You Can Eat Common Milkweed As A Vegetable

by AngelaJohnson

Many common weeds can be eaten and some are quite nutritious. You can eat milkweed shoots, flower buds, and immature seed pods.

Although there are many types of milkweed, this page is about the common milkweed (asclepias syriaca),

Common milkweed is also called silkweed, Virginia silkweed, silky swallow- wort, and butterfly flower.

Milkweed gets its name from the white sap that oozes out from the stems and leaves when they are broken Milkweed sap is a common folk remedy used to clot small wounds, remove warts, and as a natural remedy for poison ivy.

In the past, parts of the milkweed plant were used for medicinal purposes, for making rope and string, and to stuff buffalo robes and life vests. Even today, milkweed floss is used to stuff jackets, comforters, and pillows.

Milkweed seed is sold for land reclamation, highway beautification, butterfly gardens, and to butterfly farmers.

And common milkweed is the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae (caterpillars).

Adult monarchs feed on the nectar of many flowers, but they breed only where milkweeds are found. Milkweed flowers also attract other butterfly species, bees, hummingbirds, and
hummingbird clear wing moths.

I took all the photographs except for the orange butterfly weed. The milkweed plants were in a field in eastern Tennessee. ~~ Burntchestnut

Finding and Identifying Common Milkweed

common milkweed plantCommon milkweed is mostly found growing wild on farmland and in rural areas; in old fields. along fencerows, and roadsides.

You can sometimes find large colonies that cover an acre or more, but usually will find patches of 10-20 plants. 

The young shoots of milkweed look similar to dogbane, a plant that is mildly poisonous. Dogbane shoots are much thinner than milkweed shoots. The stems are usually reddish on the upper part and get thinner at the top, while milkweed stems are green and remain thick from bottom to top. Dogbane stems are almost shiny, while milkweed stems have fuzz. Both plants have a milky sap.

Milkweed grows from four to seven feet if it’s not regularly mowed down. The plant has large, oblong, leaves that grow up the thick stem, and clusters of white, pink, and purple drooping flowers. The seed pods are oval with one pointed end.

When the pods split open in August, the seeds are blown by the wind to grow into new plants at another location.

Click Here for Photos of Dogbane

Butterflies Love Milkweed

Butterflies Love Milkweed
Butterflies Love Milkweed

Finding Edible Wild Plants

Edible Wild Plants: Wild Foods From Dirt To Plate (The Wild Food Adventure Series, Book 1)

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A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and central North America (Peterson Field Guides)

More than 370 edible wild plants, plus 37 poisonous look-alikes, are described here, with 400 drawings and 78 color photographs showing precisely how to recognize each species. ...

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Nature's Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

A detailed guide to all aspects of using edible wild plants, from identifying and collecting through preparation. Covers 41 plants in-depth and the text is accompanied by multip...

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Common Milkweed Can Be Eaten as a Vegetable

Common milkweed budsThere are many other species of milkweed besides the common milkweed. If you’re not sure you have found common milkweed, mark the plants and watch them throughout the year, making notes or taking photographs.

Eating Milkweed Shoots

In late spring, new milkweed shoots come up near the dead stalks of last year’s plants. That’s why it’s a good idea to mark where milkweed plants grew the previous year.

The shoots look similar to asparagus spears, but have tiny leaves in opposing pairs that lie flat against the stem. Until the shoots are about eight inches tall, they can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

Remember that milkweed shoots can look similar to dogbane shoots. Dogbane is mildly poisonous, so don’t eat any shoots unless you’re sure of your identification.

Eating Milkweed Flower Buds

Don’t eat the open flowers; only the buds. The bud clusters look like small heads of broccoli except they are pinkish white. Before picking, look the buds over because sometimes they contain tiny monarch caterpillars. The buds can be used in soups, stir-fry, casseroles, and other dishes.

To eat the flower buds alone, place them in boiling water without salt. Drain the water and season with spices, salsa, or any other sauce.

Eating Milkweed Seed Pods

Milkweed plants produce seed pods in late summer. While the pod is immature, it can be used as a vegetable.

The seeds of an immature pod are white without any browning. The silk should be soft and juicy and easy to pinch through or pull apart. Boil the pods as a boiled vegetable, put them in soups or stews, or serve them with cheese.

If you pick pods but aren’t able to use them right away, parboil them and freeze them. Milkweed pods begin to toughen in a few hours, and won’t taste good.

Eating Milkweed Floss (Silk)

Immature milkweed floss is called “silk”. When you eat the pod, you are eating the silk and seeds. The smallest pods are good to eat whole, but pull the silk out of larger immature pods.

There’s a faint line that runs alongside the pod. Split the pod open along that line and pop out the silk wad. The silk should be juicy. Don’t eat it if it’s tough and dry.

Boil some silk wads with couscous, rice, or other grain, or boil it and add it to a casserole. When it’s done, it will look like it contains melted mozzarella cheese. 

Never eat any part of a MATURE plant milkweed plant. Only the young or immature parts are edible.


Eating Milkweed Pods (Video)

Practical Uses for Milkweed

milkweed podsMilkweed Silk

The fluffy white fibers in dried milkweed pods are called “floss”, “silk” or “coma”. Native Americans used the dry silk clusters to swaddle their babies and line their buffalo robes.

The American colonists stuffed pillows and mattresses with dried milkweed silk, and often combined it with wool or flax to create a soft thread. By the 1800′s the silk was also used for making cloth, paper, and hats.

During World War II, Japan controlled the areas where the the silk-cotton tree grew. The fibers (kapok) from this tree were used to fill life preservers.

The milkweed plant also produces a light weight, buoyant flexible fiber. A pound of milkweed floss could keep a sailor weighing 100 pounds afloat for about 10 hours. School children helped collect milkweed pods during a national drive. It’s been estimated that more than 25 million pounds of pods were collected and 

processed in 1944 and 1945.

Milkweed is still grown for its fiber. Its insulating effect is even better than goose down. A Nebraska company called Ogallalla Down uses milkweed fiber to stuff jackets, comforters, and pillows.

Milkweed Sap

Since, milkweed’s sap hardens soon after it’s been exposed to air, it has been used as an instant bandage. The sap has also been used as a glue, applied to warts and age spots, for ringworm, moles, bee stings, and to relieve poison ivy itch.

In World War II, the Russians used milkweed’s latex (sap) for rubber. During the U.S. energy crisis in the late 1970′s, Standard Oil of Ohio used Milkweed biomass to produce synthetic crude oil, but the project wasn’t cost effective.

NOTE: Milkweed sap can cause skin irritation on some people and you must be careful never to get the sap in your eyes.

Milkweed Root

Naive Americans used milkweed root for medicinal purposes and it’s been used for folk remedies. The ground root or a root tea was used to induce sweating, to treat bowel and kidney disorders, as an emetic, a nerve potion, a stomach tonic, and as an expectorant.

Milkweed root has been used to treat typhoid fever, asthma and bronchitis.

It was also used to treat stings and bites, to kill parasitic worms, and to fight the effects of poisonous herbs.

Photo taken by Burntchestnut 

Monarch Caterpillars Eating Milkweed Leaves

Butterfly Weed - Another Type of Milkweed

Also Called Butterfly Bush or Plant

Butterfly weedButterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) is a type of milkweed that has orange or yellow flowers. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and blooms from early summer to early fall. It needs full sun and most often grows in soil with a mixture of sand or gravel.

Although the monarch butterfly lays its eggs exclusively on the common milkweed plant, it also likes butterfly weed for nectar. Other butterfly species like it, too, especially the black and the tiger swallowtails. Butterfly weed is also a host plant for swallowtail caterpillars.

Nurseries and seed companies often call butterfly weed it “the butterfly plant” or the “butterfly flower” rather than “butterfly weed”.

I've seen many butterfly weeds growing along the interstate in Illinois.  Too bad I couldn't dig any up.

Photo by clkohan on Flickr  

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Updated: 10/02/2014, AngelaJohnson
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