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    Scientific Names

    • Asclepias syriaca L.
    • Asclepiadaceae
    • Milkweed family

    Common Names

    ivyCommon milkweed
    ivyCommon silkweed
    ivyMilkweed root
    ivyPai-t’u-huo (Chinese name)
    ivySilky swallow-wort
    ivySnake milk
    ivyEmetic root
    ivyMilk ipecac
    ivyVirginia silk
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    Parts Usually Used

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    Description of Plant(s) and Culture

    Milkweed is a common, milky-juiced, downy perennial plant; the simple, usually solitary, erect stem grows 3-6 feet high and bears opposite, relatively large, oblong-ovate to oblong, short-petioled leaves. Terminal or lateral umbels of small, dull purple flowers, often drooping in clusters from leaf axils; appear from June to August. Warty seedpods distinguish this species from other milkweeds.

    Other varieties: Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); Four-leaved milkweed (A. quadrifolia).
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    Where Found

    Found in fields, roadsides, fence rows, and waste places of eastern North America, as far west as Kansas and Saskatchewan. The most common milkweed in the Northeast.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Diuretic, emetic, purgative, alterative, tonic
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    Biochemical Information

    Asclepiadin, asclepion, and galitoxin
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    One species of the milkweed family in the Far East was possibly used as a hallucinogen, which is known in the Hindu religion as “Soma”.

    The genus name, Asclepiadaceae, is named in honor of the Greek God Asclepius (God of medicine).

    Native Americans used the juice of milkweed and tea from the leaves of creosote bush as poultices to draw out poison. Shoshone name for mildweed “Banumb.” The Shoshones break the tall milkweed and collect the milk and roll it in the hand, until it becomes firm enough to chew. Tonopah and Beatty call it “Samoko.”
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    Milkweed is useful for kidney problems, dropsy, scrofula, conditions of the bladder, water retention, asthma, stomach ailments, and gallstones, female disorders, arthritis, bronchitis. Causes increase in perspiration, thus reducing fever. Some Native Americans rubbed the (latex) juice on warts, moles, ringworms; others drank an infusion of the rootstock to produce temporary sterility or as a laxative. A folk cancer remedy.

    One Mohawk antifertility concoction contained milkweed and Jack-in-the-pulpit, both considered dangerous and contraceptive.

    Native Americans used the inside fibers for rope and fishing nets; the milk was collected and rolled until firm enough to make chewing gum (not recommended). The boiled root tastes like asparagus. The green plant is collected when very small and boiled in 2 waters to use as greens. We do not advise this for the general public as the amount and correct species is of importance in quantity. Correct identification is significant. Some milkweed species are highly poisonous.
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    Formulas or Dosages

    Infusion: for gallstones, mix equal parts milkweed and althea. Steep 1 tsp. in 1 cup boiling water. Take 3 cups over the course of a day, one of them hot on retiring.
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    Milkweed is poisonous in large quantities, especially for children.

    May be dangerous for people over 55. Take no more than is necessary.

    Contains cardioactive compounds.
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    Buy It! Back to Eden, by Jethro Kloss; Back to Eden Publishing Co., Loma Linda, CA 92354, Original copyright 1939, revised edition 1994

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

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

    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! Indian Herbalogy of North America, by Alma R. Hutchens, Shambala Publications, Inc., Horticultural Hall, 300 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, 1973

    Buy It! American Folk Medicine/i>, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1973

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

    Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fifth Edition: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements, by James F. Balch, M.D. and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C., Avery Publishing Group, Inc., Garden City Park, NY

    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

    Buy It! How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts, by Frances Densmore, Dover Publications, Inc., 180 Varick Street, New York, NY 10014, first printed by the United States Government Printing Office, Washington, in 1928, this Dover edition 1974

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature's Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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