Thursday, October 01, 2009

Blog Party: Bioregional Allies for Influenza: Butterfly Weed

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One of my favorite wildflowers that is widespread across much of the country, in patches, and grows quite well in the southwestern Sky Island mountains is Butterfly Weed, or Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberose). Not strictly limited to the Southwest, and certainly a very commonly cultivated plant, I choose it as one of my prime allies for influenza.

Influenza is primarily a respiratory illness, and

beautiful Butterfly Weed, is a versatile and complicated plant which has a strong affinity for the respiratory tract. Known in herbal circles more commonly as Pleurisy Root, this plant from the Milkweed family was often used for exactly that, Pleurisy, a very painful, acute inflam

mation of the pleural lining of the lungs, in which there can be fluid build-up between the pleura and lungs. Pleurisy usually occurs from an acute infection like influenza, pneumonia, or in autoimmune conditions with widespread inflammation. Pleurisy aside, Butterfly Weed (the name I prefer to call it by) is definitely a good choice in any respiratory condition with inflammation and dampness, including influenza.

Butterfly Weed, in the Asclepidaceae family, is named for Asclepias, the Greek god of healing. Its virtues are many and diverse, and thus was well respected throughout history as a healing medicine plant. Butterfly Weed is one of few plants in the milkweed family that doesn’t have a milky white sap and is a primary food source for Monarch butterflies. It can be very locally abundant in the right environment, but it is less com

mon than one might suspect, and due to this fact, and its ecological importance, one must wild craft this healer with care. Here in the Southwestern mountains I find it in the regions of transition between oak/juniper woodlands to ponderosa pine forest, often growing among the rocky banks of dry arroyos. Its brilliant orange flowers in early summer are a tell tale giveaway to its identity and location, but is otherwise a non-descript green plant easy to overlook.

Butterfly weed is relaxant, stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, lymphatic tonic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and emetic. One of the finest relaxing diaphoretics in our western materia medica, I usually turn to Butterfly Weed when my other favorite relaxing diaphoretic, Elder flower hasn’t been as effective as hoped. It is specific to feverish conditions where the skin is hot and dry, and the individual is tense, and experiencing inflammation, pain and fluid congestion in the respiratory tract. It relaxes tension in the tissues of the skin, mucous membranes (think respiratory, digestive and urinary systems), and allows fluid balance and movement to be restored. It will readily produce a sweat in those hot, dry and tense feverish folks, dilate the bronchials, ease expectoration of mucus, and ease pain and inflammation. This can be especially helpful in influenza which is characterized by hyper immune response resulting in inflammatory cytokine storm, with fluid build up. I also fin

d it to be extremely useful in those feverish cases when the person really needs to relax and sleep, Butterfly weed eases those individuals into a relaxed state where sleep will come easier and they will get the rest they need to recover.

Butterfly weed is most effective when given as a warm tea, 1 tsp of root per cup, taken 2-3 times per day. Though I find administering smaller portions 2-3 tablespoons or a few swallows at a time, over the course of 30 min to an hour can be quite effective as well, and far more tolerable to most folks, as the taste of butterfly weed is hard to swallow. A tincture of the fresh root is also an effective medicine, and I like to administer it as such: 2-3 droppers of tincture in hot water, sipped slowly over 30 min to an hour.

Butterfly weed can be very useful in bringing down a high fever to a healthy level, by opening pores and stimulating circulation to the surface of the skin and away from the core. I like to put the feverish person in a tepid bath ( 98 degrees F) as they sip their tea. I’ve seen a fever nearing 104.5 F respond quickly to this combination of herb and hydrotherapy, and return to a healthy 102 F.

William Cook informs us that the effects of Butterfly weed are slow to take effect but are lasting, but the usefulness is enhanced when given with another circulatory stimulant which is quicker acting, like ginger. In the interest of bioregionalism, I’d likely combine it with Monarda (Bee Balm), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) or even Osha (Liguisticum porteri) depending on the case and the person.

“The chief employment of this agent is in febrile and inflammatory affections, where the

perspiration needs to be decidedly promoted, and excitement of the heart relieved by a full outward determination of blood. It secures a slow, steady, and free perspiration, at the same time suitably diminishing excessive heat of the surface; which action renders it highly serviceable in typhus, scarlet, bilious, puerperal, lung, rheumatic, and other forms of fever, with a hot skin and rigid pulse. Measles and catarrhal fever may be added especially to this list; and so great is its service in pleurisy, that pleurisy root is one of the most popular of its names among the people. In acute dysentery, with fever and tormina, it secures that free circulation to the surface which affords great relief to the bowels; and in the acute stages of inflammation of the womb, bladder, and kidneys, it is of equal advantage. In all these cases its use is followed by not only an increased perspiration and softening of the pulse; but the action of the kidneys becomes better, the mucous surfaces act more firmly and naturally, and the nervous system obtains a soothing impression that is very desirable.” William Cook

This is just the tip of the root of this amazing and versatile plant, and I plan to write more in depth on it in the future, but its application in influenza can’t be faulted. Stay well!


jim mcdonald said...

ooh, beautiful post... love to see that I'm not the only one who thinks it doesn't make sense to call the plant pleurisy root when you can call it butterfly weed.

Learned from Matt Wood it also acts as a moistening agent in the joints & bursa, similar to how it acts on the pleura. I nice formula I've made for sprains and strains is equal parts butterfly weed, solomon's seal and teasel roots.

comfrey cottages said...

very nice article! thank you very much. i have successfully been able to grow this lovely herb in my garden, and this will be my first year of making a tincture of its roots and drying some. i appreciate this timely post:)

Christmas Gifts said...

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"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~