Milkweed

Petty spurge, cancer weed, radium weed

Euphorbia peplus

Warning: Plants may cause contact dermatitis. Also it is paramount that euphorbia’s sap be kept away from the eyes, as there are also cases of Euphorbia sap keratouveitis, which is a sight-threatening infection. Keratouveitis is a term used when there is a combination of keratitis and uveitis. Keratitis occurs when the cornea of the eye becomes inflamed. Uveitis is an inflammation inside the eye. The sap can affect the cornea ‘window’ of the eye, which is always covered with a protective layer of tears, but it can be affected more seriously by inflammation because it is easily scarred and can lose its clarity of vision.

Euphorbia peplus has traditionally been used as a treatment for skin conditions. A recent study has shown that this herb has treatment potential for non-melanoma skin cancer. Early results are promising with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The white sap is excellent on skin cancers and insensitive external tumors.

The sap of plants of the family Euphorbiaceae, particularly the genus Euphorbia, has been used in the folk medicine of many countries. The genus was named after an early Greek physician in deference to its purported medicinal properties. Only recently have some of these claims been investigated scientifically. The genus is enormously diverse, ranging from small, low-growing herbaceous plants to shrubs and trees. Nearly all reports of activity of these plants and their extracts are anecdotal or derived from traditional medicine, and the nature of the preparations used is frequently either unknown or very poorly described. Activity has been claimed against a huge variety of conditions, ranging from warts, "excrescences", calluses, "cheloid tumours", corns, whitlows or felons, "superfluous flesh" and the like, to a variety of cancers.

The milky latex sap is toxic, and used as a therapeutic agent for the removal of warts on the skin. It may also be effective in treating superficial basal cell carcinomas.

Milkweed produces a milky sap which contains chemicals that can control cell growth and death (apoptosis). An extract of petty spurge has been tested against cancer cells taken from eight patients with acute myeloid leukaemia, a particularly aggressive cancer of bone marrow stem cells. In seven of the eight samples it killed between 56% and 95% of the cancer cells at the top end of the scale. These results were even achieved using low concentrations of up to a hundredth of those that would damage healthy cells. The sap extract works by activating an enzyme called protein kinase C which triggers controlled cell suicide.

The herb’s ‘latex’ or sap has been employed as a treatment for skin conditions to remove corns and warts; the plant’s use included the treatment of asthma and catarrh. Additionally, E. peplus, as well as E. peploides, E. pilosa, E. palustris, have the reputation of being remedies for hydrophobia. The herb was also generally used in the Ukraine around the turn of the last century as a treatment for cancer of the stomach, liver and uterus.

A decoction or infusion of euphorbia is prepared and taken in tablespoonful doses in asthmatic conditions, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. Early Australian folk lore suggested that the irritant also had applications for waxy growths, sun cancer and rodent ulcers (basal cell carcinoma).Petty spurge is considered to be an effective treatment for skin cancer and solar keratoses.

Luckily, this benevolent weed Petty spurge appears to be as tenacious in destroying cancer cells as its roots are for getting in between the cracks of the crazy-paving in the back-yard.

Low concentrations of the compound from it have shown to be very active against a range of tumour cell lines including colon, kidney and blood cancer cells. It may also hold the key to treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer.

One company is set to develop cancer therapeutics based on extracts of petty spurge. They aim to produce a cream to remove skins cancers and systemic drugs for treatment of solid tumours. Already the active component of Euphorbia peplus has been isolated and made into a gel applied directly to the skin.