Butterfly Weed, Pleurisy Root – Asclepias tuberosa

Parts used: root

Traditional uses: As an antispasmodic and expectorant the root is great for helping to clear chest congestion, hence the name “pleurisy root”. Also good for stomach issues and in remedying diarrhea. It’s sometimes combined with other diaphoretics like sassafras or dittany to reduce fevers. Caution should be taken with this plant as high doses can act as an emetic and purgative. Also, the plant should be harvested responsibly. Since you’re taking the root, only what is needed should be gathered and the rest left to go to seed.

“Antispasmodic, diaphoretic, expectorant, tonic, carminative and mildly cathartic… It possesses a specific action on the lungs, assisting expectoration, subduing inflammation and exerting a general mild tonic effect on the system, making it valuable in all chest complaints. It is of great use in pleurisy, mitigating the pain and relieving the difficulty of breathing, and is also recommended in pulmonary catarrh. It is extensively used in the Southern States in these cases, also in consumption, in doses of from 20 grains to a drachm in a powder, or in the form of a decoction. It has also been used with great advantage in diarrhoea, dysentery and acute and chronic rheumatism, in low typhoid states and in eczema. It is claimed that the drug may be employed with benefit in flatulent colic and indigestion, but in these conditions it is rarely used. In large doses it acts as an emetic and purgative.” ~Grieve MH

*** Cautions: All plant parts toxic in large quantities ***

Used for lung trouble – “A tea made from the roots of butterfly weed (Asclepias), also known as pleurisy root, is used for ‘lung trouble,’ which usually means the late stages of tuberculosis.” ~Randolph OMF 94

“Butterfly roots…is good for pneumonia. Butterfly roots are also known as pleurisy root.” ~Parler FBA III 2868

For nervousness – “A tea made from the roots of the butterfly weed (Asclepias) is supposed to be good for nervousness and restlessness.” ~Randolph OMF 113-114

Butterfly root, Virigina snakeroot, and senega snakeroot for colds – “The juice from butterfly root (Asclepius tuberosa), black snake root (Serpentaria), and Senca root (Polygala senega), mixed together and made into a tea.” ~Parler FBA II 1831

Root used for coughs – “Dig Butterfly root…Boil it in a little water. Drain water off and sweeten a little. This made a good cough syrup for children.” ~Parler FBA II 1965

Used for fevers – “To cure the fever Mrs. Landy’s cure differed from her son’s. She said the best way to cure it was to boil down pleurisy roots…and make a tea out of it and give and adult a dose of 2 tablespoons.” ~Parler FBA II 2206

Root used for measles – “Butterfly root…was used for measles.” ~Parler FBA III 2693

Tea for typhoid – “Butterfly weed…tea will break typhoid fever.” ~Parler FBA III 3483


Grieve, Margaret A Modern Herbal (MH)

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany (NAE)

Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)