Euphorbia peplus

Not to be confused with Euphorbia peplis, Purple spurge, a relatively rare plant of coastal sand and shingle.
For other uses of "milkweed", see milkweed (disambiguation).
Euphorbia peplus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malpighiales
Family: Euphorbiaceae
Genus: Euphorbia
Species: E. peplus
Binomial name
Euphorbia peplus

Euphorbia peplus (petty spurge,[1][2] radium weed,[2] cancer weed,[2] or milkweed[2]) is a species of Euphorbia, native to most of Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, where it typically grows in cultivated arable land, gardens, and other disturbed land.[1][3][4]

Outside of its native range it is very widely naturalised and often invasive, including in Australia, New Zealand, North America, and other countries in temperate and sub-tropical regions.[1]


It is an annual plant growing to between 5–30 cm tall (most plants growing as weeds of cultivation tend towards the smaller end), with smooth hairless stems. The leaves are oval-acute, 1–3 cm long, with a smooth margin. It has green flowers in three-rayed umbels. The glands, typical of the Euphorbiaceae, are kidney-shaped with long thin horns.[4]

Medicinal uses

The plant's sap is toxic to rapidly replicating human tissue, and has long been used as a traditional remedy for common skin lesions, including cancer.[5] The active ingredient in the sap is a diterpene ester called ingenol mebutate. A pharmaceutical-grade ingenol mebutate gel has approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for treatment of actinic keratosis.[5][6][7]


  1. 1 2 3 "Germplasm Resources Information Network".
  2. 1 2 3 4 Hazel Dempster; Bronwen Keighery; Greg Keighery; Rod Randall; Bob Dixon; Bill Betts; Margo O'Byrne; Diane Matthews. "Euphorbia terracina Workshop Proceedings 2000" (PDF).
  3. Flora Europaea: Euphorbia peplus
  4. 1 2 Blamey, M. & Grey-Wilson, C. (1989). Flora of Britain and Northern Europe. ISBN 0-340-40170-2
  5. 1 2 Siller G, Gebauer K, Welburn P, Katsamas J, Ogbourne SM (2009). "PEP005 (ingenol mebutate) gel, a novel agent for the treatment of actinic keratosis: results of a randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, multicentre, phase IIa study". Australas J Dermatol. 50 (1): 16–22. doi:10.1111/j.1440-0960.2008.00497.x. PMID 19178487.
  6. Lebwohl, M, et al. "Ingenol Mebutate Gel for Actinic Keratosis." N Engl J Med 366;11, March 15, 2012.
  7. "FDA Approves Picato® (ingenol mebutate) Gel, the First and Only Topical Actinic Keratosis (AK) Therapy With 2 or 3 Consecutive Days of Once-Daily Dosing". eMedicine. Yahoo! Finance. January 25, 2012.
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