Butterfly weed


Photograph thanks to:

Copyright © 1995-2003 Henriette Kress. http://www.ibiblio.org/herbmed

Common Names: Pleurisy- Root, Greater plantain, Ratís tail, Whiteroot, Orange milkweed, Windroot,  (and Showy Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Lechones: A. speciosa)


Scientific Names: Asclepias tuberosa and Asclepias speciosa



Appearance: For the Showy Milkweed, it is a robust, grayish-hairy herb with milky sap and hollow, hairy stems.  Leaves opposite are 10-25cm long, with a pinkish midrib and conspicuous side veins.  Flowers pink or whitish to greenish-purple about 2.5cm long with 5 backward-bent petals below 5 erect, horn-like appendages, forming rounded clusters from May to July.  The fruits are single or paired, soft-spiny pods 7-10cm long containing flat seeds with silky parachutes of hairs.  Pleurisy root: smaller with bright orange flowers and clear sap.


Habitat: Showy milkweed grows on open, loamy ground in plains, foothills and montane zones from southern BC and Alberta to New Mexico.  Showy milkweed is found in California from sea level to 6,000 feet, in valleys and along streams.  It is also found from 5,000 Ė 9,000 feet in Western mountainous areas.  Where it grows it is common, but also widespread and erratic and mainly found in undrained depressions along roads.


Collecting: Dried juice for the broken stems of the Showy milkweed provide chewing gum.  Young shoots, unopened flower buds and immature seed pods are eaten raw, boiled, or fried in oil.  It can be added to soups and thickens and tenderizes the meat.  First cover the plants with boiling water, and repeat a couple of times to reduce bitterness.  Young Showy Milkweed 10-15cm tall can be used like asparagus and sweet buds and flowers are boiled down to make a thick syrup or brown sugar.  Milkweed seeds are occasionally eaten.  The roots can be collected in the fall after the pods have dropped and seeded.  Many times the roots form large clusters and they may never exceed the thickness of the stem and disappear into nothing in other plants.  It is better not to belabor the digging.  Unless the stand is producing thick tubers, itís wise to go for the thin pieces that are a foot long or less.  The roots dry hard and tough, so itís advisable to chap into half-inch sections while still fresh.


Medicinal uses for asthma:  Asclepias tuberosa is an expectorant and vasodilator and is reputed to be soothing to the respiratory system.  In Asclepias speciosa, the powdered roots are boiled to make medicinal tease for use as a sedative and as a treatment for stomachaches and asthma.  Fresh roots are boiled to make teas for treating asthma. A tablespoon boiled in a cup and recieved hot will help the lungs

Caution:  The sap contains poisonous cardiac glycosides.  These toxins are destroyed by heat, so milkweeds should always be cooked before they are eaten.  The roots are also considered poisonous.  Narrow-leaved milkweeds are more toxic than broad-leaved species.  Excess can cause nausea.