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Asclepias (U. S. P.)—Asclepias.

Botanical name:

Fig. 33. Asclepias tuberosa. Photo: Asclepias tuberosa 3. Preparations: Extract of Asclepias - Fluid Extract of Asclepias - Compound Powder of Pleurisy Root - Compound Tincture of Lobelia
Related entries: Asclepias Cornuti.—Milkweed - Asclepias Incarnata.—Flesh-Colored Asclepias

"The root of Asclepias tuberosa, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
Nat. Ord.—Asclepiadeae.
COMMON NAMES: Pleurisy root, Butterfly weed, Orange swallowwort, Wind root, Tuber root.
ILLUSTRATIONS: Bigelow, Am. Med. Bot. II, 59; Barton, Med. Bot. I, 239.

Botanical Source.—Asclepias has a perennial, large, fleshy, branching, white, and sometimes fusiform-like root, from which numerous stems arise, growing from 1 to 3 feet high; these are erect, or more or less procumbent, round, hairy, green or red, growing in bunches from the root. The leaves are alternate, the lower ones pedunculated, the upper sessile. They vary from linear to oblong-lanceolate, are hairy dark-green above, paler beneath, waved on the edge, and in the old plants sometimes revolute. The flowers are numerous, erect, of a beautifully bright orange color, and are arranged in terminal, rarely axillary, umbels, which are corymbose.

History.—Many of the asclepiadeae have, from time to time, furnished the medical profession with important medicines. The order is largely represented in the tropics, but the North American genera are comparatively few. The most important plant bearing the name asclepias (derived from Aesculapius), to Eclectics at least, is the Asclepias tuberosa, or butterfly weed. It is perhaps best known to the profession, at least to the older physicians, as pleurisy root, a name indicating one of its most important applications. Though growing most abundantly in the South, it may be found as far north as Massachusetts, preferring gravelly and sandy soils. It blooms in June, July, and August, and when in flower forms one of the most conspicuous and handsomest features of a summer landscape. For miles along the railways clusters of the rich, deep orange flowers of the butterfly weed, as it is called, bedeck the fields, a sight perhaps more pleasant because it blooms when the majority of showy plants are less abundant. This plant differs from its congeners in being destitute of the milky juice common to most of them, such as the common milkweed (Asclepias Cornuti), and others. Several popular names have been given it, indicative either of its appearance or use, the most common of which are pleurisy root, butterfly weed, orange swallow-wort, silkweed, tuber root, wind root, white root, flux root, and Canada root. The official part is the root; it is spindle-shaped, of a light-brownish color on the outer surface, white, coarse, and striped within. When fresh it has a disagreeable, slightly acrimonious taste; when dried its taste is slightly bitter. Boiling water or alcohol extracts its virtues. The infusion is undoubtedly the most effective medicinal preparation. When the infusion can not be employed specific asclepias is next preferred.

Fig. 34. Fresh root of asclepias. Description.—"Root large and fusiform, dried in longitudinal or transverse sections, from 2 to 15 Cc. long (3/4 to 6 inches), and about 2 Cc. (3/4 inch) or more in thickness; the head knotty, and slightly but distinctly annulate, the remainder longitudinally wrinkled, externally orange-brown, internally whitish; tough, and having all uneven fracture; bark thin, and in two distinct layers, the inner one whitish; wood yellowish, with large, white, medullary rays. It is inodorous, and has a bitterish, somewhat acrid taste. When long kept it acquires a gray color"—(U. S. P.).

Chemical Composition.—Mr. Elam Rhoads found in this root gum, pectin, starch, albumen, gallic and gallo-tannic acids, lignin, salts, an odorous material of a fatty nature, two resinous bodies-one dissolving in ether, the other refusing to so dissolve-and a fixed oil. Mr. Rhoads also obtained a. peculiar body having the taste of the drug, which may be thrown down from a strong infusion of the root by tannin. By decomposing with litharge and exhausting with boiling alcohol, decolorizing and evaporating the liquid, a yellowish-white powder is obtained, which is soluble in ether, alcohol, and less freely in water, from which it may be dissociated by tannin. Sulphuric acid colors it brown and nitric acid pink, finally becoming purple (Clabaugh). The above-mentioned principle was ascertained by Quackenbush (1889) to be a glucoside, and was obtained by him in crystalline condition. He also detected a fluorescent body, but no tannin.

Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Asclepias, or pleurisy root, was one of the most common of the indigenous medicines employed by the Eclectic fathers. It was favorably written upon by most of the earlier writers on American medicinal plants. The drug has fallen into unmerited neglect, and could profitably be employed at the present day for purposes for which much more powerful, and sometimes dangerous, drugs are used. It has an extensive range of usefulness, being possessed of diaphoretic, diuretic, laxative, tonic, carminative, expectorant, and probably antispasmodic properties. Asclepias and coralorrhiza, are, par excellence, the diaphoretics of the Eclectic materia medica. Like crawley, it is not stimulating, and may be used to promote diaphoresis, no matter how high the degree of fever. It differs from most diaphoretics in producing a true secretion from the skin that more nearly resembles the normal function of insensible perspiration than any other agent of its class. It increases largely the elimination of solid material to the exclusion of copious perspiration. Crawley increases both the solid and liquid transpiration. Asclepias may be indicated even though the patient be freely perspiring. While the liquid flow is copious it may be deficient in power to carry off the solid detritis, an act which the asclepias will perform, provided the indications for its use are present. While it is serviceable even where the temperature is high, it does its best work where the temperature is but moderately exalted, and when the skin is slightly moist, or inclined to moisture, and where the pulse is vibratile and not too rapid. If the pulse be rapid, weak, and small aconite will assist it; if rapidly bounding and strong, veratrum should be administered at the same time. Pleurisy root has a deservedly good reputation in respiratory diseases. It acts upon the mucous membrane of the pulmonary tract, augmenting the secretions and favoring easy expectoration. Besides its action on the respiratory mucous surfaces its action upon the skin as a true diaphoretic, establishing the insensible perspiration when the skin is dry and harsh, and correcting that weakness of the skin which allows the sweat to pour out too freely, renders it of value in the colliquative sweating of phthisis. As its popular name indicates, pleurisy root is of much value in treating pleuritis. Here it will greatly assist the action of bryonia and aconite, the latter being administered in the early stage, and bryonia and asclepias in alternation later. Not only is its action on serous membranes marked, as in the preceding disorder and in pleurodynia, but it is very effectual in intercostal neuralgia and rheumatism, as well as in pericardial pains. The chief action of asclepias is to lessen arterial tension, and acute diseases are those in which it is of most value. With the indicated sedative it is one of the best known agents in the early stage of pneumonia and pleuro-pneumonia, provided always the indications alluded to are present Some cases will yield to asclepias alone, but this is not generally the case, as the drug plays more the rôle of an assistant than a leading remedy. It is a safe drug, for while it may not act as efficiently when not indicated, it may be said to never be contraindicated, so far as expecting any harm from its use is concerned. Hyperemic states of the breathing organs seem to call for asclepias. In pneumonia, as well as in bronchitis, it is best adapted to the acute stage, where the lesion seems to be extensive, taking in a large area of lung parenchyma and mucous tissues. Webster believes it best adapted to control vascular disturbances in the area supplied by the bronchial arteries, and suggests that by reserving it for this place we shall lessen its liability to confusion with other appropriate remedies. It undoubtedly acts upon the general circulatory apparatus, lowering arterial tension. In the convalescing stage of pneumonia, and other respiratory lesions, when suppression of the expectoration and dyspnoea threaten, small doses at frequent intervals will correct the trouble. In dry asthma with fever, but lacking the spasmodic element, 5-drop doses of specific asclepias will do good service. As a remedy for dry and constricted cough it may be given in small amounts, preceded a half hour by specific lobelia in doses of 1 or 2 drops. In catarrhal troubles specific asclepias, well diluted, is useful as a local remedy when used early in the disease. It, as well as euphrasia and matricaria (chamomilla), is among our best drugs for snuffles, or acute nasal catarrh of infants. In phthisis it is valuable to alleviate the distressing cough and to allay irritability of the mucous surfaces, and is not without good effects on the circulation and the stomach, through its subtonic action. It is an excellent remedy for ordinary colds. It is, in fact, one of our best drugs for catarrhal conditions, whether of the pulmonary or gastro-intestinal tract, especially when produced by recent colds.

Stomach troubles, particularly those of children, are often markedly benefited by small doses of specific asclepias. A weakened stomach, accompanied with nervous impairment, or with catarrhal complications, rendering digestion difficult and painful, is often toned to do its work pleasantly under the use of small doses of asclepias. Diarrhoea and dysentery, when of catarrhal character and due to cold, are benefited by alternating with other indicated remedies, from 10 to 15 drops of specific asclepias, or the infusion may be freely employed. As a remedy for gastric disorders it is well adapted to children and weak individuals. Headache from disordered digestion has been cured with it, and for flatulent colic in young children: Rx Specific asclepias, gtt. x to xv; aqua, fl℥iv. Mix. Teaspoonful every 5 minutes. Dioscorea may also be administered with it in cases of flatus in adults and children. A pill composed of equal parts of alcoholic extracts of asclepias, aletris, and dioscorea will be found very beneficial in flatulency, borborygmi, and where persons are subject to flatulent and bilious colic. In some cases, especially of long standing, the addition of pulverized African ginger will much improve its efficacy. Asclepias is a remedy for nervous irritability of children, especially when due to gastric disturbances. The dry forms of. cutaneous affections are benefited by it, especially where it is necessary to establish the true dermal secretions. It is likewise beneficial in this sense in those cases of neuralgia and acute rheumatism, accompanied with profuse sweating. It alters the character of the perspiration. In the exanthematous fevers it favors the eruptive process, and in painful inflammations gives some relief by its diaphoretic action. Asclepias has been used in dropsy, but we have better agents for that affection. It is not an active agent, yet on the whole, though apparently a feeble remedy, when indicated, it accomplishes a purpose which no other remedy in the materia medica fulfils. Dose of the powder, 20 grains to 1 drachm, 3 or 4 times a day; of a strong infusion (the best preparation), from 2 to 4 fluid ounces, 4 or 5 times a day, until perspiration is produced; specific asclepias, 1 to 60 drops; fluid extract, 1 to 60 drops.

Asclepidin, or oleo-resin of asclepias, is a dark, semi-liquid mass, and is prepared by evaporation or distillation of the saturated tincture in water, similar to the plan pursued for obtaining resin of cimicifuga. It was formerly used for all purposes to which the crude article is applied, in doses of from 1 to 5 grains, 3 or 4 times a day, or as indicated.

Specific Indications and Uses.—The specific indications for asclepias, according to Dr. J. M. Scudder are: "Pulse strong, vibratile; skin moist, pain acute, and seemingly dependent on motion." The skin may be hot and dry or inclined to moisture; the urine is scanty; the face flushed; vascular excitement is marked in the parts supplied by the bronchial arterioles; inflammation of serous tissues; gastro-intestinal. catarrhal troubles due to recent colds.


King's American Dispensatory, 1898, was written by Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., and John Uri Lloyd, Phr. M., Ph. D.



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