The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Asclepias tuberosa
  • Asclepias tuberosa

Common Name

Butterfly Milkweed, Tuber Root, Orange swallowwort, Orange Milkweed, Colic Root, Wind Root and Orange-Root

Related Species

Asclepias tuberosa has many related species that include: A. incarnate, A.  asperula, A.  curassavica, A. pumila, A. syriaca, A. viridis, A. hysocarpa, A. sullivanitii, A. variegate, A. quadifolia, A. arenaria,  A. latifolia and A. hirtella.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

Butterfly Milkweed habitat includes dry-open fields, alongside roads, and mesic (moderate or well-balanced supply of moisture) to dry sand prairies. The range of butterfly-milkweed range is from southern New Hampshire and as south as Florida. It also extends as west as Minnesota, South Dakota and Mexico.


This plant is a native perennial plant and is easily grown from seeds. This means that these plants are enduring and continually recurring. They are usually between 11/2 to 3’ tall. The plant develops a single stem, and has numerous hairy linear leaves. The bright orange flowers bloom at the terminal end of the stem, and are usually 2-4” across. The flowers are in clusters (umbel), and are spindled shaped. The flowers split open once the seed is ripened. Unlike other milkweeds, this plant possesses a clear sap, which can be seen when breaking the stem. The flowers usually bloom early to late summer (June-September), and are long lasting. The root of these plants is relatively thick and knobby, and is also referred to as a pleurisy root (Monograph, 2007; Peterson et al., 1968).

Portion of the Plant Used

The seeds, young stems, and flowering buds are all edible. The root of this plant is used for pulmonary conditions, and the stems can be broken and applied to warts and sores. Monarch butterflies use this plant to host larvae that they hatch on the plants, while the caterpillars eat off the plants stem (Grieve, 1971).

Traditional Uses

Native Americans use this used the fibers for belts, used the root to treat bronchial and pulmonary condition, as well as an act of strength for running conditions. The roots were also brewed with tea leaves to treat diarrhea and other stomach problems (USDA FS, 2011; Grieve, 1971).


The root of this plant is the most popular used part of the plant. Pleurisy is a complication that affects the lungs and cause troubles and pains with breathing. The root can be broken and powdered to treat breathing conditions caused by the flu, bronchitis, and pleurisy. Tea, made from pleurisy can be made by taking dried crumbles from pleurisy root and boiling them. (Lee et al, 2010). The flowers are also used to host butterflies, in specifically monarch butterflies. This is where this plant received its name, butterfly milkweed. This plant is also used to calm muscle spasms. The plant also creates a clear milky sap that can be used to treat warts; this can be drawn by breaking the stem and rubbing the liquid on a wart (Monograph, 2007).

Pregnane glycosides from the root of A. tuberosa stimulate human fibroblasts to proliferate, could have an anti-aging effect on skin (Warashina et al., 2011). Pregnane glycosides from a number of genera of milkweeds including Asclepias were found to suppress steroidogenesis in human adenocarcinoma cells (Komarnytsky et al., 2013). No evidence for the efficacy of A. tuberosa for treating pulmonary ailments was found.

Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications

The pleurisy root, the other name for butterfly-milkweed, side effects includes vomiting and nausea. The pleurisy root is not to be taken by women who are pregnant; this plant can act as the hormone estrogen and cause chaos with the baby. It also contains a chemical that can lead to heart problems, or cause complications with individuals taking heart medications (Binker, 1998; Lee-Chiong et al., 2010).