Asclepias question...nomenclature & trivia

Roger Whitehead rgw at
Sun Oct 31 07:06:05 EST 1999

In article <381A8DE8.9E6C714A at>, Sandy wrote:
> Hi, yes it is named after Asklepios the God of healing. His Roman name is
> Aesculapius, hence, Asclepias. I think nearly all the plants in the
> Asclepiadaceae family have that milky sap which in some cases is poisonous and
> in some cases used in medine.

Here are some points further to Sandy's posting:

1. Here's part of what EB says about Asklepios/Aesclepius/Asclepius/Aesculapius: 
Greco-Roman god of medicine, son of Apollo (god of healing, truth, and prophecy) 
and the nymph Coronis. The Centaur Chiron taught him the art of healing. At 
length Zeus (the king of the gods), afraid that Asclepius might render all men 
immortal, slew him with a thunderbolt. Homer, in the Iliad, mentions him only as 
a skillful physician; in later times, however, he was honoured as a hero and 
eventually worshiped as a god. The cult began in Thessaly but spread to many 
parts of Greece. Because it was supposed that Asclepius effected cures of
the sick in dreams, the practice of sleeping in his temples became common. 

That cult lives on in a way in the sinuous shape of the Aesculapian snake 
(Elaphe longissima), which is native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. In 
ancient times it was sacred to Aesculapius; the present isolated populations in 
Germany and Switzerland are descended from specimens taken to health resorts 
there by the Romans.

BTW, A (aka A, A and A) was not an oracle himself, and certainly was never an 
auricle! That's yer lug 'ole (Just as well, otherwise we'd have to rename the 

2. The genus Asclepias (milkweeds and butterfly flowers) is part of the 
Asclepiadaceae family of the order Gentianales. This family contains 250 genera 
and includes common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca - although native to North 
America) and Hoya carnosa, or wax plant. Several members of the Asclepias genus 
have medicinal properties, the best-known probably being A. tuberosa, otherwise 
known as pleurisy root (also as orangeroot and orange milkweed).

This was one the main ingredients of Lydia Pinkham's famous Vegetable Compound, 
claimed to cure any "female complaint" from nervous prostration to "bearing 
down". It also contained nearly 20% alcohol, giving middle-class housewives in 
the last century a discreet way of taking a quick nip. (See for more on this.)

Lovers of late-60s British pop music will recognise Mrs Pinkham as the prototype 
for The Scaffold's "Lily the Pink", whose "medicinal compound" was "most 
efficacious in every case". (See and for background and 

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Roger Whitehead,
Oxted, Surrey, England

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