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Euphorbia peplum (Milkweed)

Euphorbia peplus


Euphorbia peplus is a small annual plant native to Europe, temperate Asia and northern Africa, and is now widespread in many regions of the world, including N. America and Canada. Note that the plant known as milkweed in the U.S. is unrelated. Common names include petty spurge, radium weed, cancer weed, milkweed, wartweed, herbe de lait. The names 'radium weed' and 'cancer weed' reflect its well established use in herbal medicine against skin cancers and other skin lesions.

Euphorbia grows in shaded areas among undergrowth at the edges of woodland, in hedges and at the edges of fields. It often appears in plant pots, wasteland and untended gardens and is generally regarded as a weed. The appearance is fairly distinctive as is evident in the photo above, and the defining characteristic is the exudation of white, milky sap when the stems are broken.

The sap is toxic and irritant and has expectorant, anthelmintic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties. A leaf decoction has been used to treat diarrhoea and dysentery, and an infusion of the leaves and stems is used to treat asthma, catarrh and as a purgative. Euphorbia peplus has also been used as a treatment for cancer of the stomach, liver and uterus, but principally as a cure for skin lesions including warts and non-melanoma cancers.

Non-melanoma skin cancers account for about 30% of ALL cancers. Only 5% of skin cancers are melanomas.

A recent Australian study* has assessed the activity of euphorbia sap against basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and intraepidermal carcinoma. The study showed that milkweed sap is far more effective than any synthetic drug in eliminating skin cancers. The active ingredients appear to be ingenol 3-angelate (PEP005) and ingenol mebutate.

*('The sap from Euphorbia peplus is effective against human nonmelanoma skin cancers.' J.R. Ramsay, A. Suhrbier, et al., Br J Dermatol 2011 -

In recent times there have been a number of attempts to use legislation arising from 'European Directives' to prevent the use of non-pharmacological remedies such as this. Many EU citizens are beginning to experience difficulties in obtaining herbal remedies now banned under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD), and there are similar problems in Australia and increasingly in the US. There is no practical way to ban the use of Euphorbia, or food plants such as eggplant (also effective against skin cancers).

However, it seems that moves are now in hand to make it illegal to publish 'medical' claims relating to any herbal medicine, which may well include online information sites such as this one. Presumably actions such as this are taken in the hope that even the knowledge about herbal remedies can be erased from the public mind. We will publicise any such moves as and when we have more definite information.



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