Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Showy Milkweed

Asclepias speciosa- named after Asclepius, th' greek god of healing.
Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed
Here in northern Colorado, showy milkweed is th' species we see th' most. This is the milkweed of fields and roadsides around Ft. Collins. It spreads by it's rhizomes, so it usually grows in groups, which is to th' benefit of th' harvesters, be they us or th' bugs that so love this plant. It's white latex has been traditionally applied to open wounds and skin infections, particularly warts. It is very sticky, and i imagine it could be used as a temporary glue if needed. It is food for th' monarch caterpillar, and more commonly out here, th' swallowtail, and it is also a host to numerous beneficial insects. (Are there any non-beneficial insects?)

swallowtail catterpillar

Aside from all th' amazing bug life this plant provides for, it also provides some of our favorite vegetables, as well as medicine, and a very insulating and waterproof filling material. In late spring/early summer it pops up in shoots that very much resemble asparagus spears, only lighter in color, and usually fatter and shorter. Cook them anyway you'd cook asparagus, but expect that distinctly, and in my opinion better, milkweed flavor. I've never found any bitterness in milkweed, in fact, it's quite sweet and floral. I know i'm just one person telling you this amongst many hundreds of wild food books and websites saying otherwise, but try it for yourself and you be th' judge. Ignore all th' warnings about multiple water changes, they are unnecessary. Just know your milkweed. Taste a bit in th' field, if it's th' worst thing you've ever put in your mouth it's dogbane, not milkweed. Where we live th' dogbane comes up much earlier than th' milkweed, so if you find shoots unusually early, watch out. I've tasted dogbane, and it's absolutely repulsive. I'm not interested in boiling things in multiple changes of water. I'm interested in good food, and there's plenty out there that cooks up just fine th' first time.

Th' next vegetable this plant provides are th' young flower buds. We usually eat a few raw and then cook th' rest. When we show these to people they always make a comment about how they look like broccoli- and they do, but they taste like milkweed. Use them any way you'd use broccoli. Remember when picking, these are going to turn into flowers, and then pods, so keep that in mind and don't pick all of them. I usually pick a third of th' buds and leave th' rest to grow.

milkweed flower buds
milkweed buds, closeup
Th' next, and perhaps most unique, food provided by this most amazing plant is it's seed pod.

milkweed with seed pods
You want to get these while they're young and still growing, about one to two inches long is optimum. As they age th' silks get stringy and fibrous, but when young they are tender, creamy and absolutely unlike any other vegetable around. It is really two foods in one, with the outer pod being somewhat like a green bean, and the inner seeds and silks being like themselves, for their is nothing else like them. We eat these any way we can think of, but here's a few photos of some.

milkweed pod pizza

cooked up with eggplant spagheti

batter dipped and fried

fried milkweed pods.
I don't think i've met anyone who hasn't liked milkweed pods, so don't be afraid to try them if you find some. Be careful though, i've seen a lot of them around here sprayed with poison, which surprises me because they are a native plant. If you see any signs of spray, such as mutated growth, or if there's a lot of leafy spurge in th' same field, chances are they've been poisoned. 

Later in th' season, after th' pods turn brown, you can collect th' fluff to use as a stuffing. I stuffed a pilllow with it and have slept on it over a year now and it's as good as new. Th' fluff is very insulating, which you will quickly realize when you work with it a bit, you can hold it in your hands and feel your hands heating up. There's directions for separating th' seeds from th' silks in an earlier post here

milkweed pod at right stage for harvesting silk
Th' dried stalks of milkweed make an excellent fiber for spinning or twisting into rope. To get an idea of how important rope/string is to us, look around your house, notice everything made from strings, then try to imagine your life without those things. It'd be a pretty different picture.  I'll do a separate post on rope making in th' future, but here's a small piece twisted up to give an idea of what can be done. I have hopes to one day clean and spin enough to have beth make me a sweater from milkweed, as this fiber is pretty soft when cleaned well.

milkweed double reverse twisted rope.
Well, i hope this post has been useful for you, and maybe next time you see this lovely plant, you'll see much more than just another "weed." That's all for now. 

Cheers. ~Rico

1 comment:

  1. Great post I will have to try some. I think the chicken was just happy he wasn't going on the grill :) Great picture of the Caterpillar.