an obvious reference to its historical use to treat pleurisy and other pulmonary ailments. Early Western tribes enjoyed the high dextrose content in Butterfly Weed as a natural sweetener, and Canadian tribes considered it a fine vegetable for the pot. The Natchez people employed Butterfly Weed as a remedy for pneumonia, and the Catawbas used it for dysentery. It is interesting to note that Native Americans used Butterfly Weed in their medicines (mostly for lung ailments and to reduce fever) for over one thousand years before the herb entered European pharmacopoeias of the eighteenth century or was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia in the nineteenth century (1820-1920). It is a bitter, acrid, nutty-flavored tonic herb, and its dried roots are used in herbal medicine. Some of the constituents in Butterfly Weed include alpha- and beta-amyrin, resins, amino acids, volatile oil, flavonoids (rutin and quercetin), glucosidal principal (asclepiadin), kaempferol and lupeol.
Butterfly Weed has been a very valuable herb in the treatment of pleurisy (reaffirming its common name, Pleurisy Root). It not only eases the pain associated with the illness (which helps to make breathing easier), but most importantly, it is also considered an effective herbal expectorant that encourages, loosens and removes phlegm from the respiratory tract. The herb is said to reduce inflammation of the pleural membranes of the lungs, enhance secretion of healthy lung fluids and stimulate the lymphatic system. Its specific action on the pulmonary and respiratory system is said to help break up colds, ease consumption, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, dry cough, clogged nasal passages, catarrhal affections of the lungs and throat, and virtually all bronchial complaints.
Butterfly Weed is thought to be good for the digestive system, although not often used for this purpose. It has been used to relieve indigestion and a "gassy stomach" and for flatulent colic.
As a diaphoretic, Butterfly Weed is said to promote perspiration and sweating, and herbalists have used it to cool the body and reduce eruptive fevers. It has been utilized to ease the feverish stages of colds and flu, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, bilious fever, low typhoid states, measles and other burning fevers.
Several of Butterfly Weed's historical applications have included treatment for dysentery, diarrhea and has been called an effective antispasmodic that can ease the pain associated with difficult menstrual cycles.
Pregnant and nursing women should not use Butterfly Weed Herbal Supplement. Overuse (many times the recommended dosage) may cause diarrhea and vomiting. Do not use in conjunction with prescription heart medication, diuretics or hormonal medications; it may interfere with medications used to control heart rhythm (Digoxin/Lanoxin).