Asclepias tuberosa L.

Last updated: 30 August 2016

Scientific Name

Asclepias tuberosa L.


Acerates decumbens Decne., Asclepias decumbens L., Asclepias elliptica Raf., Asclepias lutea Raf. [Illegitimate], Asclepias revoluta Raf., Asclepias rolfsii Britton ex Vail [1]

Vernacular Name

English Pleurisy root, [2]
United States of America Butterflyweed, Indian posy, Canada-root, orange-root, orange swallowwort, tuberoot, whiteroot, windroot, yellow/orange milkweed [3]

Geographical Distributions

Asclepias tuberosa flourishes in the open or in pine woods, in dry or sandy or gravelly soil, usually along the banks of streams. Its range extends from Ontario and Maine to Minnesota and south of Florida, Texas, and Arizona, but it found in greatest abundance in the south of USA. [3]

Botanical Description

A. tuberosa belongs to the family of Apocynaceae. It is an erect showy plant from 1 to 2 feet high. The stems are stout and hairy, sometimes branched near the top and bearing many lance-shaped, rather rough leaves from 2 to 6 inches long. The flower clusters which are borne at the ends of the branches consist of numerous oddly shaped orange coloured flowers. The plant is in flower usually from June to September, followed late in the fall by pods from 4 to 5 inches long containing the seeds with their long silky hairs, this plant, unlike the other milkweeds, contains little or no milky juice. The root is large, branching, white and fleshy. [3]


No documentation

Chemical Constituent

A. tuberosa is reported to contain Cardenolide glycosides, pregnane glycosides and lineolon glycosides. Other glycosides include ikemagenin, pleurogenin, and ascandroside. [4][5]

Plant Part Used

Root [2]

Traditional Use

As the common name “Pleurisy Root” suggests, the root of A. tuberosa has been used by Native American herbalists to treat inflammation of the pleura in the lung, also known as pleurisy. [6] Additionally, tribes such as the Navajo and Omaha used A. tuberosa to treat associated pulmonary or bronchial disorders. [7] Typically, the root of this herb is eaten whole, either dried or raw, to achieve the desired effect. [7] Infusions or decoctions of the root were also commonly used with the intention of having a diaphoretic and expectorant effect in order to relieve respiratory ailments. [6] Historical uses indicate that A. tuberosa acts as a diaphoretic, expectorant and antispasmodic. [8]

 Native American tribes also used A. tuberose in the form of poultices and decoctions as dermatological aides. In instances of sores, bites, rheumatism and bruises, Native American practitioners applied poultices made from the root, or decoctions made of the root as a wash to alleviate symptoms. [7] Pulverized roots were macerated by chewing and then placed on wounds and sores by the Omahas. Root poultices were also used for cuts and wounds by the Menominee tribe. [9]

Preclinical Data


Historical use indicates that A. tuberose acts as a diaphoretic, expectorant and antispasmodic. [6] However none of these uses has been evaluated in a clinical setting and no laboratory analysis is available to provide verification.

A. tuberose contains cardiac glycosides, a limited group that has a narrow margin of safety, but which may also provide sufficient benefits such as increased functional ability and a decrease in functional limitations. [7]

In vivo uterine stimulant action was observed in rabbits, dogs, cats intravenously administered an ethanol and isopropanol-based extract of pleurisy root [10]. Increased uterine tone was observed in cats and rabbits injected with an extract of pleurisy root [11]

One reference indicates that pleurisy root is probably inappropriate for use in “delicate pregnancies” [12]


Acute toxicity

An alcohol extract of pleurisy root administered intravenously to rabbits and intraperitoneally to rats at doses of 0.04ml/kg induced partial paralysis. [11]

Short term toxicity

Rats intraperitoneally administered 10mg daily of an alcohol extract of pleurisy root developed diarrhea and continuous tremors after 5 days. [11]

Clinical Data

No documentation


Intake of A. tuberosa may cause nausea and vomiting [13]

Side effects

While one toxicology text indicates that ingestion of pleurisy root may cause irritation of the mouth, throat and gastrointestinal tract [14], a pharmacy text written in the late 1800s, when pleurisy root was commonly used, did not list such adverse effects. [15]

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

Due to the reporteduterine stimulation and uterotonic activity in animals [10], use in pregnancy is not recommended except under supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner [16].

No information on safety of pleurisy root during lactation was found. [16]

Interaction & Depletion

No documentation


No documentation

Poisonous Management

No documentation

Line drawing


Figure 1: The line drawing of A. tuberosa L. [17]


  1. The Plant List. Ver 1.1. Asclepias tuberosa L. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2013 Mar 23; cited 2016 June 10]. Available from:
  2. Zoë G, Michael M. American herbal products association’s botanical safety handbook. 2th Edition. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2013; p. 201-102.
  3. Arthur FS. American medicinal plants of commercial importance. Issue 7. United State: Miscellaneous Publication, 1930;p. 18
  4. Abe F, Yamauchi T. An androstane bioside and 3'-thiazolidinone derivatives of doubly-linked cardenolide glycosides from the roots of Asclepias tuberosa. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2000;48(7):991-993.
  5. Abe F, Yamauchi T. Pregnane glycosides from the roots of Asclepias tuberosa. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 2000;48(7):1017-10
  6. Hutchens A. Indian herbalogy of North America. Boston, Massachussetts: Shambala; 1991.
  7. Moerman DE. Native American ethnobotany. Portland Oregon: Timber Press; 2009.
  8. Ebadi M. Pharmacodynamics of herbal medicines. New York: CRC Press, 2001;p.43.
  9. Lewis WF, Elvin-Lewis MPF. Medical botany: Plants affecting man’s health. New York: Wiley Interscience; 1977.
  10. Costello CH, Butler CL. The estrogenic and uterine-stimulating activity of Asclepias tuberosa. A preliminary investigation. J Am Pharm Assoc. 1950; 39:233-237.
  11. Hassan WE, Reed HL. Studies on species of Asclepias VI. Toxicology pathology and pharmacology. J Am Pharm Assoc. 1952;41(6): 298-300.
  12. Moore M. Medicinal plants of the Mountain West. Revised expanded edition. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum of New Mexico Press;2003.
  13. List PH, Horhammer H. Hagers handbuch der pharmazeutischen praxis. Volume 4. Neuausg. ed. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer;1973.
  14. Lewis R. Lewis dictionary of toxicology. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 1998.
  15. King J, Felter HW, Lloyd JU. Kings American dispensatory. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley Co; 1905.
  16. Gardner Z, McGuffin M. American herbal products association’s botanical safety handbook. 2th Edition. Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis, 2013; p.102.
  17. Britton NL, Brown A. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Volume 3. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913;p. 25.