Scientific Name: Asclepias syrica
Common Name: common milkweed
Range: throughout most of the United States; this species is not found in the Western states, but similar milkweeds are available: found in old fields,
roadsides, meadows, waste places and disturbed habitats.
Origin: native to the United States and Canada
Botanical description: The common milkweed is thick-stemmed and upright. It grows to be 3-5 feet tall. Its leaves are elliptical, and opposite; they are
velvety on their upper surface, and downy underneath. They are 4-9 inches long and quite wide.
The pinkish-purple flower buds look like loose broccoli; the flower itself is large and made up of individual florets gathered in an umbrella shaped globe
that droops from the stem. The stem is hairy. The seed pods are the most recognizable feature of the common milkweed; they are green, elliptical shaped
and about 1-4 inches in length with a pointed tip; inside, they contain myriad seeds with silky parachute-like attachments. Another easily recognizable
characteristic of the common milkweed is the profuse, milky white sap that flows from any broken part.
What’s in a name: The genus name, Asclepias, comes from Asklepios, the Greek god of healing.
All in the family: Common milkweed is a member of the Asclepiadaceae, or milkweed, family. Its relatives include other milkweeds such as swamp
milkweed, the butterfly weed, and showy milkweed. The butterfly weed and Western states versions of milkweed are toxic.
Active compounds: beta carotene, vitamin C, latex, alkaloids, asclepiadin, volatile oils
Cultural uses: Common milkweed has been used traditionally a tea prepared from its root as a diuretic for kidney stones, a laxative, and an expectorant. It
has been used to treat asthma and bronchitis and it induces sweating. The sap has been used for chewing gum, which is considered very dangerous because
of the presence of cardioactive compounds in the plant. The sap has also been used as a topical remedy for worts, ringworm and moles. Some Native
Americans used milkweed as a contraceptive. It was also a folk remedy for cancer. Today, milkweed has limited medicinal use; other milkweed species,
such as the swamp milkweed, have more widespread use. Parts of the milkweed plant can be eaten, but the similarity of this plant to toxic look-alikes
would serve as a caution against this practice. It is used by some as an emetic, a potion to sooth the nerves, and as a stomach tonic. It is also believed to kill parasitic worms.
Research: no information available
In lore, legend and life: In World War II, children in the United States were encouraged to collect milkweed pods and turn them in to the government,
where the fluffy silk was used to stuff lifevests and flying suits. The silk was especially good because of its exceptional buoyancy and lightweight. Also in
World War II, because of the shortage of natural rubber, scientists in the United States tried to turn common milkweed’s latex into a rubber like substitute.
Monarch butterflies are particularly attracted to the flowers of the common milkweed and other milkweed relatives.
In Hindu mythology, relatives of the common milkweed were considered to be the king of plants; it was believed that the creating god was under the influence of milkweed juice when he created the universe.