Updated: Aug 12
Milkweed is one of those edible plants that is a dream for foragers! Edible parts from spring to summer with different shapes, textures, and flavors to experiment with. It also has a mysterious infamy that runs rampant on the internet and in some field guides, but more on that later! In this article I'm going to cover milkweed from the field to the table, starting with identification and ending with some notes about cooking and recipe suggestions!
Like the previous few articles, this topic was also chosen by the wonderful folks who support me on Patreon. These Patron-chosen articles have taken up all the writing that I've had time for recently, but I do have several ideas for other articles for when I have a little more free time! One of those, an article about edible trees, was tied with milkweed for this article spot but eventually lost by a vote or two. I'm going to write it anyways because it's an interesting and exciting topic! Finally, as a preview of what's next, this month my Patrons are choosing between four different mushroom species and Lobster mushrooms are currently winning. Now, on to the milkweed!
Before diving into the details of milkweed I want to mention a couple important things about sustainability. Milkweeds are native and crucial to many pollinators including and most importantly monarch butterflies. When the milkweeds are in bloom you can always find bees and other insects enjoying the pretty flowers - find the bee in the above photo! However, the monarchs solely rely on milkweed as a food source for their caterpillars.
So, consider this when you're thinking about foraging milkweed! It's unlikely that foragers could do much damage when compared to the vast amount of habitat loss and other factors effecting monarchs, pollinators, milkweed, and other native plants, but let's try not to add onto the pile. If you're foraging shoots try to only take from very strong populations and only take small percentages of a colony. Milkweed, at least the species we would forage, sprouts from rhizomes and will send more shoots up when some are removed as long as the plant isn't harvested repeatedly. Once the plants have matured consider only taking the buds, flowers, and seed pods in small numbers; leave plenty flowers for the pollinators and lots of pods to go to seed! Finally, think about giving back by planting some milkweed at your house! You can usually find plants at nurseries or online and they seem to do pretty well in most full-sun settings. Once they get established you'll have your very own source of milkweed to forage!
The name 'milkweed' refers to a group of a couple hundred species in the genus Asclepias. About half of these species can be found in North America, and in Colorado we have close to twenty different species! However, not all milkweeds are edible and some are even a bit toxic, so in this article we will be focusing on the edible species that is most common to Colorado, showy milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. From here, whenever I use 'milkweed' I'm referring to showy milkweed unless stated otherwise. I have heard that the other regularly eaten species, common milkweed, A. syriaca, can occasionally be found here as well, but not in any numbers that would warrant much attention for this article. For a great coverage of common milkweed I would highly suggest picking up