Milkweed

For Holly’s writings on Milkweed check out the post “Throw Me in That Milkweed Patch”.

http://wildblessings.com/2011/07/28/throw-me-in-that-milkweed-patch/

Below is a compilation of info on Milkweed that I have yet to compile into my format for dispensing on Wild Blessings.  What a tremendous plant this is!  I’ll perhaps get around to writing about it in the winter months after my freezer is stuffed full of Summer’s bounty.

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http://www.theherbdoc.com/detail.asp?product_id=PH-0630  Milkweed extract

Stock No.: PH-0630   
Category:
Pure Herbs Liquid Singles
Milkweed Extract, 4 fl. oz.
Description: Milkweed Asclepias syrica, L 
Propetries:LithotripticCommon Names:Milkweed Root.Parts Used: Roots and rhizomes.

Historical Uses: Externally, Milkweed has been used in traditional medicine to treat warts. It has also been employed topically by renowned American health practitioner Jethro Kloss to help soften and remove gall and kidney stones.

Contraindications: None.

Adverse reactions: None.

Dosage: Internally, 40 to 80 drops three times per day. For gall and kidney stones, apply the extract over the area to make a poultice and leave overnight. Repeat until well. For warts, apply 5 drops directly to the mother wart at least four times per day. Use with a good bowel management program.

From the time their first green shoots appear in spring until their dead brown stalks stand above the snow in winter, the milkweeds have a variety of uses and features of interest. The common name refers to the milky juice that oozes from stems and leaves when they are cut or broken. Because the roots of milkweeds were used as drugs, their scientific name, Asclepias, was taken from that of the Greek god of medicine.

The Common Milkweed so often seen in fields, waste places, and along roadsides is the largest and most familiar of the dozen or more kinds found in the Chicago region. The large oval leaves are arranged in pairs on the tall stout stem so that if one pair points east and west, the pair above and the pair below point north and south. Like other milkweeds it is a perennial reproducing both from seeds and long shallow roots that live over the winter.

The “milk” is not the sap of the plant but a special secretion. Extremely bitter, it serves as a protection against most nibbling and grazing animals. On the contrary, milkweed leaves are the only food of the caterpillar of our monarch butterfly. Also, this milk quickly seals any wound on the plant because it contains latex and, as it dries, becomes very sticky and elastic, turning into a kind of crude rubber. See how a drop of the milk makes your thumb and fingers cling together. Like rubber cement, it cannot be washed off with soap and water. During World War II when imports of natural rubber from the rubber tree were cut off, the milkweed was tested as a possible substitute.

In spring, the tender shoots can be boiled and eaten like asparagus. In autumn, the roots are still collected and marketed in small amounts for the drugs they contain. Formerly, these were common remedies for lung trouble and rheumatism. The Indians made twine from the coarse strong fibers in the bark of the stalk. The dead stalks with their picturesque empty pods are favorites for making winter bouquets and art objects.

The common milkweed bears clusters of dull purple flowers with a heavy cloying odor which, though unpleasant to us, is unusually attractive to bees and butterflies. Each flower of the cluster has an elaborate trap to catch the legs of these insects and remove any pollen they may carry. Sometimes the insect cannot escape and pays with its life for the nectar it came to drink. Indians produced sugar by shaking the honeydew from its blooms in early morning and drying it.

Each cluster of blossoms is followed by one or two large warty pods with a seam along one side which pops open when the pod becomes ripe and dry. Inside is a closely packed roll of several hundred flat brown seeds arranged like scales on a fish, each with a folded parachute of fine silky fibers. Gradually, these parachutes open and the seeds are carried away on the fall winds. During the war, hundreds of tons of milkweed pods were gathered by school children and the silky fluff processed as a substitute for kapok, used to pad life jackets and flying suits.

The Butterfly Weed or Pleurisy Root with its glowing orange flowers is the most beautiful of the milkweeds. Unlike other milkweeds, it lacks the milky juice. The Indians used its roots for medicine and cooked the green pods with their buffalo meat much as we use green peppers. The Swamp Milkweed bears masses of brilliant red or rose-purple flowers which are followed by pencil-slender pods. The dainty Whorled Milkweed has tiny greenish white flowers and very slender leaves. Mixed with hay crops it can be poisonous to livestock.

 

The Herb COMPanion

That old standby definition of a weed—any plant growing where it’s not wanted—doesn’t always apply in the world of herbs. Their usefulness and sometimes neglected beauty make them welcome guests despite their eagerness to run unchecked through the garden.

Never has there been a more attractive and useful group of weeds than the milkweeds, more than 100 species belonging to the genus Asclepias and distributed mainly throughout North America and parts of southern Africa. Most are straight-stemmed herbaceous perennials, but a few are shrubs that may grow 12 feet tall. The leaves vary from impressively large, broad, and woolly to threadlike and smooth. They may be arranged on the stem in opposite pairs, alternately, or in tight whorls. A few desert species are virtually leafless. The New Mexico herbalist Michael Moore has described them as “truly weird . . . smooth sticks stuck unceremoniously in the sand”, a simple utilitarian design for a harsh environment.

The numerous, showy, and often scented flowers are usually borne in clusters called cymes, either at the ends of the stems or in the leaf axils. They are ingeniously adapted to pollination by insects. At the top of every flower is a crown of five pouches, or hoods, each containing an enticing stash of nectar. As an insect alights on a flower, its legs are guided down into grooves, where one of its hairs or claws catches on a structure connecting two waxy masses of pollen called pollinia. The insect flies off to another flower, then browses among its hoods for nectar and dislodges the pollinia, which then pollinate the second flower.

Flowers that get pollinated produce large, spindle-shaped seedpods. Some species have silky smooth pods; others, warty or spiny ones. Inside each pod are numerous seeds, each with a tuft of long, silky hairs. When the pods split open, the hairs act as little parachutes. Anyone who has played with milkweed pods as a child remembers the silky down and the gently rising seeds. In the words of the botanist Charles Millspaugh in his book Me­-di­cinal Plants (1892):

Balanced by the pendant seeds, they mount gracefully to immense heights, whence they are wafted far and wide by the lightest zephyr until, dampen­ed by dew or rain, they fall.

The name “milkweed” comes from the milky latex that exudes when a milkweed plant is wounded. Contact with the latex irritates the skin of some people, but it benefits the plant by deterring munching by herbivorous animals. Attempts to produce synthetic crude oil from this latex have proven ­unsuccessful.

Milkweeds As Medicine

The generic name Asclepias honors Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine, so highly did Native Americans and ­European settlers value milkweeds as medicine. Millspaugh (who apparently was enamored of the genus) summed up the manifold uses of one species, A. tuberosa, known to gardeners as butterfly weed but to herbalists as pleurisy root:

The pleurisy root has received more attention as a medicine than any other species of this genus, having been regarded almost since the ­discovery of this country as subtonic, diaphoretic, alterative, expectorant, diuretic, laxative, escharotic, carmin­ative, anti-spasmodic, anti-pleuritic, stomachic, astringent, anti-rheumatic, anti-syphilitic, and what not.

I don’t know what half these terms mean, but I, too, am impressed. This species was listed in the U.S. Phar­macopoeia as late as 1936.

Several species are still used medicinally by herbalists. The latex from showy milkweed (A. speciosa) and common milkweed (A. syriaca) is used as a treatment for warts, ringworm, and other skin ailments. Root extracts of pleurisy root are used for respiratory disorders and those of common and swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), for intestinal parasites. Paralleling this latter use, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agricul­ture is currently investigating the nematode-fighting properties of ground milkweed seeds. Some­day, gardeners and farmers may be able to add them to their arsenal of natural nematocides.

Milkweeds As Food

Several milkweeds have been traditional Native American foods. When properly prepared by repeated blanching to remove the bitterness, tender young shoots, leaves, flower buds, and seedpods of common and showy milkweeds are edible, even tasty. To be on the safe side, avoid the other species, which may be or are known to be more toxic. Choose shoots no longer than 6 inches, leaves that have just opened, flower buds that look like loose heads of broccoli, and seedpods that are no more than 2 inches long. Place the parts to be eaten in a large pot and cover with boiling water; boil for one to two minutes and drain. Repeat these steps three more times (failure to use boiling water can set the bitterness ­instead of removing it). Then cook the vegetables until they are tender and serve with lemon and butter, or stir-fry with olive oil and other vegetables. The pods may need 30 minutes of cooking to become tender. If after cooking they are still too tough, split them open and just eat the insides, which have a nutty flavor.

Early French Canadians also made a kind of brown sugary sweetener from the flowers. According to Thomas ­Jeffreys in his Natural History of Canada (1760):

[T]he cotton-tree [A. syriaca] . . . is crowned with several tufts of flowers; these are shaken early in the morning before the dew is off of them when there falls from them with the dew a kind of honey, which is reduced into sugar by boiling.

Delightful as it sounds, it probably isn’t a replacement for maple syrup.

Milkweeds As Fiber

If eating the pods doesn’t appeal to you, consider some other possible uses. Native Americans used the silk, or floss, to line their children’s cradles, and Europeans wove it into fabric as early as the seventeenth century. Traveling in Canada, the Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm observed in his diary (1749):

The pods of this plant (A. syriaca), when ripe, contain a kind of wool, which encloses the seed, and resembles cotton, from whence the plant has got its French name (le Cotonier). The poor collect it and fill their beds, especially their childrens, with it instead of feathers.

Though tedious to collect (it takes several hundred pods to yield a pound of floss), the poor made a wise choice: tests have shown that milkweed floss has the same density as goose down and is an even better insulator.

During World War II, schoolchil­dren were encouraged to collect bags of floss to be used as stuffing for life jackets in place of kapok, which was not available. A Nebraska company currently processes more than 3,500 pounds of floss each year to blend with down as a filling for comforters, jackets, and pillows. There is renewed interest in Europe for creating textiles containing milkweed floss. The silks are too short to be easily spun into thread alone, but they add sheen and strength when blended with cotton and flax.

Native Americans also used the fibrous stems to make nets, cordage, and basketry; common milkweed has been identified in artifacts believed to be nearly 3,000 years old. The USDA studied the commercial production of milkweed fiber in the early part of this century, but few farmers gave it a try.

Milkweeds In The Landscape

Useful as these “weeds” are, let’s not forget their beauty in the garden. Many are handsome, even stately plants and are suited for varied positions in the landscape. Some, such as butterfly weed and swamp milkweed, look best in massed plantings or large clumps. Others, such as the common milkweed, look uncommonly good as single specimens in the perennial border. All are great additions to natural plantings and wildflower meadows.

One of the other charms of milkweeds is their associations with insects. Find a comfortable spot on the grass near a clump of milkweed in bloom and witness its attraction for nectaring bees and butterflies, especially the monarchs, which lay their eggs only on Asclepias species. After the eggs hatch, you can watch the exquisitely striped caterpillars as they feed on the leaves, developing the bad taste that protects them from predators. You may even be lucky enough to see an adult monarch as it emerges from its jewellike chrysalis.

A patch of milkweed is a source of fascination and learning for children that ends only with the frosts of fall and the playful dispersal of the silk-laden seeds. Young children should probably be supervised when near the plants because of the possibility of contact dermatitis. The plants are so bitter that it’s doubtful that a child would ingest a toxic quantity.

Most milkweeds die back each winter to underground buds and rhizomes. Many emerge very late in the spring. An easy way to mark each plant so that you don’t disturb it with early spring cultivation is to leave last year’s dead stalks in place until the new growth appears. The tall stems and their pods add interest to the winter garden.

Growing Milkweeds

Milkweeds are easily propagated from seeds. Seeds that are only a few months old usually germinate within four to six weeks at 65° to 75°F. The germination of older seeds may be hastened by mixing them with moist perlite or sand and refrigerating them for six weeks before planting. A few of the shrubby species can also be ­propagated from stem cuttings.

Although milkweeds are fairly pest-free, aphids can become a nuisance. Insecticidal soaps, which do not harm the beneficial insects that visit the flowers, will control the aphids but are also toxic to caterpillars. We have sometimes removed monarch caterpillars, sprayed the plants, washed off the dead aphids, and then replaced the hungry monarchs. Better to learn to live with a few aphids until the caterpillars have become butterflies and flown away.

Most milkweeds are found in dry or well-drained soils in nature and do best under these conditions in the garden. Common and swamp milkweed can tolerate dryness but look their best in moist soil. All milkweeds need full sun. Fertilize them as you would your other flowering perennials. Many species are very cold hardy, and those that aren’t can easily be grown as potted plants.

Outstanding Milkweeds

Blood flower (A. curassavica)

This is a tender species found in Central America and parts of Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. The flowers are bright reddish orange with contrasting yellow hoods, the most brilliantly colored of any of the milkweeds I’ve grown. Plants are evergreen if given enough light and warmth in winter and can become small shrubs 2 to 3 feet tall. Hardy only to USDA Zone 9, they can be treated as annuals or grown in large pots and brought indoors for the winter. Propagation is by seeds. ‘Silky Gold’ is a cultivar with solid yellow flowers.

Swamp milkweed (A. incarnata)

This is a well-branched, herbaceous plant growing 2 to 3 feet tall. The flowers are deep rose or pink with whitish hoods and bloom for several weeks in midsummer. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long, smooth, and deep green. Though often found growing in wet areas, it does well in good, evenly moist soil and is one of the easiest and most reliable milkweeds to grow in the garden. The 3- to 4-inch-long pods dry well for floral designs after they have split open and released their seeds. Propagation is by seeds. ‘Ice Ballet’ has pure white flowers. Zones 3 to 8.

Showy milkweed (A. speciosa)

If you spot a milkweed along western roadsides and railways, it’s probably this species. An erect plant, it has large, velvety leaves and pinkish purple fragrant flowers. The pods are quite large and warty. This is an excellent choice for a xeric garden, as its natural habitat is one of winter rain and hot, dry summers. It might appear too coarse for some gardens, but its woolly-stemmed stoutness is right at home among rocks and natural plantings. Propagation is by seeds. Zones 3 to 9.

Common milkweed (A. syriaca)

This is the milkweed most often seen in the eastern United States. It can reach magnificent proportions, with leaves 10 inches long on plants 5 to 6 feet high. The pinkish purple flowers are followed by large, drooping, softly spiny pods. Plants are easily grown in the garden but can be invasive. A barrier of metal edging sunk into the ground around the clump may slow the wandering rhizomes. Propagation is by division or seeds. Zones 4 to 9.

Butterfly weed, pleurisy root (A. tuberosa)

This is the showiest herb in our garden, made even more dazzling by the butterflies that frequent its blossoms. The species bears yellow to bright orange flowers that bloom from midsummer on, but some plants grown from the seed mixture ‘Gay Butterflies’ may produce flowers that are nearly red. I’ve found that butterfly weed is not long lived, especially in habitually wet soils, but its spectacular appearance when in bloom makes occasional replacement well worth the trouble. The 4- to 5-inch-long smooth tan pods are our favorite milkweed for dried decorations. Propagation is by seeds. Zones 4 to 9.

Other Milkweeds

The following less commonly cultivated milkweeds are also worth looking for. Purple milkweed (A. cordifolia) is similar to A. speciosa in its appearance and garden requirements, but the leaves are heart-shaped and the flowers deep purple. Whorled milkweed (A. verticillata) has threadlike leaves arranged in whorls and white flowers. A. rotundifolia, a tender African species that’s a small shrub in its native habitat, has attractive leathery, round leaves and makes a handsome potted specimen.

 

Milkweed has an interesting history. Its common name comes from the milky latex that exudes from the plant whenever it is damaged. During the Second World War when Japan threatened to control the world’s supply of rubber trees, the latex from milkweed was considered as a possible alternative source of rubber in the west; its botanical name was given to it by Carl Linnaeus, the famous botanist and creator of our earliest system of plant classification. Because of its long history of use as a medicinal plant, the genus was named after Asclepias, the Greek god of medicine. Linnaeus called this species syriaca because he mistakenly believed the plant to have originated in the Middle East. Thus he named it after Syria. In truth, this herb is a native of North America that had been introduced in Europe before Linnaeus’ time.

The young buds, flowers and very young seed pods of milkweed are all edible. Generally, it is necessary to boil them a couple of times and discard the water to reduce their bitterness. I particularly like the seed pods which remind me of a cross between green pepper and okra. The dried stalks were also used as a source of plant fibre for making rope by Native Americans.

The use of this plant is not limited to humans. Milkweed contains some very bitter constituents as well as minute amounts of potentially toxic constituents called cardioactive glycosides. These constituents occur in most members of the Milkweed family, and in even higher quantities in the very closely related Dogbane family. It is likely that these herbs evolved the ability to manufacture cardioactive glycosides as a way of discouraging foraging by insects and mammals. Some insects, however, have developed a tolerance for these constituents and have actually developed the ability to concentrate them in their tissues. This makes them unpalatable and even toxic to many potential predators. Most notable of these is the monarch butterfly. Both the caterpillars and the adults of this species are brightly colored to warn predators that they are not good to eat.

MILKWEED MEDICINE

Common milkweed has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. More recently, it has largely fallen into disuse because it has been overshadowed by another more popular species of milkweed, butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), also known as pleurisy root. Butterfly weed has orange flowers that do not grow in globular clusters. It is rare in most parts of southern Ontario, but is a bit more common in eastern and extreme southwestern Ontario, especially in sandy regions.

The milky latex of common milkweed has long been used to treat warts. It must be applied fresh several times per day for several weeks. Eventually the wart will turn black and fall off. The latex from dandelion stems can be used similarly, but milkweed latex is considered superior.

It is primarily the rhizomes of common milkweed that are used medicinally; its properties are considered to be very similar to those of butterfly weed. These underground stems are dug up in October or November, after the aerial parts of the plant have died back. At this time it is still easily recognized by its characteristic pods and the fact that it has a single, unbranched stalk. After digging up and cleaning the rhizomes they can be dried for use in teas, or the fresh root can be tinctured in 40% alcohol.

Common milkweed is an excellent herb for the treatment of lung conditions. It relaxes the bronchioles, reduces spasms and liquefies the mucus secretions of the lungs. It can be used for all manner of lung conditions, from coughs and colds to more serious conditions like bronchitis, asthma, pleurisy and tuberculosis. It is one of the stronger lung herbs that can be used when milder, more tonic herbs are not getting the results that we are looking for.

Milkweed is also a great diaphoretic. It is used to bring on a sweat to help cool down our body during a fever. It can be used for any kind of feverish condition. Its strong diaphoretic properties also make this herb very effective at helping to improve blood circulation to the extremities of the body. Combined with regular exercise it can be used by anyone with poor circulation. In addition, milkweed improves lymphatic drainage. The combination of these properties makes it effective in the treatment of peripheral edema. As a lymphatic it is also helpful for any condition characterized by swollen lymph nodes.

Milkweed has a fairly significant action on the digestive tract. It stimulates general circulation. It is particularly useful for anyone whose stomach is not producing enough enzymes or hydrochloric acid. It is also beneficial for chronic constipation. Its effect on the digestive tract can be somewhat intense for individuals with a sensitive system. Occasionally it will cause nausea or diarrhea. This is very unlikely when it is used as I recommend, below. If these symptoms do occur, reduce the percentage of this herb in your formulation or discontinue its use.

Milkweed is a fairly detoxifying herb. It supports the removal of toxins from the body through its action on the blood and lymphatic circulation, the kidneys, digestive tract, and, to a lesser extent, the liver. In this capacity it is primarily used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

CAUTIONS

As I mentioned earlier, milkweed contains small amounts of chemical constituents called cardioactive glycosides. These constituents can have a strong stimulating effect on the heart. In the case of this herb, these constituents are in very low concentration and of a variety that is less toxic than stronger heart stimulants such as foxglove. Nevertheless, the presence of these constituents requires a number of restrictions on the use of this herb.

First of all, common milkweed is a medium potency herb. It therefore should only be used in combination with other herbs. I recommend that it only comprise up to 25% of a formulation and its use be limited to two to three month periods.

Due to its potency and the presence of cardioactive glycosides, this herb should not be used during pregnancy, by nursing mothers, children under three, or seniors. It also should not be used by anyone with high blood pressure or a heart condition except under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

Milkweed is also contraindicated for anyone taking blood pressure or heart medications or MAO inhibiting drugs.

If we follow these restrictions, milkweed is a very safe and effective herb. However, as every individual is different, there is always the possibility that someone could have a rare idiosyncratic reaction to the herb. This is possible with any herb. Therefore, if you are using milkweed or any herb and you have any unusual reactions, discontinue it immediately and consult with an herbalist or other qualified natural health practitioner. In most cases it will probably be nothing more than some kind of detox reaction, but it is better to rest on the side of caution.

It’s amazing how herbal trends come and go. In naming the milkweeds after the Greek god of medicine, Linnaeus was acknowledging their importance as medicinal herbs. Yet today, milkweed is barely mentioned in herbal texts. This is partly due to the fact that it’s easier for companies to market something that is foreign and exotic: “the grass is always greener…”

The most amazing thing is that Nature has provided for all of our medicinal needs no matter where we live on this Earth. All we need to do is look in our own backyard.


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Milkweed Facts

Milkweed is the common name for a group of plants that belong to the Asclepias genus. This genus of plants is named after Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology. Milkweeds have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes because of the cardiac glycosides found in their tissue.

Milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly. As the monarch larva consumes the milkweed leaves, it also retains the cardiac glycosides making the monarch toxic to predators.

There are over 100 species of milkweed in North America and the diversity of foliage and flower color is quite amazing. View our Milkweed Photo Gallery to see photographs of several different species of milkweed. All milkweeds are herbaceous perennials, meaning they live for more than two years. In fact, most milkweeds will live for several years if cared for properly. Since some milkweeds can’t handle freezing temperatures, there are two classifications we like to divide them into:

  1. Hardy Perennial – These milkweed species can survive below freezing temperatures in any zone in the United States. They go dormant in the winter months and return each spring.
  2. Frost Tender Perennial – A few milkweeds fall into this category. You can still grow them anywhere in the United States. However, if you live in a zone that falls between 1 and 9, the plants will die in the winter and you will have to replant from seed in the spring. In zones 10 – 11, these milkweed species will grow year round.

View the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine which zone you live in.

Milkweed is a great plant for the garden and provides habitat for many creatures. In addition to being a host plant to the monarch butterfly, milkweed offers many other benefits:

  • Milkweed flowers produce nectar that all butterfly species benefit from.
  • Honey bee’s take nectar from milkweed flowers. With the decline of honey bee populations in the US, planting milkweed in your garden can help to provide feeding stations as they fly between crop fields and orchards.
  • Hummingbirds often use the floss from milkweed seed pods to line their nests.

Now that you have a good background on milkweed, please feel free to browse our listing of available milkweed seeds.

 

Description

Medicinal Parts

The medicinal parts are the rhizome with roots.

Flower and Fruit

The flowers are reddish-purple. They are located on terminal umbels in clusters of 2 to 6 on a 5 cm long peduncle. The umbels consist of 10 to 20 small florets. The fruit is a long pod.

Leaves, Stem and Root

The herbaceous plant is up to 80 cm high. The stem is erect and smooth. The upper part of the stem is branched and very leafy. The leaves are opposite, petiolate, oblong, lanceolate, hairy, acute and cordate at the base. They are 10 to 18 cm long, 2.5 to 5 cm wide and sharp-edged. The rhizome is about 2 to 3 cm in diameter, yellowish-brown, irregularly globular or oblong, hard and knotty. The rhizome is covered with a thin, tough bark and is surrounded by light brown rootlets that are about 10 cm long.

Characteristics

The taste is sweetish, acrid and bitter. The plant’s roots exude latex that is typical of he genus (and giving rise to the name Milkweed,) which is slightly acrid_ and has a strong odor that decreases on drying.

Habitat

Swamp Milkweed is indigenous to America, Canada and Asia.

Other Names

Swamp Silkweed, Rose-Colored Silkweed

Actions and Pharmacology

Compounds

Cardioactive steroids (cardenolids)

including asclepiadin

Effects

The root is said to contain asclepiadin (cardiac glycoside), which is positively inotropic and emetic.

Indications and Usage

Unproven Uses

Similar to other Asclepiadaceae, Swamp Milkweed is mainly used for digestive disorders.

Homeopathic Uses

The main importance of medicinal use of the American varieties is in homeopathy, but further details are not available.

Precautions and Adverse Reactions

No health hazards or side effects are known in conjunction with the proper administration of designated therapeutic dosages. The drug has an emetic effect in higher dosages, and digitalis-like poisonings are possible due to the cardioactive steroid content. For possible symptoms and treatments for poisonings, see Digitalis folium.

 

Asclepias syriaca, Common Milkweed Seed & Plants
(uh-SKLEE-pea-us  SIR-i-a-ca)

Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers
Native Wild Flower Seed and Plants for Home Landscaping & Prairie Restoration

 

photo by cj   Habitat Bloom
Period
Color Height
Inches
Moisture Plant
Spacing
Lifespan
Sun to
light shade
August
September
Pink to
Lilac
36 – 60 Average 18 to 36
Inches
Perennial

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Asclepias syriaca Common Milkweed potted plants are available $4 each plus shipping by UPS.
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Asclepias syriaca seed
Common Milkweed seed
approximate
number of seeds
approximate coverage
in square feet
1 packet -  $2.50 + shipping  100 20 sq ft
1 ounce – $20.00   3,000 150 sq ft
1 pound ———–  48,000 2400 sq ft

 

Asclepias syriaca, Common Milkweeds, are a favorite nectar source for butterflies and are host plants for caterpillars including  Monarch butterfly larva.  A stout plant with large leaves, large pink flower clusters and a strong fragrance reminiscent of Lilacs, Common Milkweed is a wonderful horticultural plant for landscaping to attract butterflies.  It is a good choice for sunny flower beds, very attractive and easily controlled, but becomes weedy in farmers fields.  No pretreatment is needed for seed germination.  Other common names for asclepias syriaca include Virginia-silk, algodoncillo, silky swallowwort, herbe à la ouate, Seidenpflanze.  Common Milkweed plants grown from seed under good conditions will bloom the second year.


Alternative Names

Virginia-silk, algodoncillo, silky swallowwort, herbe à la ouate, Seidenpflanze

Uses

Warning: Milkweed may be toxic when taken internally, without sufficient preparation.

Ethnobotanic: People have used milkweed for fiber, food, and medicine all over the United States and southern Canada.  Milkweeds supply tough fibers for making cords and ropes, and for weaving a coarse cloth.  Milkweed stems are collected after the stalks senesce in late fall-early winter.  The dried stalks are split open to release the fibers; milkweed fibers are sometimes mixed with fibers of Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum).  The bark is removed and the fibers released by first rubbing between the hands and then drawing the fibers over a hard surface.  Twisting the fiber opposite each other and twining them together forms the cord.  Often this is accomplished by rolling the fibers on the thigh while twisting them together.

The young shoots, stems, flower buds, immature fruits, and roots of butterfly milkweed were boiled and eaten as a vegetable by various indigenous groups of eastern and mid-western America.  The Meskwaki steam the flower buds as a food source; they are nutritious but not considered very flavorful.

The Cherokee drank an infusion of common milkweed root and virgin’s bower (Clematis species) for backaches (Moerman 1986).  The Cherokee, Iroquois, and Rappahannock used the sap to remove warts, for ringworm, and for bee stings.  The Cherokee used the plant as a laxative, an antidote for gravel and dropsy, and an infusion was given for mastitis.  The Cherokee took an infusion of the root for venereal diseases.  The Chippewa made a cold decoction of common milkweed root and added it to food to produce postpartum milk flow.  The Iroquois took an infusion of milkweed leaves for stomach medicine.  A compound decoction of plants was taken to prevent hemorrhage after childbirth by the Iroquois.  The Menominee ate the buds or a decoction of the root for chest discomfort.  The Ojibwa used the root as a female remedy.  The Potawatomi used the root for unspecified ailments.

Common milkweed was used by the Meskwaki as a contraceptive (Kindscher 1992, Erichsen-Brown 1979, De Laszlo and Henshaw 1954).  A Mohawk anti-fertility concoction was prepared by boiling a fistful of dried, pulverized milkweed and three jack-in-the-pulpit rhizomes in a pint of water for 20 minutes.  The infusion was drunk at the rate of one cup an hour to induce temporary sterility (Kindscher 1992).

Milkweed species as a group are known to contain cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, as well as other substances that may account for their medicinal effect.  Resinoids, glycosides, and a small amount of alkaloids are present in all parts of the plant.  Symptoms of poisoning by the cardiac glycosides include dullness, weakness, bloating, inability to stand or walk, high body temperature, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils, spasms, and coma.

Wildlife: The cardiac glycoside in milkweed has also been useful as a chemical defense for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus).  Chemicals from the milkweed plant make the monarch caterpillar’s flesh distasteful to most predators.  Monarch butterflies are specific to milkweed plants; this is the only type of plant on which the eggs are laid and the larvae will feed and matures into a chrysalis.  Eggs are laid on the underside of young, healthy leaves.  Monarch, Queen, and Viceroy butterflies are Müllerian mimics; all are toxic, and have co-evolved similar warning patterns to avoid predation.  Milkweed species are attractive to many insect species, including the large milkweed bug, common milkweed bug, red milkweed beetle, blue milkweed beetle, and bees.  Accordingly, this is a wonderful horticultural plant for landscaping to attract butterflies (particularly monarchs), whose numbers are declining and migratory routes changing due to lack of appropriate habitat.

DescriptionGeneral: Milkweed Family (Asclepiadaceae).  Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a perennial herb growing from a deep rhizome. The hairy stems are usually solitary from a simple to branched and thickened base, and are 6-20 dm (1.9-6.5 ft) tall.  The opposite leaves have broadly ovate to elliptic blades that are 10-20 cm (3.9-7.9 in) long and 5-11 cm (1.9-4.3 in) wide.  The leaves are sparsely hairy above and densely hairy below, and the petiole is 0.2-1.4 cm (0.08-0.77 in) long.  The inflorescence occurs in the upper leaf axils, and there are 20-130 flowers per inflorescence.  The flowers are small, 11-17 mm (0.4-0.7 in), and bloom from May to August.  The five petals are green to purple-tinged, and are topped by a crown of five erect lobes that are rose to purple, rarely white.  The fruits are spindle-shaped follicles covered with soft hairs.  The small, round, hairy seeds are 6-8 mm (0.2-0.3 in) in diameter.

Distribution: For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.  This plant grows throughout the Great Plains ecoregion from southern Canada south to NE Oklahoma, NW Georgia, and Texas, and east from North Carolina to Maine.

EstablishmentAdaptation: Common milkweed grows in sandy, clayey, or rocky calcareous soils.  It occurs along the banks or flood plains of lakes, ponds, and waterways, in prairies, forest margins, roadsides, and waste places. This species hybridizes with showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).

Common milkweed is easily propagated by both seed and rhizome cuttings.  Both seedlings and cuttings will usually bloom in their second year, although cuttings will occasionally bloom during their first year.  Seeds and plants are available from many nurseries.  Common milkweed increases by underground shoots and can be invasive.  It is ideal in semi-dry places where it can spread without presenting problems for other ornamental species.

Propagation from Cuttings: Propagation by cuttings of the tuberous rhizome is easy and reliable.  The cuttings should be made when the plant is dormant.  Each piece of the rhizome should have at least one bud (they are about two inches apart).  Timing of propagation is important.  Harvest or divide plants and get the plants in the ground by late fall so they can develop enough root growth to survive the winter.  Irrigation the first year will improve survival, and by the second year the root system should be well enough established so plants will survive on their own.

Both seedlings and cuttings will usually bloom in their second year, although cuttings will occasionally bloom during their first year (Kindscher 1992).

Propagation from Seed: Common milkweed is easily propagated from seed.  Process as follows:

1) Collect seeds after the pods have ripened, but before they have split open.  The seeds are wind dispersed, so be careful when gathering to place in a paper or burlap bag to avoid losing them.

2) Eliminate weeds before planting.  Strip off any sod. Cultivate the soil to a fine tilth, firm the soil by treading or rolling, and rake lightly.

3) Seeds can be directly sewn into the ground in the fall.  Sow the seed mixture (with fine sand for even distribution) at a rate of 1/8 oz per sq. yd (4 g per sq. meter) or as advised.

4) If planting in flats or in a greenhouse, common milkweed seeds should be cold-treated for three months.

5) The seed is very viable.  It is not certain how long you can store the seeds and maintain their viability.

6) During the first summer, weed invasive plants and water as needed.

Management

Milkweed is burned in the fall to eliminate dead stalks and stimulate new growth.  Burning causes new growth to have taller, straighter stems (with longer fibers).  It also stimulates flower and seed production. 

When used for fiber, milkweed is collected in the autumn after the leaves have begun to fall off, the stalks turn gray or tan, and the plant dries up.  If the milkweed stems will break off at the ground it’s time to harvest.  Breaking off as many stalks as possible encourages resprouting in the spring.  The dried stalks are then split open and the fibers are twisted into string.  Vast quantities of fiber plants are required for nets, regalia, and cordage.

 

The sap of Asclepias speciosa was used as a
cleansing and healing agent by some of the desert
tribes for sores, cuts, and as a cure for warts and
ringworm. The silky hairs were burned off the ripe
seeds, which were then ground and made into a salve
for sores. Seeds were boiled in a small amount of
water and the liquid used to soak rattlesnake bites to
draw out the poison. A hot tea made from the roots
was given to bring out the rash in measles or as a
cure for coughs. It was also employed as a wash to
cure rheumatism. The mashed root, moistened with
water, was used as a poultice to reduce swellings.

 

The natural healer plant Milkweed or Asclepius and it’s many healing characteristics

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rate or flag this pageBy lbtrader

Milkweed – If Lovin Were Easy

Milkweed the Greek healers plant

The milkweed is a generic title for the Asclepias genus and it is interesting to look at both the healing or poisoness properties of the plant and the myth that surrounds it’s genus name. The Asclepius genus consists of well over 100 species which can be found growing in several ecosystems and they do have a tendancy to become more of an hindrance than a benefit at times.

This brings us back to the genus name of Asclepias. This name was given to the Wildweed by Carolus Linnaeus in the 18th century. Asclepias is a reference to an old Greek mythological figure who started out as a mortal demi-god, the son of Apollo and the mortal mother Caronis.

It’s a tragic story where a pregnant mother is murdered by a jealous husband. The child is saved from the womb and left in the care of a centaur who is skilled in the arts of healing with natural remedies and who goes on to teach the young Asclepias to heal others. This healing with herbs story goes much further where Asclepias finds an herbal remedy that allows him to resurrect the dead. This power of anastasia insults the highest lord of the pantheon, Zeus, who looks at Asclepias as an hindrance to his monopoly of the pantheon and goes on to kill his rival with a thunderbolt. But this is just the short version of a great story of healing and corruption for the sake of control and power.

It however gives a romantic overtone to the milkweed and almost portrays it to an organism found in the ecosystem of nature that has some serious healing or destructive powers.

Lets have a look at some characteristics of the Asclepias or Milkweed.

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over it became a butterfly – anonymous

Lets have a look at some characteristics of the Asclepias or Milkweed.

Insects, bees, moths and other herbivores love the milkweed for it’s ability to shed a milky nectar which is full of alkaloids and latex with traces of caoutchouc amongst other compounds.

Some sources credit the milkweed for having medicinal qualities that will help resolve such ailments as warts, asthma, bronchitis, kidney stones, parasitic worms, or even as a laxative or tonic for abdominal conditions. In extreme naturopathy and folk medicine it as been administered on certain cancers.

The juicy nectar of certain Asclepias species was used as a sweetener and the sap as an anecdote to poison ivy exposure.

As a pest repellant milkweed repels wireworms.

The Monarch butterfly while in it’s larva stage are completely dependent on the milkweed for their food.

The fibers of the milkweed have been used in rope making and some tests have been made to try to extract the caoutchouc or rubber.

The poisoness aspect of certain Asclepias species also has some interesting historical points such as having been applied to arrowheads before a hunt. The reactive agent here is a cardiac glycosimide poison. The same poison when consumed in large quantities by animals can be fatal.

The toxicity of the Milkweed can cause dermatitis or skin inflammation in certain individuals.

 

 

Asclepius is Serpentarius immortal

Asclepias, Wildweed, Serpentarius, Ophiucus, healing herbs of immortality

Growing Milkweeds

The milkweed is a perenial therefore it returns to the ecosystem each year. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on circumstances.

For gardeners who are looking to attract Monarch butterflies the Asclepias will do the job.

However crop growers and cattle farmers find the milkweed to be a hindrance and some go to great lengths to rid their fields of the Asclepias.

Certain ecologically minded people find this to be a travesty stating that the disappearance of the milkweed will mean the disappearance of the Monarch butterfly. Another point to consider in the preservation of the milkweed is the bee population. Bees as stated before are consumers of the juicy white nectar of this weed. Where would we be without bees.

The great physicist Albert Einstein once stated that humanity would be extinct within a few years if the bee population was totally wiped out.

Now that’s something to consider when thinking of the Asclepias.

From a man of old who found the secret of immortality and of anastasia and who was murdered by a supremecist who would do anything to maintain control over mortals we get a plant called the Milkweed which is required by some forms of life to even exist.

The story of Alclepias tells us that as a consolation for his human death he was risen from the rank of a mortal demi-god to the rank of an immortal.

That’s terribly romantic but it certainly could leave the rest of us mortals wondering what magic herbal remedy Asclepius had discovered that could challenge the overlord of the pantheon.

So watch were you grow your Milkweeds for you never know when a thunderbolt can hit you.

 

Common milkweed has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. More recently, it has largely fallen into disuse because it has been overshadowed by another more popular species of milkweed, butterfly weed (A. tuberosa), also known as pleurisy root. Butterfly weed has orange flowers that do not grow in globular clusters. It is rare in most parts of southern Ontario, but is a bit more common in eastern and extreme southwestern Ontario, especially in sandy regions.

The milky latex of common milkweed has long been used to treat warts. It must be applied fresh several times per day for several weeks. Eventually the wart will turn black and fall off. The latex from dandelion stems can be used similarly, but milkweed latex is considered superior.

It is primarily the rhizomes of common milkweed that are used medicinally; its properties are considered to be very similar to those of butterfly weed. These underground stems are dug up in October or November, after the aerial parts of the plant have died back. At this time it is still easily recognized by its characteristic pods and the fact that it has a single, unbranched stalk. After digging up and cleaning the rhizomes they can be dried for use in teas, or the fresh root can be tinctured in 40% alcohol.

Common milkweed is an excellent herb for the treatment of lung conditions. It relaxes the bronchioles, reduces spasms and liquefies the mucus secretions of the lungs. It can be used for all manner of lung conditions, from coughs and colds to more serious conditions like bronchitis, asthma, pleurisy and tuberculosis. It is one of the stronger lung herbs that can be used when milder, more tonic herbs are not getting the results that we are looking for.

Milkweed is also a great diaphoretic. It is used to bring on a sweat to help cool down our body during a fever. It can be used for any kind of feverish condition. Its strong diaphoretic properties also make this herb very effective at helping to improve blood circulation to the extremities of the body. Combined with regular exercise it can be used by anyone with poor circulation. In addition, milkweed improves lymphatic drainage. The combination of these properties makes it effective in the treatment of peripheral edema. As a lymphatic it is also helpful for any condition characterized by swollen lymph nodes.

Milkweed has a fairly significant action on the digestive tract. It stimulates general circulation. It is particularly useful for anyone whose stomach is not producing enough enzymes or hydrochloric acid. It is also beneficial for chronic constipation. Its effect on the digestive tract can be somewhat intense for individuals with a sensitive system. Occasionally it will cause nausea or diarrhea. This is very unlikely when it is used as I recommend, below. If these symptoms do occur, reduce the percentage of this herb in your formulation or discontinue its use.

Milkweed is a fairly detoxifying herb. It supports the removal of toxins from the body through its action on the blood and lymphatic circulation, the kidneys, digestive tract, and, to a lesser extent, the liver. In this capacity it is primarily used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Cautions
As I mentioned earlier, milkweed contains small amounts of chemical constituents called cardioactive glycosides. These constituents can have a strong stimulating effect on the heart. In the case of this herb, these constituents are in very low concentration and of a variety that is less toxic than stronger heart stimulants such as foxglove. Nevertheless, the presence of these constituents requires a number of restrictions on the use of this herb.

First of all, common milkweed is a medium potency herb. It therefore should only be used in combination with other herbs. I recommend that it only comprise up to 25% of a formulation and its use be limited to two to three month periods.

Due to its potency and the presence of cardioactive glycosides, this herb should not be used during pregnancy, by nursing mothers, children under three, or seniors. It also should not be used by anyone with high blood pressure or a heart condition except under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

Milkweed is also contraindicated for anyone taking blood pressure or heart medications or MAO inhibiting drugs.

If we follow these restrictions, milkweed is a very safe and effective herb. However, as every individual is different, there is always the possibility that someone could have a rare idiosyncratic reaction to the herb. This is possible with any herb. Therefore, if you are using milkweed or any herb and you have any unusual reactions, discontinue it immediately and consult with an herbalist or other qualified natural health practitioner. In most cases it will probably be nothing more than some kind of detox reaction, but it is better to rest on the side of caution.

It’s amazing how herbal trends come and go. In naming the milkweeds after the Greek god of medicine, Linnaeus was acknowledging their importance as medicinal herbs. Yet today, milkweed is barely mentioned in herbal texts. This is partly due to the fact that it’s easier for companies to market something that is foreign and exotic: “the grass is always greener…”

The most amazing thing is that Nature has provided for all of our medicinal needs no matter where we live on this Earth. All we need to do is look in our own backyard.