Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed/pleurisy root)

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Painting by Lara Call Gastinger

Artist’s Statement:

I had wanted to use a plant that I could find alive and growing in my yard. I had painted this plant before so I was familiar with the colors and structure of the flowers. This time around, I wanted to add more detail relating to the roots, the seed pods and the milkweed bugs that can be found on the pods. Most beautiful to me about this plant is the seed capsule that opens to reveal the windborne seeds.

Medicinal uses:

Asclepias tuberosa, also known as pleurisy root or butterfly weed, was most commonly used to treat asthma and bronchitis although there has been insufficient research to support these traditional uses. The root was either boiled or ground into a powder to be used in reducing inflammation of the lungs and mitigating breathing issues.

It was also used in a poultice for bruises, swelling, and rheumatism. It was also popular as an emetic and purgative as well as being used topically in wound healing. In 1752, a reader of the Virginia Gazette submitted an “infallible remedy” for pleurisy (pneumonia). The treatment began with a dose of tartar emetic. The next day the patient was bled, then given pleurisy root pounded fine in warm water. The medicine was repeated every two hours until the patient recovered. (Blanton, p. 216)

Preparations of the root are potentially toxic in large quantities. (Foster and Duke) A Japanese study published in 2000 reported several glycosides having cardiac stimulating effects. (Abe and Yamauchi)