Milkweed is one of my favorite green gifts.
I love it’s early Spring shoots, young leaves, the milky latex sap that makes the whole process of gathering Milkweed such a memorable sticky experience, the flower buds, the pungent perfumy flowers, the edible seed pods, and the not so edible seed pods lined with seeds of promise each attached to a parachute of silk packed tightly awaiting the drying of Fall winds to burst the gray pod open releasing these fluffy sky divers to find a new field to sow and begin the process again.
The whole plant is either tasty, medicinal or practical in it’s offerings. The hours I have spent in my favorite Milkweed patch at Peaceful Acres have been well spent indeed. Not only is there the largest store of Milkweed I’ve ever seen but also an amazing buffet of other wild edibles: Wild Strawberry, Wild Grape, Queen Anne’s Lace, Thistle, Catnip, Dandelion, Wild Rose, Blackberry and Ground Cherries (to name a few).
Below are some images beginning in April with the young shoots to just yesterday when I collected a few gallons of the potato stage of Milkweed. This stage does not last long as the pods begin to lengthen and the silk forms the firm potato morphs into a cheesy texture that is quite delicious on lasagna and as a ‘string cheese’ of sorts. Once the seeds begin to turn from white to brown and the parachutes dry into fluff they are no longer edible. The only way to experience these nuances and grow in wisdom as a forager is by experience.
Milkweed is purportedly a toxic plant and blanching the parts you plan on eating is recommended. Euell Gibbons says to blanch in BOILING water 3 separate times to rid the toxic taste from the plant. I have found from my experience that blanching once is sufficient (and sometimes I don’t blanch at all before cooking). This is definitely a plant to locate near by or to grow on your own land. Best propagated from seeds…
Holly’s Foraging for Milkweed Stories
Soft breezes swayed the Locust saplings as the morning light laced through their overarching branches. Milkweed flower balls pungent with their strong perfume attracted buzzing bees and floating butterflies. Titus and I were harvesting Milkweed flower buds for a class I would be teaching at a camp in Tennessee the next day. They are best when they are still dark green and firm and when prepared properly taste remarkably like broccoli (only better). As we filled our buckets I told Titus of the multi faceted gift that Milkweed is for our nourishment and provision. It’s early shoots (10 inches tall or less) in April or early May taste like green beans, some claim an asparagus comparison, either way they are simply wonderful and I have a freezer full of them to last me till next Spring! The flower buds are next and prepared the same way are a great broccoli substitute. The pink flower balls are way too strong a perfume in smell and taste but I have experimented with making fritters with them and they are good but not great. Once the flowers have been pollinated and morph into seed pods they offer a strangely different taste…potatoes. Yes, POTATOES. Of course, this is true only till the pod reaches an inch or so in size and is quite firm to the inquiring squeeze. And then Titus, that is not ‘all she wrote’, the saga of Milkweed’s wild blessings morphs once again into a ‘cheese’ stage and has a texture similar to mozzarella cheese. I’ve served it on lasagna mixed with real cheese and it blended in undetected (my barometer of success). The key to this strange stage is to harvest the large seed pod while the fluff (future parachutes for the seeds) are still moist and the seeds are still white. Just open up a few pods to check out the condition of the insides and experiment with gently squeezing these 2 inch or so pods and you’ll learn ‘by feel’ which ones to collect for cheese.
Other gifts of this remarkable plant are more utilitarian but no less magical. The dried stalk can be made into rope with an extremely strong tinsel strength. This is an aspect of Milkweed that I have no personal experience with but I’ve heard it told that a boy scout wove a rope with Milkweed stalks that he used to climb out of the Grand Canyon with. Titus will figure it out for me, since he is a master craftsman and quite nimble with his fingers. The seed fluff is said to be good for insulation and quite buoyant.
After exploring the mysteries of the Milkweed patch, we rode the golf cart around the pasture and sampled Linden flowers from the Basswood tree (they taste like Jasmine and make the best relaxing tea), we collected Red Clover blossoms and edible grasses… Crossing the stream we stopped to enjoy the Bee Balm patch, the flowers were not quite in bloom yet, but the aromatic green leaves make the best pesto ever!
Standing with our feet in the stream… cooled from our labors… I remarked to Titus, “My Father owns all this land”, to which Titus looked surprised and said “Really?”
“Yes, He is your Father too!”. We both smiled and Titus said, “That makes me feel wealthy Mrs. Drake”.
“Oh Lord, How many and varied are Your works. In wisdom You have made them all. The whole earth is FULL of Your RICHES.” Psalms 104:24
We are wealthy indeed!
Happy foraging to you…..Holly
A Milkweed Adventure Update (August 2):
Last night I foraged for Milkweed Potato pods IN THE DARK! It was the end of the fourth quarter of the moon so it was inky black. Stars blinked brightly. Fireflies darted here and there adding brief glimpses of the terrain. Crickets and tree frogs were in full chorus, the air reverberated with their raucous love songs. The heady perfume of the Milkweed flowers cloyed my senses as I snaked my way through the Milkweed forest, bucket and clippers in hand, after my goal: Milkweed seed pods. I know I already have several gallons of them put up in my freezer but I needed more and nature’s wave does not wait for my schedule to cooperate. Thus the dark adventure.
My bucket filled fast with my favorite wild food and the excitement of the hunt was not dissuaded by the blackberry and wild rose brambles that sought to trip my progress. Funny how mysterious the Milkweed patch seemed in the dark, such a common shopping spot for me during the day. Darker shadows, sudden noises ever so slight in variance from the rhythmic cadence of the crickets and frogs kept me wildly alert and on the move.
Back home I garbled off the leaves and stems and dead flowers, snapping off the harder part of the pod where it had been attached to the stem, washing the bounty before ziplocking it for future meals.
I think foraging at night would be more fun by moonlight and will definitely keep an eye on the moon’s cycle. Perhaps at the full moon I’ll go Cattailing or to the Peppermint patch….
A Milkweed Adventure Update (August 23):
Hoping that a few Milkweed potatoes were still ripe for the pickin, I ventured over to Peaceful Acres to see what there was to see. Found 12 or so potatoes, but mostly the pods were at the ‘cheese stage’. The way to tell if they are still edible (without opening the pod) is to gently squeeze the pod and if it feels full and still firm it is most likely still edible. I’ll post pics of a cheesy pod next time. The seed is still white and the fluff is moist with a nice chewy texture to it. I like hiding this nutritious white gift in my lasagnes and casseroles. Only the most astute food snob would detect it’s presence. The setting sun cast magical shadows and highlighted the crowns of the forest above. The towering Milkweed giants loomed over me with their knobby pods beckoning me to squeeze them and partake of their gifts. Of all of my foraging stores, this one makes me feel the wealthiest.
The following info concerning Milkweed is from Herbalpedia
Milkweeds depend on insects for pollination and have developed a fairly sophisticated mechanism to insure that the job is done. When an insect lands on a petal, it must scramble for a footing because the surface of the petal is slippery. In the scramble, the feet get caught in the base of the flower. In its struggles to get out, the insect is thoroughly doused with pollen, which it obligingly takes along to the next blossom. The tongue of the monarch butterfly is especially adapted for reaching the nectar of Milkweed flowers thus the name milkweed butterfly. The larvae feed exclusively on Milkweed leaves. This diet makes them bitter and birds will not eat them.
Medicinal Uses: A root decoction (either fresh or dried) strengthens the heart in a different way from digitalis, and without the foxglove derivative’s toxicity. It also soothes the nerves and is listed as an emetic, antihelmintic (kills worms) and stomach tonic. It helps relieve edema probably by strengthening the heart. It’s also a diaphoretic and expectorant. It’s used for coughs, colds, arthritis aggravated by the cold, threatened inflammation of the lungs,
asthma, bronchitis, female disorders, diarrhea and gastric mucus. The milky sap is used topically, fresh or dried, to reduce warts.
The root is emetic and cathartic in large doses. In average doses it is considered diuretic, expectorant and diaphoretic. It is said to produce temporary sterility if taken as a tea.
Practical Uses: A good quality fiber is obtained from the inner bark of the stems. It is long and quite strong, but brittle. It can be used in making twine, cloth, paper etc. The fiber is of poor quality in wet seasons. It is easily harvested in late autumn after the plant has died down by simply pulling the fibers off the dried stems. It is estimated that yields of 1,356 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc or is mixed with other fibers to make cloth. It is a Kapok substitute, used in Life Jackets or as a stuffing material. Very water repellent, it can yield up to 550 kilos per hectare. The floss absorbs oil whilst repelling water and so has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea.
Candlewicks can be made from the seed floss. In cultivation, only 1 – 3% of the flowers produce mature pods. It is estimated that yields of 1,368 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. Rubber can be made from latex contained in the leaves and the stems. It is found mainly in the leaves and is destroyed by frost. Yields of 197 kilos per hectare can be expected from wild plants, it is estimated that by selection these yields could be increased to 897 kilos. Yields are higher on dry soils. The latex can also be used as a glue for fixing precious stones into necklaces, earrings etc. The latex contains 0.1 – 1.5% caoutchouc, 16 – 17% dry matter, and 1.23% ash. It also contains the digitalis-like mixture of a- and b- asclepiadin, the antitumor b-sitosterol, and a- and b-amyrin and its acetate, dextrose and wax. Pods contain an oil and a wax which are of potential importance. The seed contains up to 20% of an edible semi-drying oil. It is also used in making liquid soap.
Dye Recipe: 1 pot milkweed, leaves, stems, flowers and/or pods 1 lb alum mordanted wool 1⁄4 cup clear ammonia 4 gal water
Boil the cut-up milkweed in water for about 1 hour. It may be necessary to add additional water so it won’t boil dry. Cool and strain out the leaves, etc. Add the ammonia and enough water to make 4 gallons. Enter the premordanted wool and raise slowly to simmer and hold it there for 3⁄4 hour. Remove the wool immediately from the dye bath and rinse in hot water. If you don’t rinse the milkweed right away it may develop dark spots. Color: bright yellow.
Culinary Uses: Almost all parts of the milkweed can be eaten, as long as the bitter principle is removed by blanching. The young shoots can be cooked and eaten like asparagus, and the unopened flowers and young pods also make good cooked vegetables. The young pods should be picked before they become elastic when pressed. They are rather mucilaginous, like okra, and can be added to soups or stews as a thickener. Parboil the flowers one minute, then add them to pancake batter to make fritters or include them in soups, stews, casseroles or other vegetable dishes. They have a refreshing, perfumed flavor. The immature seedpods (firm and under 1 1⁄2 inches long) are good boiled in two-4 changes of water. How to blanch milkweed: Plunge the milkweed (pods or stems or whatever part you are using) in boiling water for one minute. Discard the water and repeat the process three more times (four in all). It is essential to use boiling water because if milkweed is put in cold water and brought to the boil, the bitterness will remain in the plant, whereas several blanchings seem to remove it effectively.
Milkweed Flower Buds in Vinaigrette
3 cups milkweed flower buds 4-6 spring potatoes 1 green onion tarragon sprig
DRESSING 2 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar 1 tsp prepared hot mustard 1⁄4 cup olive oil salt and pepper
Cook milkweed flower buds in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and repeat (2 times). Cook potatoes separately, drain and cube. Mince onion and tarragon and add to milkweed and potatoes. Mix lemon juice and mustard. Beat in oil gradually. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over salad, toss and serve warm. (The Wild Food Gourmet)
2 Tbs olive oil 1 cup thinly sliced onion 2 cloves garlic, chopped salt and pepper to taste
4cups blanched milkweed pods 2 1⁄2 cups skinned and quartered tomatoes 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
Blanch the pods carefully. Heat the oil in a fairly deep frying pan and fry the onion, garlic, and seasonings over medium heat until browned. Stir in the milkweed pods and tomatoes, and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Bubble for 1 minute, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the pods are cooked and the juices have reduced and thickened. Excellent accompaniment to veal scallops or broiled liver (Wild Foods)
Milkweed and Chicken Curry
6 Tbsp olive oil 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 tsp salt 1⁄2 tsp black pepper 12 cardamom seeds, slightly crushed 1 tsp ground coriander 1 tsp curry powder 1 tsp ground cumin 2 Tbsp turmeric 2 large onions, chopped 1 large red or green pepper, chopped 20 smallish milkweed pods, blanched 4 large chicken pieces 2 cups yogurt
Blanch pods carefully. Heat olive oil in a large pan and fry the garlic, salt, pepper, and spices for 2 minutes over low heat. Add the onions and pepper, and sauté until tender. Turn the heat up to high and brown the chicken pieces on all sides (about 10 minutes). Then lower the temperature, add the blanched milkweed pods, cover the pan, and simmer for 30 minutes or more, until the meat and milkweed pods are very tender. Just before serving, spoon 2 or 3 tablespoons of yogurt into the pan to thicken the sauce. Serve with rice and a bowl of plain yogurt. (Wild Foods)
Milkweed Flower Salad
2 cups common milkweed flowers 1⁄2 cup roasted almonds, chopped 1 Tbsp vegetable oil 1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt handful chopped scallions or wild onion leaves
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Simmer the flowers for 1 minute. Drain, press out the excess water, chop the flowers and place them in a bowl with the other ingredients. Mix well. (Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places
Marinated Milkweed Buds
1 pt of milkweed buds, washed and blanched. Let cool. 1 Tbsp capers 1 clove of wild garlic
1⁄2 cup olive oil 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar 1 Tbsp fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried basil 1 tsp salt 1/8 tsp pepper or to taste Layer prepared milkweed buds, capers, and garlic in a quart jar. Pour olive oil/vinegar mixture over all, add seasonings and allow to marinate overnight or for several days in the refrigerator. (The Wild Foods Cookbook)
Mexican Milkweed Pods
3 cups blanched milkweed pods 2 wild garlic cloves, finely diced 1⁄2 cup chopped wild onions 1 dried hot pepper or a sprinkling of prepared crushed red pepper
1⁄4 cup oil salt and pepper to taste dash of cumin powder
Fry vegetables in oil over medium heat until they just begin to brown about 10 minutes. Cover and steam until tender. Add seasonings and cumin. Serve with fluffy cooked rice, if you like. (The Wild Foods Cookbook)
Milkweed Buds and Butter Sauce
2 cup blanched milkweed buds 1⁄4 cup clarified butter 2 Tbsp fresh orange juice grating of fresh orange rind salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter and add orange juice and peel. Season to taste and pour over hot
milkweed buds. Garnish with a sprinkling of slivered almonds. (The Wild Foods Cookbook)
Milkweed Shoots with Tart Sorrel Sauce
3 cups milkweed shoots, blanched salt and pepper to taste SAUCE: 1 cup dairy sour cream
1 cup fresh sorrel greens, chopped fine 1⁄4 cup milk or buttermilk 1⁄4 cup chopped wild chives
Heat sour cream and sorrel gently over low heat until sorrel leaves are tender; pour remaining ingredients over milkweed shoots and serve immediately. (The Wild Foods Cookbook)
Milkweed Shoots in Wine
2 lb milkweed shoots (blanched) 1⁄4 cup margarine 1⁄4 cup white wine 1⁄4 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp pepper 1⁄4 cup parmesan cheese 1⁄4 cup green onion including tops, sliced
Place shoots in buttered casserole. Melt margarine, stir in wine and pour over shoots. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, cheese and onion. Bake 400F for 25 minutes (How to Prepare Common Wild Foods)
Cream of Milkweed Soup
4 cups milk 2 Tbsp flour 2 Tbsp margarine 2 cups milkweed shoots (blanched) 1⁄4 tsp salt 1⁄4 tsp pepper 1⁄4 tsp tarragon 1⁄4 tsp paprika
Cut shoots into 1⁄2” pieces. Melt margarine, stir in flour. Slowly add milk. Cook 5 minutes, stirring continuously. Add milkweed and seasoning; beat thoroughly. Serve at once. (How to Prepare Common Wild Foods)
Milkweed and Rice Casserole
1⁄2 lb milkweed flower buds (blanched)
1 can cream of chicken soup 1⁄2 cup celery, diced 1⁄2 cup water chestnuts, diced 1⁄2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated 1⁄2 cup onion, chopped
1 cup minute rice 1⁄4 tsp salt 1/8 tsp pepper
Place buds in saucepan with 1⁄2 cup water. Simmer 5 minutes. Do not drain. Combine buds in liquid with remaining ingredients and pour into casserole. Bake 350F for 4 minutes. (How to Prepare Common Wild Foods)
2 dozen young milkweed shoots 4 Tbsp butter 4 Tbsp flour 2 cups milk
1 cup Vermont Cheddar cheese, grated 1 tsp salt 1⁄2 tsp coarse black pepper 1 cup bread crumbs
4 Tbsp melted butter
Gather young shoots of the milkweed plant when they’re no more than 6 inches tall. Wash well. Fill 3 large pans with enough water to amply cover the milkweed shoots, and put all of the pans on the stove to heat at the same time. As soon as the water boils, drop the milkweed shoots in the first pan and bring the water to a boil again. At once, lift the milkweed shoots out of the first pan with tongs and transfer them to the boiling water in the second pan. Again bring the milkweed shoots to a lively boil. Transfer the milkweed to the last pan of boiling water and repeat the process for the third time. Drain the greens thoroughly. Boiling in three waters removes the bitter principle from the milkweed. In a saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Stir in the flour and cook slowly, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to turn golden. Gradually add the milk, stirring well to prevent lumps. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Add the grated cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir the sauce until the cheese is blended. Arrange the milkweed shoots in the bottom of a 2-quart greased baking dish, and pour the hot sauce over the milkweed. Combine the bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle on top of the sauce. Bake in a moderate oven (350F) for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are browned. (The Wild Flavor)