Skip to page content Skip to site menu

Butterfly Milkweed

A picture containing sitting, table, woman, holding

Description automatically generated
This image of butterfly milkweed comes from American Medical Botany. This book is available in the John R. Martin Rare Book Room in Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. 

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly Milkweed is indigenous to North America and often graces perennial gardens, thanks to its attractive orange flowers. While there is insufficient evidence of its medicinal effectiveness, it has been used to treat pleurisy and bronchitis in contemporary medicine, and has been known as pleurisy root (1, 2). More commonly in the United Kingdom, the dried roots of the plant are used to treat not only pleurisy and bronchitis, but pneumonia and influenza. Excessive doses of the plant can be toxic (3).  

Historical Use

Uses for this plant are not often indicated in historical medicinal texts, with a mention in American Medical Botany, published in 1817–1820, being a rare example. The author, Jacob Bigelow, writes, “This fine vegetable is eminently entitled to the attention of physicians as an expectorant and diaphoretic.” He adds his own assessment: “I am satisfied of its utility as an expectorant medicine, and have seen no inconsiderable benefit arise from its use as a palliative in phthisis pulmonalis.”  

A close up of a newspaper

Description automatically generated

Latest Research


Warashina, T., Umehara, K., Miyase, T., & Noro, T. 8,12;8,20-Diepoxy-8,14-secopregnane glycosides from roots of Asclepias tuberosa and their effect on proliferation of human skin fibroblasts. Phytochemistry. 2011 Oct 1;72(14):1865–75.  

Pleurisy (Asclepias tuberosa) | Plant Profiler [Internet]. Sigma-Aldrich. [cited 2020 Mar 28]. Available from: 

Wyk, B-E. van, & Wink, M. Medicinal Plants of the World. CABI; 2018. 521 p.