A variety of milkweed that grows well in arid and sandy soils, pleurisy root (botanical name: Asclepias tuberosa) is a popular plant in country gardens due to its brilliant orange flowers that bloom from June to September.

The plant grows to about one foot in height, and the colorful flowers appear in bunches. They attract insects, bees, moths and butterflies - specifically monarchs, which is why pleurisy root is also called butterfly weed. Other names attached to this flowering plant are wind root, silkweed and orange swallow wort.

Unlike other milkweeds, pleurisy root produces very little or no milky juice. In addition to its huge underground root, many parts of the plant are edible including the seeds, young shoots, flowering buds and stems. The milkweed fibers from the plant can also be used in the production of fabric or rope.

Pleurisy root was used as medicine by early Americans for hundreds of years. The dried root was powdered and turned into a paste which was topically applied to warts and sores. Assorted parts of the plant were also used as a remedy for sore throat, cough, bronchial problems and diarrhea. Pleurisy root also served as an antitoxin and a contraceptive. In addition, North American Indians brewed the leaves into a tea and used it to induce vomiting for certain sacred ceremonies.

Today, pleurisy root is used for symptoms of pneumonia, whooping cough, and pain and inflammation caused by pleurisy - the pulmonary condition for which the herb is named. It is also used as an expectorant and to promote perspiration for reducing fever.

Expectorant herbs are said to help loosen phlegm and eliminate mucus. Many herbs have been traditionally used as expectorants, though most, including pleurisy root, have not been proven in clinical trials. Needless to say, many swear by its effectiveness.

Pleurisy root can be taken in the form of a liquid extract with an oral dose of 1 to 4 ml (20 to 80 drops) in water, three times per day; or it can be made into a tea with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the herb infused into one cup of boiling water, three times per day.

Recommended amounts of pleurisy root generally do not have adverse side effects. However, excessive intake (one tablespoon or more) can have toxic effects with potential for nausea, intestinal cramping, vomiting, diarrhea and irregular heartbeat.

Pleurisy root may not be safe to use if an individual is taking heart medication. As it can trigger uterine contractions, this herb should NOT be taken by women who are pregnant. All individuals should consult with a health care provider before taking ANY type of medicinal herb.