The Utterly Amazing Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed

I’ve been sick for the past three weeks.  A cold that passed quickly down into my throat, giving me a croupy laryngitis, and then finally settled in my chest… to stay, it seemed.  It hung on and on and on.  The incessant, mostly dry coughing, the headaches and muscle strains from coughing, the tight, painful chest, the hoarse voice.  I was beginning to despair I’d never be well again.

I’d been pushing the fluids and mucilaginous infusions, eating homemade chicken soup, and also using ripe Poke berries* (Phytolacca americana) to stimulate my immune system and Chickweed (Stellaria media) tincture to thin the mucous.  I swallowed a few whole Poke berries each day and took a couple doses of the Chickweed (a dropperful each time).

These would always start to move things along soon after taking, but never really pushed me past that threshold where my body could take over and really heal.  Immediately after a dose of medicine, or a bowl of chicken soup, or a cup or two of infusion, I would get some expectoration and more productive coughing, and the Poke really did wonders for my chronic body aches and pains, but then my chest would just tighten back up again.  The nights and mornings were the worst.  What I was doing obviously wasn’t exactly doing the trick.

I was settled that if it didn’t clear up this weekend I would go and get some Mucinex.  But turns out I didn’t have to do that.  I saw some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), otherwise known as pleurisy root, growing nearby yesterday, so off I went to dig some.

Two cups of root tea last evening, one after dinner and one before bed, seems to have cleared this thing right up!  After drinking a cup, I coughed up some nasty stuff!  And then my chest felt so open and relaxed and I slept so well last night.   I’m almost completely well this morning, with just the tiniest hint of a cough every now and then and almost no chest congestion at all.  I feel a thousand times better than I did yesterday.  I think I’ll drink another cup or two today to finish kicking this thing to the curb!

In researching the Butterfly Weed before I used it, I was interested to learn that in addition to its famed reputation for clearing and dispersing stuck fluids in the chest that it also works to move fluids in the joints and bursa.  This was interesting to me because I’ve also had some tennis elbow and a painful shoulder for the last few months, as well as some pain in the carpals of my right wrist (overuse from mouse clicking all day at my day job!!).  I’d been using Solomon’s Seal and getting some relief, but not really healing.

I’m thinking that maybe the reason I had such trouble getting rid of this chest cold was due to a constitutional problem with dryness as evidenced by the joint problems, among other symptoms.   So, I may continue to work with the Butterfly Weed for a while longer yet to help address the body-wide symptoms of this underlying imbalance of dryness.

Matthew Wood (The Book of Herbal Wisdom) mentions that the flowers of this plant illustrate the way its medicine opens up and disperses fluids in the lungs.  I also noticed that the plant itself is overall very dry.  You can crush its leaves, break open its stem, cut up its roots, and get almost no moisture from them.  The flowers are have the most moisture of the entire plant. To me this is an illustration of its ability to work from an overall dry condition to produce its beautiful orange star burst of dispersed fluids.

This whole experience has really taught me a lot about how to use herbs to treat problems from a constitutional perspective.  Looking at all the seemingly unrelated symptoms as an overall pattern, the dots really begin to connect.  I’ve read and read about how other herbalists do this, but getting this direct body experience is priceless in my learning process.

*The seeds of Poke berries are toxic, but only if they are broken open.  If you swallow the berries whole, the seeds will pass through your body intact and harmless.  They are very hard and it is unlikely you would be able to break them open anyway, but just in case, never chew Poke berries!  The entire Poke plant has a lot of wonderful uses, but it is a very powerful plant overall and can be toxic if not used properly.  It is always taken in very small doses. Be sure to do your research and consult experienced herbalists if you choose to work with this plant.


8 Responses to “The Utterly Amazing Butterfly Weed”

  1. Mist on 31 Aug 2008 at 7:50 pm

    Such an informative post! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’ll be sure to remember this for later in the season, as I know it will come in handy.

  2. Rebecca on 01 Sep 2008 at 2:52 am

    I’m glad you are feeling better!! My son has a nasty “school crud” cold… Do you have any suggestions?

  3. Sarah Head on 01 Sep 2008 at 7:06 am

    Thank you so much for sharing with us, Tammy. I’ve heard about butterfly weed, but it’s not a plant I know personally – I shall have to buy some if I want to grow it for personal use. In your situation, I’d have gone for sage/thyme/elderberry and boneset with mullein thrownn in if the infection wouldn’t shift. Do you use these herbs or think of them for other conditions?

    Rebecca, I would go for an elderberry cordial for your son. You can get it commerncially in the healthfood store under “Sambucus niger” but it’s expensive, better if you can make your own. It tastes good too. You can also do the 1tsp dried sage, 1tsp dried thyme infused for three minutes and poured over the juice of half a lemon and honey to taste. Depending on the age of your son, I would probably dilute it by half. Don’t use thyme for under 2s, their liver can’t tolerate it.

  4. tammy on 01 Sep 2008 at 8:42 am

    Excellent suggestions, Sarah! Thank you. I did start off using elderberry along with the chickweed early on, forgot to mention that. Although I thought it started off helping, at some point it wasn’t making an effect anymore. I put lots and lots of sage and thyme in my chicken soup, made from homemade stock. I wanted to use mullien, but was completely out unfortunately. After about two weeks in, that’s when I decided to pull out the big guns of the Poke berries. I’ve used that before with upper respiratory, and its been very effective. It has an affinity for moving things along in the neck and chest area, as well stimulating the overall immune system (I would not give this to children though). I didn’t even think to use boneset — I think of that more for conditions with fever and chills, which I didn’t have any of.

    Rebecca, I second Sarah’s elderberry suggestion. And the usual advice to drink plenty of fluids. Better if those fluids are also chocked full of vitamins and minerals. Think orange juice, herbal infusions, chicken soup. You can put the sage and thyme in your soup if you make it yourself, or even if you don’t, you can add some to canned soup you buy. I really stand by chickweed for chest congestion, too, especially in children. It clears up my 5 yo grandson every single time he gets a cold that settles in his chest. I think its better, though, where the chest congestion is wet and not dry like mine was, ya know, where they’re coughing up lots of thick gunk, and you can hear it in their chest when they breathe.

  5. tammy on 01 Sep 2008 at 9:29 am

    Another reader asked about the parts of the Butterfly weed that I used. Here was my response.

    I tried both a tea from the aerial parts (leaf and flower) and a tea from the chopped up root.

    I tried the aerial parts early on in my cold, and I didn’t realize that most herbalists didn’t use that part!! It wasn’t very effective, other than being a nice warm drink, soothing in and of itself. It reminded me a lot of goldenrod flower tea.

    After I did more research, I realized that it was the root that was most active. I so I dug up a couple of entire plants to get the roots. I just washed them really well and chopped them up. I let them sit for a little while to dry out, then used my mortar and pestle to crush them more. Matt Wood recommended 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup of water, so that’s the amount I used.

  6. plantain on 06 Sep 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Hope you are feeling better Tammy! Enjoyed the post.

    I bought Goldenrod seeds today. I am hoping to get personal with it
    next year.

  7. tammy on 08 Sep 2008 at 9:35 am

    Cool! I’d love to hear any insights. And thanks, I do feel much better :-)

  8. the Witchen Kitchen Beginner Herbal » Blog Archive » The Best Things I Did For Myself All Week on 05 Oct 2008 at 1:57 pm

    […] you remember from a previous post how sick I was recently, and how well Butterfly Weed helped me, you may be surprised to learn that I got another virus just as that never-ending one cleared up.  […]

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