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Milkweed


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Milkweed is the common name for a group of plants that belong to the Asclepias genus. This genus of plants is named after Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek mythology. Milkweeds have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes because of the cardiac glycosides found in their tissue.

Milkweed is the host plant for the monarch butterfly. As the monarch larva consumes the milkweed leaves, it also retains the cardiac glycosides making the monarch toxic to predators.

Milkweed is a great plant for the garden and provides habitat for many creatures. In addition to being a host plant to the monarch butterfly, milkweed offers many other benefits:

  • Milkweed flowers produce nectar that all butterfly species benefit from.
  • Honey bee's take nectar from milkweed flowers. With the decline of honey bee populations in the US, planting milkweed in your garden can help to provide feeding stations as they fly between crop fields and orchards.
  • Hummingbirds often use the floss from milkweed seed pods to line their nests.

Although regarded as a nuisance weed by most gardeners, the plant (whose botanical name is Euphorbia peplus) has been valued for centuries in many folk medicine traditions as a treatment for asthma, warts and several types of cancer. Now a group of Australian scientists from a number of medical institutions in Brisbane have tested milkweed sap on humans and found that it works remarkably well on non-melanoma skin cancers. The researchers believe the plant substance is effective due to a compound it contains called ingenol mebutate which destroys cancer cells.

Non-melanoma skin cancers, which affect hundreds of thousands of people world-wide, are rarely fatal. However, they can be disfiguring without treatment -- which can involve extensive and repeated surgery. These malignant lesions usually appear on the areas of the body most often exposed to the sun, including the head, neck, ears, and back of the hands.

For the new study, the researchers recruited 36 patients with a total of 48 non-melanoma lesions included basal cell carcinomas (BCC), squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and intraepidermal carcinomas (IEC), a growth of cancerous cells confined to the outer layer of the skin. Some of these people had skin cancers that had failed to respond to conventional treatment including surgery. The rest had refused surgery or had been told surgery was not an option for them due to advanced age.

The research participants were treated once a day for three consecutive days by an oncologist who used a cotton applicator to simply cover the surface of each cancerous lesion with milkweed sap. One month later, 41 out of 48 cancers had complete disappeared.

Patients who had some of lesions remaining after four weeks were given a second course of milkweed sap treatment. And about 15 months following treatment, two thirds of all the 48 skin cancer lesions were still showing a complete cure. The final outcome was a 75 per cent total response for IEC lesions, 57 per cent for BCC and 50 per cent for SCC lesions. What's more, when the lesions disappeared, the skin was left soft and clear.