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On-line White Root
Scientific Name: Pleurisy root
Other Names: Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed, Canada Root, Flux Root, Orange Milkweed, Orange Swallow-wort, Silkweed, Swallow-wort, Tuber Root, White Root, Wild Root
Who is this for?
Pleurisy root is named for its use by native Americans and settlers to treat pleurisy, which is inflammation of the membranes that line the chest and cover the lungs. Pleurisy involves pain and fluid accumulation in the chest. Because chemicals in pleurisy root may reduce the thickness of mucus and encourage coughing, it may have helped to relieve pleurisy and other respiratory conditions such as bronchitis. In addition, pleurisy root contains chemicals that may increase sweating, so it also may have helped to lower fever associated with infective diseases. Today, the medical uses of pleurisy root have been replaced by prescription and non-prescription drugs that are more effective.
When should I be careful taking it?
Pleurisy root is known to contain chemicals that act like female hormones in the body. It has been used in folk medicine both to start late menstrual periods and to cause abortions. If it is taken during pregnancy, a miscarriage is possible. Pregnant women should not take pleurisy root.
Not enough is known about how pleurisy root might affect an infant to recommend its use while breast-feeding.
What side effects should I watch for?
Possibly, pleurisy root may mimic the symptoms of toxicity from digoxin, a medication often used to treat heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These side effects may include changes in vision, drowsiness, heart rhythm changes, nausea, and vomiting.
Less Severe Side Effects
Taking pleurisy root may cause rash, upset stomach, or vomiting.
What interactions should I watch for?
Pleurisy root has an effect on the heart that is similar to the effect of digoxin, which is used to treat heart conditions. If pleurisy root and digoxin are taken together, heartbeats may become too forceful or too slow, possibly causing dangerous changes in heart rhythm.
Chemicals in pleurisy root may act like the female hormone estrogen in the body. When it is taken at the same time as estrogen replacement therapy or oral contraceptives, pleurisy root may interfere with the way the body uses the estrogen. As a result, estrogens or oral contraceptives may not be as effective, some women may experience increased side effects, and the risk of an unintended pregnancy may be slightly higher.
If pleurisy root is taken at the same time as other herbs that also affect the heart, potentially dangerous changes in heart function may result. Some herbal products with heart effects are:
Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.
Should I take it?
Pleurisy root is a member of the milkweed family of plants. Generally considered to be a nuisance in the United States, milkweeds are actually cultivated in some parts of the world because they are highly attractive to butterflies, which help to pollinate other crops. Usually growing as bushes about 2 or 3 feet high, pleurisy root is believed to be native to eastern North America. It produces clusters of bright orange flowers followed by large green seed pods. In the fall, the pods dry out and split open to release seeds that are attached to fuzzy threads, which blow easily on the wind. Although the leaves and branches of pleurisy root die in the winter, the roots send out new plants when the weather warms up in the spring. For use in medicine, the roots are dug up in the spring of the year and dried.
Dosage and Administration
No recommendations for dosing amounts or intervals are available in scientific literature. Few medical reasons exist to take pleurisy root, but if it is used, the dose recommendations on the package of the product that is purchased should be followed.
The former uses of pleurisy root to treat respiratory infections are largely outdated.
Because pleurisy root contains estrogen-like chemicals, taking it during pregnancy may cause a miscarriage. It should also be avoided by women who are breast-feeding.
Pleurisy root may be associated with heart rhythm changes, nausea, or visual disturbances similar to the side effects of digoxin. It may also cause a rash or upset stomach.
Pleurisy root may increase the chances of side effects when it is taken with digoxin or with herbals that have digoxin-like activity. Because it can act like the hormone, estrogen, in the body, pleurisy root could interfere with hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives.
Abe F, Yamauchi T. Pregnane glycosides from the roots of Asclepias tuberosa. Chemical and Pharmacologic Bulletin. (Tokyo). 2000;48(7):1017-1022.
Abe F, Yamauchi T. An androstane bioside and 3'-thiazolidinone derivatives of doubly-linked cardenolide glycosides from the roots of Asclepias tuberosa. Chemical and Pharmacologic Bulletin. (Tokyo). 2000;48(7):991-993.
Grieve M. Pleurisy root. In: A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publishers, 1971. Available at: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html Posted 1995. Accessed October 2, 2003.
Haughton C. Asclepias tuberosa (L). Revised September 23, 2002. Available at: http://www.purplesage.org.uk/profiles/pleurisyroot.htm. Accessed October 2, 2003.
HealthNotes, Inc. Pleurisy root. 2002. Available at: http://www.mycustompak.com/healthNotes/Herb/Pleurisy_Root.htm Accessed October 2, 2003.
Herbs2000. Pleurisy root. No date given. Available at: http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_pleurisy_root.htm. Accessed October 8, 2003.
Hoffmann DL. Pleurisy root. Herbal Materia Medica. No date given. Available at: http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=article&ID=1447. Accessed October 2, 2003.
Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.
Longerich L, Johnson E, Gault MH. Digoxin-like factors in herbal teas. Clinical and Investigative Medicine. 1993;16(3):210-218.
Radford DJ, Gillies AD, Hinds JA, Duffy P. Naturally occurring cardiac glycosides. Medical Journal of Australia. 1986;144(10):540-544.
Sievers AF. Butterfly weed. The Herb Hunters Guide. Miscellaneous Publication No. 77. USDA, Washington DC. 1930. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. Updated March 13, 1998. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/herbhunters/butterflyweed.html Accessed September 27, 2004.
(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)