Pleurisy root is a herb that’s thought to be beneficial for congestion, respiratory problems, reducing swelling, and a number of other things.
Pleurisy root is a part of the bright orange pleurisy plant, also known as “Butterfly Weed”, which grows in prairies throughout North America.
The common name “pleurisy” comes from the use of this herb by Native Americans and pioneers to treat pleurisy, a disease that involves the inflammation of the lungs.
While pleurisy root has many benefits, as with all herbs, there are multiple considerations and safety factors that need to be taken into account prior to consuming it.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of pleurisy root, its safety, and its history.
Table of Contents
- Health Benefits of Pleurisy Root:
- 5. Other Benefits
- Pleurisy Root Safety:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
Health Benefits of Pleurisy Root:
While many different herbs have a plethora of research around them showing their benefits, pleurisy has little to no clinical evidence supporting its use. That said, it does have hundreds of years of historical usage, as well as a long history of use within the western herbalist tradition.
Many of the sources quoted below come from Eclectic physicians who wrote about this powerful herb in the early 20th century.
It’s noted that pleurisy root is effective against respiratory infections, helps to reduce inflammation, and that it promotes expectoration.
From native tribes to modern clinical herbalists, pleurisy is a go-to herb for lung-based ailments.
We’ll go in-depth into each benefit below.
1. May Benefit Respiratory Health
Pleurisy is said to be one of the best herbs for lung health.
Clinical herbal practitioners commonly use pleurisy for the treatment of bronchitis, influenza, and other respiratory conditions. It is utilized for these conditions because it’s seen as a powerful lung decongestant.
It is noted that it acts directly on the lungs, and stimulates sweat glands. This relaxes the capillaries, which relieves strain on the heart and lungs. This helps to reduce pain and assist breathing for those with pleurisy. From a technical perspective, pleurisy is a condition in which the inner lining of the chest lining and the tissues which surround the lungs become inflamed, this makes it difficult to breathe.
Among herbalists, pleurisy root has a deservedly good reputation in treating respiratory diseases. It acts upon the mucous membrane of the pulmonary tract and works to increase sweating and overall expectoration.
Felter and Lloyd note that “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”.
Summary:Herbalists note that pleurisy may be a beneficial herb for treating respiratory conditions, however, human clinical research is required for confirmation.
2. May Promote Diaphoresis
Pleurisy works to promote diaphoresis, or sweating, throughout the body. Sweating has many benefits, including helping to remove harmful toxins from the body, including heavy metals and various bacteria.
Sweating is also a tool that your body helps to regulate body temperature.
Summary:Although clinical studies are needed, traditional usage shows evidence of pleurisy’s ability to promote diaphoresis, or sweating, which is useful for eliminating toxins from the body.
3. Antispasmodic Properties
Pleurisy root is thought to have antispasmodic properties. This contributes to its relaxing nature for the lungs and other areas of the respiratory tract.
It’s also said to be beneficial for menstrual cramps, though this has not been proven out in the research.
Summary:Pleurisy root may possess antispasmodic properties, but human trials are needed in order to verify this finding.
4. Anti-Catarrhal Properties
Catarrh is essentially mucous that is created by your body when its inflamed. Pleurisy root works to remove excess mucous from the body, especially the lungs.
This is one of the reasons why it’s considered such a powerful lung decongestant.
It was noted by the Eclectic physicians that low doses of Asclepias was one of the herbs “for snuffles, or acute nasal catarrh of infants”. They went on to state that “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”.
Summary:Pleurisy is considered one of the best herbal lung decongestants, but human clinical studies need to be conducted to confirm this finding.
5. Other Benefits
•Estrogenic Properties: In an in vitro study, it was noted that low doses of the extract of Asclepias species stimulated uterine contractions and exhibited estrogenic effects.
•May Benefit Digestion: Pleurisy root is also seen as a helpful carminitive, that is, it helps to aid in digestion and reduce gas and bloating. The Eclectics recommended low doses of pleurisy for children with gas/gastric discomfort.
Summary:Pleurisy has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Pleurisy Root Safety:
Safety Class: 2B (not to be used during pregnancy)
Interaction Class: A (no drug interactions expected)
Pleurisy root is generally well tolerated. Higher doses can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea, but smaller doses within the recommended range appear to be safe for most individuals.
It’s theorized that, since pleurisy root contains cardiac glycosides, taking this herb could increase the risk of cardiac glycoside overdosing for individuals taking drugs or supplements with these constituents.
According to The Botanical Safety Handbook, no drug and or supplement interactions have been identified with this plant.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Uterine stimulation and uterotonic activity has been reported in animals studies (Costello & Butler, 1949). One reference indicates that this herb is probably inappropriate for “delicate pregnancies”.
Based on these reports, using pleurisy root during pregnancy is not recommended except under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
There is no information about the safety of pleurisy root during lactation. While no valid safety concerns while nursing has been identified, safety has not been conclusively established.
Tincture: 1-2 ml three times a day (1:5 in 45% alcohol).
Hot Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over ½ to 1 teaspoon of of dried herb and infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink three times per day.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Pleurisy has a few different names, it’s most commonly known as “butterfly weed” due to the fact that butterflies love to perch on its flower branches.
Scientifically it’s known as Asclepias tuberosa. It’s part of the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). Most of the milkweeds (excluding pleurisy root) exude white sap from their stems. Hence the name ‘milkweed.’
“Asclepias”, the botanical name of pleurisy has been derived from the term Aesclepias which is the name of the Greek god of medicine and healing.
The species name, tuberosa, means full of swellings or knobs, referring to the enlarged root system.
The deep, beautiful orange color of pleurisy root attracts the Monarch butterfly to the nectar, and its larvae eat the leaves of the plant.The vivid stripes on the monarch caterpillar are a warning to prey (birds) that they are toxic, due to their diet of milkweed — including chemical steroids.
When bird predators eat the butterfly’s young they get sick. A bird quickly learns that a monarch butterfly or caterpillar is not a safe, tasty food! In large doses, pleurisy root can also act as an emetic (causing vomiting) and purgative (a laxative) in humans as well.
Pleurisy is also known as tuber root, wind root, colic root, and orange milkweed.
History & Traditional Use:
The roots of this plant were used in a variety of traditional medicinal preparations and are edible. Pleurisy was extensively used by Native American inhabitants to treat a variety of ailments.
Native Americans populations used the plant fibers for clothing items (such as belts). They also used the root to treat respiratory tract complaints (lungs, bronchus region, etc…). The roots were also brewed with different types of plant leaves to treat diarrhea and other stomach problems.
Cardenolides (including asclepiadin); flavonoids (rutin, kaempferol, quercetin, and isohamnetin). Other miscellaneous constituents include: friedalin, α- and β-amyrin, lupeol, viburnitol, and choline sugars.
Diaphoretic, expectorant, antispasmodic, carminitive, anti-inflammatory.
Pleurisy is a great natural herb for respiratory health. It has a long history of usage in both native populations and modern herbalism.
It’d be good to see this herb become more widely known. In particular, it would be good to see clinical studies focused on discovering the benefits and safety data on this valuable herb.
Baker, A. M., Redmond, C. T., Malcolm, S. B., & Potter, D. A. (2020). Suitability of native milkweed (Asclepias) species versus cultivars for supporting monarch butterflies and bees in urban gardens. PeerJ, 8, e9823. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.9823
Baker L. B. (2019). Physiology of sweat gland function: The roles of sweating and sweat composition in human health. Temperature (Austin, Tex.), 6(3), 211–259. https://doi.org/10.1080/23328940.2019.1632145
Boericke, W. (1927). Materia medica with repertory. Boericke & Tafel.
Felter, H.W. & Lloyd, J.U. (1898). King's American Dispensatory. Published by
Ohio Valley Co. Link.
Gardner, Z., McGuffin, M. (2013). The botanical safety handbook [2nd edition]. American Herbal Products Association.
Grieve, M. (1971). A modern herbal. Retrieved from https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/pleuri52.html
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.
Mills, S. & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone Press.
Moore, M. (2003). Medicinal plants o the mountain west. Museum of New Mexico Press
Priest, A.W., & Priest, L. R. (1982). Herbal medication: A clinical and dispensary handbook. L. N. Fowler & Co.
Ward, H. (1936). Herbal manual: The medicinal, toilet, culinary and other uses of 130 of the most commonly used herbs. L. N. Fowler & Co.
Wren, R.C. (1988). Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd