Asclepias tuberosa. White Root, Pleurisy Root, Butterfly Weed.

Botanical name: 

Swallow-Wort, Wind-Root, etc.

Related entries: Asclepias incarnata - Asclepias curassavica - Asclepias syriaca

Description: Natural Order, Asclepiadaceae. Genus ASCLEPIAS: Herbaceous perennials. Calyx deeply five-parted; corolla deeply five-parted, valvate in aestivation, finally reflexed; staminal corona five-leaved, leaflets rolled into a hoodshape, a hornlike process standing out from the base of each; anthers in a five-angled, truncate mass; pollen in masses of five distinct pairs, pendulous; fruit in two ventriocous follicles; seeds numerous, flat, umber-colored, with an abundant white, long, silky coma. A. TUBEROSA: Stem ascending, sometimes almost decumbent, with spreading branches at top, hairy. Leaves alternate, scattered, upper ones sessile, acute, obtuse at base, oblong, two to four inches by six to ten lines. Flowers in numerous, large, corymbed umbels, terminal; with hoods bright orange, oblong, narrow; appearing in July and August. Follicles erect, lanceolate-pointed.

This species of asclepias is more abundant in the Southern than the Northern States. It selects moist and loamy ground, and is usually from two to three feet high, the stem not emitting much milky juice. The root is long, fleshy, nearly white within, and pale brown on the surface. This root is the medicinal part; is easily pulverized, yields its properties readily to water or diluted alcohol, and has a somewhat insipid, bitter taste.

Properties and Uses: The root of this plant is probably one of the most reliable and serviceable relaxing diaphoretics in the whole Materia Medica. It diffuses itself with only moderate rapidity, but maintains its influence with considerable pertinacity. Its principal action is upon the sweat glands, at the same time that it relaxes the capillaries and thereby relieves the heart and arteries. It also exerts a decided impression upon the serous tissues, especially the pleurae and peritoneum; the mucous membranes of the lungs and bowels are also influenced by it; and its general action gives a peculiar and valuable relief to acute arterial and nervous excitements.

The chief employment of this agent is in febrile and inflammatory affections, where the perspiration needs to be decidedly promoted, and excitement of the heart relieved by a full outward determination of blood. It secures a slow, steady, and free perspiration, at the same time suitably diminishing excessive heat of the surface; which action renders it highly serviceable in typhus, scarlet, bilious, puerperal, lung, rheumatic, and other forms of fever, with a hot skin and rigid pulse. Measles and catarrhal fever may be added especially to this list; and so great is its service in pleurisy, that Apleurisy root is one of the most popular of its names among the people. In acute dysentery, with fever and tormina, it secures that free circulation to the surface which affords great relief to the bowels; and in the acute stages of inflammation of the womb, bladder, and kidneys, it is of equal advantage. In all these cases its use is followed by not only an increased perspiration and softening of the pulse; but the action of the kidneys becomes better, the mucous surfaces act more firmly and naturally, and the nervous system obtains a soothing impression that is very desirable.

General as the action of this agent thus is, it is yet rather slow; and its influence is so void of stimulation, that the physician will be disappointed if he look for sudden and powerful effects from it. Its persistency and mildness, together with its certainty, are what make it so useful. Most commonly it is combined with some diffusive and more prompt stimulant, especially with about one-fourth its own weight of ginger or polemonium. There is a peculiar insipidness about the taste of this asclepias, which is well covered by the ginger. The fresh root has a rather mawkish, nauseating taste.

This agent is not one that is to be chosen in the treatment of chronic cases; though its action on the sweat glands leads many to combine it with stimulants and tonics in leucorrhea, recent dropsies, and other cases where the skin is harsh and dry. It is not an article suitable for depressed conditions; and should not be used where there is already a tendency to too much perspiration, or where the pulse is small and feeble. In distinct typhoid cases, it should always be combined with a full portion of stimulants; and the same rule should be observed in using it during the latter stages of pneumonia, pleurisy, peritonitis, etc. If, in any of these cases, the surface becomes cold, the pulse weak, and signs of approaching effusion supervene, this asclepias should not be used at all. In like manner, it would be out of place in any malady presenting a similar condition of skin and pulse, with a tendency to suppuration or putrescence.

The most common, and altogether the most appropriate mode of using the white root, is by warm infusion. One ounce to a quart of boiling water is the best proportion; and the dose of this may be varied from four to six tablespoonfuls every hour or half hour; or half a teacupful every hour or hour and a half.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Infusions. The simple infusion has been mentioned. It enters into a very large number of compound infusions, among which may be named the following: Ist. Asclepias, one ounce; ginger, two drachms; lobelia herb, half a drachm. Used in small doses every half hour where a moderate nauseating impression is needed with a relaxing diaphoretic. 2d. Asclepias and dioscorea, each, half an ounce; ginger and anise seed, each, one drachm. Used in colic, flatus, etc. This article also enters into a new Composition Powder, that will be found among the preparations of Myrica.

II. Compound Diaphoretic Drops. Digest one pound of crushed asclepias in a quart of water and four ounces of alcohol; at the end of twelve hours transfer to a percolator, and add water till three pints have passed; to this add half a pound of sugar, and evaporate rather briskly, yet below the boiling point, to one pint. Have prepared one ounce of caulophyllum and one drachm of aristolochia, tinctured in eight ounces of diluted alcohol, by percolation. Add this to the concentrated decoction of asclepias. Dose, one to four teaspoonfuls in a warm tea of spearmint, catnip or ginger, every hour. It is a very potent diaphoretic, moderately stimulating and nervine, and quite useful in recent colds, small-pox, and other exanthems, etc.

III. Asclepidin. This is prepared by percolation in a very close apparatus, passing to it the vapor of 98 percent alcohol. The tincture thus obtained is evaporated three-fourths; and when the residue is allowed to stand for several days, the asclepin rises slowly to the surface, from which it may be gathered and dried in the usual way. It forms a grayish-white, faintly odorous powder, which represents the root but moderately well. For diaphoretic purposes it is an indifferent agent; and though some speak of it in glowing terms for purposes of sudoresis, it will be of little service unless given in very large doses, and associated with such warm infusions as would probably secure a perspiration without any aid from asclepin. (136, 186.) For a nervine action, and influence on the serous tissues in sub-acute cases, it answers a better purpose. Dose, two to five grams every two or four hours.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at