Helpful Herbs: Milkweed
Milkweed isn't just for the butterflies - but growing it will help to preserve an endangered pollinator. It will also provide you with food, health, and other useful attributes.
Milkweed, with "weed" right in its name, grows wild in many fields across America. It is an opportunistic plant, often sprouting up in a pasture that has been left fallow or growing in a paddock when other plants have been eaten down by livestock. You can sow Milkweed by seed in the fall in an open, sunny area - but often, you don't have to.
You might hesitate in eating Milkweed because you think the plant is poisonous, but it can be safely eaten as long as you are careful about identifying the plant. You can eat almost all of the Milkweed plant, including the leaves, tender stems, buds and flowers. The tastiest part of the plant is commonly agreed to be the flowers. You can boil the flowers or mix them with flour and eggs to make fritters. Milkweed blossom fritters are delicious with honey, and taste a little bit like broccoli.
Leaves and young stems can be steamed, fried, or boiled much and enjoyed as a side much like asparagus or spinach. While you likely won't see Milkweed blossoms on a menu near you soon, they are well worth trying as a tasty, easy to harvest meal.
The milky white sap inside Milkweed stalks and blossom also have some wonderful benefits. The sap is used to treat warts and eating the leaves and shoots is said to help with kidney stones and stomach ailments. The roots of the plant are also used for their healing effects on stomach problems.
Furthermore, the threadlike, silky seeds inside the pods of the Milkweed are also useful. The silk was used during World War II to stuff lifejackets and for spinning in textiles when fabric was in short supply. Native Americans used the pods for wool, and also would use the stalks of the plant to weave baskets.
Because the plant grows across the fields of America it was a staple in Native American life. Along with weaving baskets, making clothing, and stuffing pillows, the Native Americans regularly cooked with Milkweed and used it for many medicinal treatments. The Latin name for Milkweed, Asclepias, is for the Greek god of medicine.
Today the Milkweed plant is being tested as a possible pesticide for nematodes, and people continue to test uses for its silky seed pods. Milkweed is also crucial to the survival of the Monarch butterfly, who uses its pollen as a food source for its caterpillars. These increasingly rare and beautiful butterflies are able to survive thanks to the resilience of the Milkweed plant.
If you don't have Milkweed already in a field near you, consider sowing some to reap the benefits and help the natural world around you. Thanks to its ever-expanding list of helpful properties, it promises to continue rewarding its growers.