Pleurisy root is a perennial herbaceous herb in the Asclepiadaceae, or milkweed family that bleeds a white, milky latex when cut. It has narrow, lanceolate leaves arranged in a loose spiral, and flowers in orange and yellow terminal, flat topped umbels. Each flower has 5 upright petals and 5 reflexed petals that later produce an edible seed pod. It is a butterfly attractor and is commonly called ‘butterfly milkweed’. It is native and found in dry, sandy wildflower fields throughout the United States and Northern Mexico, except from the Pacific Northwest to Wyoming and North Dakota. The rhizome of the plant is the part used for medicine, and it should be dug up in the Spring, clean, and shade dried. Pleurisy grows easily from seed in well draining soils in full sun, and will flower in it’s third year, but does not transplant well.
Pleurisy is a diaphoretic, expectorant, anti-spasmodic, and carminative, making it useful for upper respiratory infections and bronchitis where tissues are inflamed and there is mucus to be expelled. It’s anti-spasmodic properties can make it especially useful in coughs, pleurisy, and pneumonia, opening the restricted airways and increasing lymphatic drainage. For these conditions, it combines well with cayenne, lobelia, and grindelia as a tincture or infusion. It is also given for uterine problems, as the chemical constituents have estrogenic properties. In Aryuvedic medicine it’s considered cooling, bitter, and pungent, and used similarly as a diaphoretic and expectorant.
The Western Native Americans boiled the tubers for food, prepared a crude sugar from the flowers and ate the young seed-pods, after boiling them, with buffalo meat. Some of the Canadian tribes boiled the young shoots and leaves as a vegetable. It should be noted that improperly prepared, or if leaves are harvested too mature, it can cause vomiting and poisoning.
An infusion of 1/2-1 teaspoon of dried herb per cup of water, steeped for 10-15 minutes, taken three times daily, or 1-2ml of tincture three times a day.
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