After tearing out any milkweed plants I could find last year, my auntie Trish told me they had some value to them for eating. I had thought they were poisonous, so decided to check it out. I let a few grow around our small pond this year and did some research.
I think I have the variety called Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. It is also known as silky swallowwort (funny!)
I was surprised to learn it is related to Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), one of my favorite plants.
The silk in the milkweed pods is suitable for stuffing like you would use down. The fibers in the stalk are useful for making nets or cords. The fiber is harvested in late fall when the plant dies back.
1. The shoots. Up to 8″, they can be boiled and are supposed to taste something like asparagus or green beans. After 8″ they toughen, the tips can be broken off and eaten as shoots.
2. “Milkweed flower buds first appear in early summer and can be harvested for about seven weeks. They look like immature heads of broccoli but have roughly the same flavor as the shoots. These flower buds are wonderful in stir-fry, soup, rice casseroles, and many other dishes. Just make sure to wash the bugs out.” (from Countryside Magazine)
3. The pods. Eat when immature, less than 2″. Otherwise they will be tough. Boil or use in stew.
4. “Milkweed silk is both delicious and amazing. It is slightly sweet with no overpowering flavor of any kind. Boil a large handful of these silk wads with a pot of rice or cous cous and the finished product will look like it contains melted mozzarella. The silk holds everything together, so it’s great in casseroles as well. It looks and acts so much like cheese, and tastes similar enough too, that people assume it IS cheese until I tell them otherwise.” (from Countryside Magazine)
Do not eat mature leaves, stems, seeds or pods because of toxins and if it tastes bitter you’ve got the wrong plant. If anyone is familiar with a different use or preparation please let me know in the comments!