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Spurge

Scientific Names

Euphorbia lathyrus

  • Euphorbia lathyrus L.
  • Euphorbia cyparissias L.
  • Euphorbia corollata L.
  • Euphorbia maculata L.
  • Euphorbia peplus L.
  • Euphorbiaceae
  • Spurge family

Common Names

Euphorbia lathyrus:

  • Caper spurge
  • Garden spurge
  • Mole plant

Euphorbia cyparissias:

  • Cypress spurge

Euphorbia corollata:

  • Blooming spurge
  • Bowman’s root
  • Emetic root
  • Flowering spurge
  • Milk ipecac
  • Milk purslain
  • Milkweed
  • Snake milk
  • Wild hippo

Euphorbia maculata:

  • Black spurge
  • Dysentery-weed
  • Euphorbia
  • Milk-purslane
  • Spreading spurge
  • Spotted spurge

Euphorbia peplus:

  • Petty spurge

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Parts Usually Used

Euphorbia lathyrus: Root and seeds

Euphorbia cyparissias:
Flowering plant

Euphorbia corollata: Rootstock

Euphorbia maculata: The herb

Euphorbia peplus: Root
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Euphorbia cyparissias

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Euphorbia lathyrus:
Garden spurge is an annual or biennial plant; grows 2-3 feet high, the stems have opposite, sessile, lanceolate leaves, each pair growing at right angles to its neighboring pairs. The upper, floral leaves are ovate or ovate-lanceolate. The flowers from in 3-4 rayed umbels. The fruit is a nearly globular capsule about 1/2 inch in diameter; the seeds resemble capers. The plant is covered with a whitish bloom.

Euphorbia cyparissias:
Cypress spurge is a bushy, perennial plant; grows 4-20 inches tall, the stems contain a milky, acrid juice and bear alternate, sessile, linear to filiform leaves below and whorled, ovate-cordate leaves near the top. The greenish-yellow flowers have neither calyx nor corolla and grow in small many-rayed umbels from April to July. The fruit is a small, nearly globular capsule.

Euphorbia corollata:
Flowering spurge is a deep-rooted, perennial plant; the yellowish rootstock produces bright green, spotted stems from 1-3 feet tall. The leaves, without stalks, are thick, oblong to oblong-spatulate or linear, and sessile or short-petioled; the lower leaves are scattered and alternate, the upper whorled. What appear to be flowers are actually greenish-yellow glands subtended by white, petal-like appendages. These appear in terminal umbels from April to October.

Extremely strong laxative. The juice of the plant may cause blistering.

Euphorbia maculata:
Milk-purslane is a low annual plant; the hairy, prostrate stems and branches radiate to form spreading mats, from 4-30 inches in diameter, on the ground. The small, opposite, finely serrate leaves are oblong-elliptic to oblong-linear in shape and usually have a red blotch in the middle. The tiny flowers appear singly or in clusters from April to November.

Euphorbia peplus:
Petty spurge is a small annual plant; the simple or branched stems, from 4-12 inches high, bear alternate, obovate to roundish, petioled leaves; the upper, floral leaves are ovate. The bell-shaped flowers feature large yellow glands with spreading, narrow horns.

Another variety: The Chinese use a plant called spurge (E. helioscopia), the Chinese name is Tse-ch’i. Used for fevers, dropsy, and malaria.

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Euphorbia corollata

Where Found

Euphorbia lathyrus:
Introduced from Europe into the United States; became naturalized in the eastern states and in California.

Euphorbia cyparissias:
Introduced into the United States from Europe as an ornamental and now found as a weed, especially in the northeastern states.

Euphorbia corollata:
Grows in dry soil, fields, roadsides, from Ontario to Florida and Minnesota to Texas.

Euphorbia maculata:
Grows as a weed in waste places and cultivated soils throughout North America, except in the far north.

Euphorbia peplus:
Common in moist places as a garden weed in the eastern United States and in California.

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Euphorbia maculata

Medicinal Properties

Emetic, purgative

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Legends, Myths and Stories

Other varieties: Spurge (E. arenicola), was known as “Tubicai” by the Moapa Paiutes. A lacy green mat clinging to gravelbars. Tea from the whole plant was used as an eyewash. Also, Pill-bearing spurge (E. pilulifera) has been used (aerial parts) for asthma, as an antispasmodic, as an expectorant; used to reduce phlegm.

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Euphorbia peplus

Uses

The 5 species described all have the same properties and uses.

The milky sap has sometimes been used against warts. Should not be used without medical supervision because of danger of poisoning.

Euphorbia corollata:
Native Americans used the leaf tea of this variety for diabetes; root tea as a strong laxative (this is an extremely strong laxative), emetic, for pinworms, rheumatism; the root poultice was used for snakebites.

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Warning

The danger from poisoning from an overdose has all but eliminated the use of spurge, except in homeopathic preparations. The milky sap the spurges contain also causes dermatitis, and the fresh plants must be handled with caution. The 5 species described all have the same characteristic properties.

May cause poisoning, dermatitis, blistering of the skin; is an extremely strong laxative.

Use spurge (all the varieties described) with caution. Use only with medical supervision.

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Bibliography

Buy It! The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley, Inc, 232 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, First American Edition, copyright 1993

Buy It! Chinese Medicinal Herbs, compiled by Shih-Chen Li, Georgetown Press, San Francisco, California, 1973.

Buy It! Culpeper’s Complete Herbal & English Physician: Updated With 117 Modern Herbs, by Nicholas Culpeper, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1990, (reprint of 1814)

Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

Buy It! Indian Uses of Native Plants, by Edith Van Allen Murphey, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1958, print 1990

Buy It! The Nature Doctor: A Manual of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, by Dr. H.C.A. Vogel; Keats Publishing, Inc., 27 Pine Street (Box 876) New Canaan, CT. 06840-0876. Copyright Verlag A. Vogel, Teufen (AR) Switzerland 1952, 1991

Buy It! Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

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