Blood flower is a tender evergreen perennial in the dogbane and milkweed family. It is native to South America, but has naturalized worldwide in many tropical and subtropical areas. Additional common names for this plant include tropical milkweed, scarlet milkweed, swallow wort, Indian root and matal. Asklepios is the Greek god of healing. It has white milky poisonous sap and grows up to a height of about 4′. It has oblong-lanceolate leaves and beautiful scarlet/orange/yellow flowers; it blooms year around in the tropics and sub-tropics.
The seeds, in spindle shaped pods (6 – 8 cm. long), have a crown of silky hairs and blow into the wind like miniature parachutes. It may also be grown as an indoor plant in bright sun with regular watering during the growing season and with reduced watering in a cool location in winter. In traditional medicine in China it is used for fever, to improve blood circulation and control both external and internal bleeding (although it is no longer suggested to do so since it can be toxic). The whole plant is dried and then made into a decoction as a cardiac tonic, for tonsillitis, bronchitis and pneumonia as well as for urethritis, and both internal and external bleeding.
While the plants are poisonous, the flowers provide food for a number of different insect species which feed on the nectar. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors to the blood flower as well. These plants are very prone to harmful milkweed bugs, aphids, and spider mites, though they do not usually cause significant damage. Most other insects cannot tolerate the toxicity of the leaves.
Though the plant bulb is used medicinally for the treatment of dropsy and scabies in some counties, South Africans more commonly use it to treat coughs, gastro-intestinal problems and during pregnancy, to ensure a safe delivery. This herb should not be used without consulting a health care provider because of its toxicity.