How to Harvest and Cook Milkweed
How to Harvest and Prepare Common Milkweed Shoots
Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) can be found all over the eastern United States and southern Canada. The shoots are best harvested late spring to early summer, and make a great side dish or soup vegetable. However, foraging for wild plants comes with two big disclaimers: first, always be absolutely certain that you've correctly identified the plant. Two, never forage for monetary gain––there are many animals that rely on wild plants, and over-harvesting can have a serious impact on the ecosystem (for example, monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants).
Finding the milkweed plants
Search for milkweed populations in your area.The common milkweed usually grows in full sun, in waste places, fields, or hedgerows. Poke milkweed is also considered an acceptable edible milkweed.
- Never take plants that grow near areas where pesticides are used heavily (for example, farms), urban areas, polluted water sources, or closer than 150 feet (45.7 m) from roads. These plants may have absorbed toxins from their environment that could make you sick. It's best to forage in wilderness areas, such as forests and meadows untouched by human advancement. In cities where green spaces are encouraged however, the milkweed may be perfectly fine to consume; you know your own locale, so trust that knowledge.
Identify the plant positively as common milkweed.Research other milkweed varieties or lookalikes in your area, as other species of milkweed can be very bitter.
- Two common lookalikes are dogbane and butterlfy-weed, both of which are toxic.
- If the shoots you believe to be milkweed have stems covered with fuzz and ooze white sap when broken, it is not dogbane or butterfly-weed.
- If you can't positively identify the shoots as milkweed, wait until they're fully grown and take notes of the areas where milkweed can be found. Try again next spring.
Harvesting the milkweed plants
Use a knife or your hands to break off shoots.Choose shoots that are less than 14in tall and do not have fully formed leaves.
- Don't decimate the entire milkweed population in the area you're harvesting from. Pick a few shoots from several different patches of milkweed to lessen your impact on the ecosystem.
Preparing the milkweed plants for consuming
Take the shoots home.Common milkweed is mildly toxic raw, so nibbling on uncooked shoots might give you a stomachache.
Rub off the fuzz and wash the shoots.Cut them into smaller pieces if you like.
Boil enough water in a pot to cover the shoots, then add the shoots in.Alternatively, add to a soup to cook with other vegetables.
- Alternatively, you can roast them.
Cook for about twenty minutes, checking occasionally for tenderness.
Taste-test.Some foraging guides recommend changing the water to leach out bitter compounds in the shoots, but this unnecessary.
Season to your liking and serve.
- Other parts of milkweed are edible as well: young flower buds, pods, and leaves can be prepared, too. There are plenty of guides on the internet for preparing these.
- The taste of milkweed shoots has been compared to asparagus and very fresh broccoli, but you may find the taste to be completely different. Either way, it is a mild vegetable that will add a little something extra to your dinner.
- Never eat milkweed that is still bitter after cooking.
- Wild food can be hard on a sensitive stomach.
- Do not over-harvest. Take only what you truly need. Be respectful––other animals don't have the luxury of going to a grocery store if they get hungry.
Video: Wild Edibles- Common Milkweed
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