Common Name milkweed
Origin North America
Edible greens, shoots, pods, flowers
Asclepias syriaca- commonly called common milkweed, butterfly flower & silkweed, is a species of flowering plant. This species is native to Southern Canada and of much of the conterminous Eastern U.S, east of the Rocky Mountains, excluding the drier parts of the Prairies. Common milkweed is a perennial herb growing up to 2.6 m tall from a rhizome. The all parts of common milkweed plants produce white latex when broken. The leaves are opposite or sometimes whorled; simple, broad ovate-lanceolate; up to 25 cm long and 12 cm broad, usually with undulate margins and reddish main veins. They have very short petioles and velvety undersides.
Although no specific reports have been seen for this species, many, if not all, members of this genus contain toxic resinoids, alkaloids and cardiac glycosides. They are usually avoided by grazing animals. The older leaves are poisonous if eaten in large quantities. The plant contains cardioactive compounds and is potentially toxic.
Unopened flower buds can be cooked. They taste somewhat like peas. They are used like broccoli. Flowers and young flower buds can also be cooked. They have a mucilaginous texture and a pleasant flavour, they can be used as a flavouring and a thickener in soups, etc. The flower clusters can be boiled down to make a sugary syrup.
The flowers are harvested in the early morning with the dew still on them. When boiled up they make a brown sugar. Young shoots can be cooked and eaten as an asparagus substitute. They should be used when less than 20cm tall. Tips of older shoots are cooked like spinach. Young seed pods, 3 - 4 cm long can also be cooked. They are very appetizing. If picked at the right time, the pods resemble okra.
The root is anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and purgative. It has been used in the treatment of asthma, kidney stones, venereal disease, etc. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. An infusion of the pounded roots has been used by the women of some native North American Indian tribes to promote temporary sterility. The leaves and/or the latex are used in folk remedies for treating cancer and tumours. The milky latex from the stems and leaves is used in the treatment of warts. The latex needs to be applied at least daily over a period of up to a few weeks to be effective. The stems can be cooked and applied as a poultice on rheumatic joints. One reported Mohawk antifertility concoction contained milkweed and jack-in-the-pulpit, both considered contraceptive. Dried and pulverized, a fistful of milkweed and three Arisaema rhizomes were infused in a pint of water for 20 minutes. The infusion was drunk, a cupful an hour, to induce temporary sterility. The rhizome is used in homeopathy as an antioedemic and emmenagogue in the treatment of dropsy and dysmenorrhoea.
The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc or is mixed with other fibres to make cloth. It is a Kapok substitute, used in Life Jackets or as a stuffing material. Very water repellent, it can yield up to 550 kilos per hectare. The floss absorbs oil whilst repelling water and so has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea. Candlewicks can be made from the seed floss.