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Pleurisy Root

Pleurisy Root

Botanical Description & Habitat

Asclepias tuberosa


Common names

AscelepiasButterfly weed
Canada rootOrange milkweed
OrangerootTuber root
Wind rootWhite root

Indigenous to North America and found in some areas of South America. It flourishes in dry, sandy, and gravel soils.

Has large, irregular, yellowish-brown roots producing numerous erect stems which grow from one to two feet in height. The stems are hairy, with a green or red hue, and contain a milky fluid. The leaves are lanceolate, hairy, and grow alternately along the stem paler on the underside. The flowers are bright orange and bloom during June and August. The fruit is a narrow, green pod containing ovate seeds.

Medicinal parts
Root dried, collected in autumn

Historical Properties & Uses

Pleurisy root has a reputation extending back several centuries. It is a favored treatment for colds, flu, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and pleurisy. In America, it was the primary expectorant of choice for several decades.

One early practitioner, after 25 years of continuous clinical observation, wrote the herb possessed "...an almost specific quality of acting on the organs of respiration, powerfully promoting... expectoration," and that it...proved equally efficacious... in pneumonic fevers, colds, catarrhs, and diseases of the breast in general."

Such enthusiasm was shared by the majority of early American medical doctors. Today, after several decades of obscurity, pleurisy root is once again rising in popularity among herbalists and public alike. While it has not been extensively investigated, it has displayed strong antibiotic and diaphoretic properties. Effects on heart and circulation have been noted, as well as estrogenic and uterine stimulating properties.

Method of Action

Pleurisy root strongly inhibits mycobacterium tuberculosis
Incubated at 37 degrees C. for seven days with the H37Rv strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, pleurisy root extract produced inhibition at dilutions of 1:160 to 1:300, making it one of the most effective among those plants exhibiting such activity.

Pleurisy root has uterine stimulant and estrogenic properties
The fluid extract of pleurisy root exerts an appreciable oxytocic-like action on the uteri of several species of lab animal, including guinea pig and rabbit, both in vitro and in vivo, and contains substances having a strong estrogenic effect on castrated rats.

Miscellaneous Pharmacology Of Pleurisy Root
Tonic effects on the heart and circulation, as well as stimulation of the sweat glands, have been established.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
Since pleurisy root's diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, the herb may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuricemic effects of glucose-elevating agents.

Diuretics in general may potentiate the action of antihypertensive, ganglionic or peripheral adrenergic blocking drugs, tubocurarine and, to a lesser degree, norepinephrine.

In addition, the oxytocic-like action of pleurisy root may produce neonatal jaundice, which would interfere with serum bilirubin test results.

Possible Interactions
The antituberculous activity of pleurisy root may potentiate the adverse effects of other antituberculous drugs, especially ethionamide.

When taken in conjunction with corticotropin (ACTH) or corticosteroids, this diuretic herb is more prone to produce hypokalemia. The diuretic action of pleurisy root may also reduce renal clearance of lithium. In general, the use of diuretics may require dosage adjustments of antidiabetic drugs.

The presence of estrogen-like substances in pleurisy root may increase the production of procoagulant factors which, in turn, may inhibit the anticoagulant action of heparin or coumarin. The estrogenic constituents of this plant may also potentiate oral antidiabetics, folic acid antagonists, and some corticosteroids.

Conversely, the presence of estrogen can inhibit antihypercholesterolemics by inducing hyperlipemia. It can also inhibit the activity of most parenteral medications by reducing the rate of spreading. However, the estrogenic activity of pleurisy root may be inhibited by meprobamate and phenobarbital.

Due to the presence of estrogenic substance, oxytocin may augment the neural conductivity and contractility of uterine smooth muscle. The estrogen in this herb may also raise blood glucose levels enough to alter insulin requirements in diabetics.

Prolonged use of this diuretic herb may affect certain laboratory test results such as electrolytes, especially potassium and sodium, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), uric acid, glucose, and protein bound iodine (PBI).

It should also be noted angina pectoris drugs, such as nadolol and propranolol HCl, may reduce AV conduction induced by this herb.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

While pleurisy root is not known to be toxic, high doses may be emetic. Animals have reportedly been poisoned by eating the fresh plant. Herbalists consistently recommend only the dried root be used.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried root
1-4 grams

made from 1/2-1 tsp of dried root

Fluid extract
1:1 in 25% alcohol, 1-4 ml

1:10 in 45% alcohol, 1-5 ml

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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Costello, C.H. & C.L. Butler. Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Co., The estrogenic and uterine-stimulating activity of asclepias tuberosa. A preliminary investigation. J Of The Am Pharm Assoc,39, 233-237, 1950.

Fitzpatrick, F.K. Plant substances active against mycobacterium tuberculosis. Antibiotics And Chemotherapy, 4(5), 528-536, 1954.

Albert-Puleo, M. 1980. Fennel and anise as estrogenic agents. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2. pp. 337-344.

Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.

Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.

Chambers, G., R.J. Kerry & G. Owen. 1977. Lithium used with a diuretic. British Medical Journal, 2. pp. 805-806.

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Asclepias tuberosa

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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