Cancerillo - Asclepia curassavica Cancerillo - Asclepia curassavica

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(Asclepias curassavica)

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Asclepia curassavica


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  • Family: Asclepiadaceae
    Genus: Asclepias
    Species: curassavica
    Common names: cancerillo, scarlet milkweed, silkweed, butterfly weed, oficial de sala, cotton bush, bloodflower, algodon de seda, brujidera, herbe Madame Bouvin, Indian root, ipeca d' Haiti, ipecacuanha, kakanasa, malcasadak, marjan, mata cavaille, pleurisy root, qan chichegi, sunset flower, to-wata, viborrana, zahrat ad damm, bunga mas
    Part Used: Roots

    Main Actions Other Actions Standard Dosage
  • poisonous
  • antitumorous
  • Root
  • causes vomiting
  • stops bleeding
  • Not recommeded
  • expels worms
  • increases perspiration
  • strong laxative
  • astringent

    Cancerillo is is an erect, evergreen perennial subshrub that grows to 1 m in height. It has a woody base, stems with milky sap, and dark green lance-shaped leaves 5-15 cm long. It produces showy orange and red flowers in umbels with brilliant red-purple centers. It blooms almost continuously which has made it a favorite as a cultivated plant in gardens and attracting bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. One of its common names is "butterfly weed" as the blooms are quite attractive to butterflies, especially Monarch butterflies. The fruits are spindle shaped 3-4 inch pods which eventually split open to release little flat seeds that drift away on silky strands.

    The scientific name refers to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, because of the long regarded medicinal qualities of the plants in this genus. However, many species in the family are poisonous and contain cardiac glysosides; the toxicity of which may cause death in livestock or humans. In the milkweed family, this particular species is native to South America and the Amazon rainforest. Because of its popularity as an ornamental plant, it has become a naturalized weed in tropical and subtropical pastures, fields and disturbed areas throughout the world, including central and southern Florida and Texas.

    The milkweed family is a large one with many species represented. Most of the milkweeds, reflective their common name, have a milky, usually toxic juice which flows freely from every cut or break of the plant.


    Root extracts of cancerillo are widely used in South America an emetic (induces vomiting) and laxative. The leaves and flowers of the plant are considered toxic and reports of smaller grazing animals dying from consumption of the leaves have been reported. In the Suriname rainforest, an extract of the root is used an emetic, expectorant, and laxative and employed for warts, fever, and to induce vomiting. A decoction of the entire plant is used as an abortifacient. The roots are commonly known as "pleurisy root" and used as an expectorant for pneumonia and pleurisy and other lung problems. In Jamaica, a poultice of the root is used to treat ringworm and to stop bleeding. The Caribs considered the root to be good medicine to reduce fevers, and in Africa it has been used for intestinal troubles with children.

    In Western Canada and the USA, the milky sap of the stems have been used to treat warts and skin parasites, and the roots are prepared in decoctions for constipation, venereal disease, kidney stones, asthma, and cancer. In the 1880's, Native Americans used the plant as a contraceptive and snakebite remedy. In Ayurvedic herbal medicine systems the plant is considered diaphoretic, anthelmintic, purgative, and emetic; it is employed in India for stomach tumours, piles, gonorrhoea, intestinal parasites, fever, and warts.

    Due to the known toxicity of this plant, it is not recommended as a home herbal remedy. It is best in the hands of knowledgable herbalists and natural health care practitioners.


    Numerous species of Asclepias have been found to be toxic. All but the least toxic have a toxicity of 2% or greater. A resinoid (galitoxin) is the toxic principle in poisonous species and this chemical is found in the milky latex of the plant stem. It is likely responsible for the spasms observed in milkweed poisoning. Additionally, several glycosides and an alkaloid have been isolated. All species of Asclepias are distasteful to livestock. Still, severe losses have occurred, especially in sheep but only when the animals were forced to eat milkweeds because of over-grazing or drought. In addition to sheep, other grazers like cattle, goats, horses, and domestic fowl are susceptible to poisoning. Symptoms include seizures occurring repeatedly at short intervals and death usually follows a comatose period of variable duration. Symptoms appear within a few hours of ingestion of a toxic dose Cancerillo also contains cardiac glycosides, which affect human's and animal's heartbeat. Other compounds found in cancerillo include alpha-mannosidase, alpha-galactosidase, acetyl-beta-glucosaminidase, asclepin, and beta-fucosidase.

    Brazil as a poison
    Costa Rica for warts
    Dominican Republic as an emetic and vulnerary; for fevers
    Elsewhere for dysentery, gonorrhea, headaches, intestinal worms, leprosy, piles, parasites, tumors(abdomen); as an diaphoretic, emetic, hemostat, purgative, styptic, sudorific, and vermifuge
    Haiti as a depurative, emetic, pectoral, poison(veterinary); for fever
    Mexico Cancer, as an emetic, poison, purgative, and vermifuge; for rabies, sores, tuberculosis
    Samoa as an emetic, poison
    Trinidad for sores, venereal diseases
    Turkey as an astringent, emetic, hemostat, purgative, vermifuge
    Venezuela for caries, leprosy, leucorrhea; as an astringent, purgative

    * The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information contained in this plant database file is intended for education, entertainment and information purposes only. This information is not intended to be used to diagnose, prescribe or replace proper medical care. The plant described herein is not intended to treat, cure, diagnose, mitigate or prevent any disease. Please refer to our Conditions of Use for using this plant database file and web site.

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    Last updated 2-11-2013