Monday, May 14, 2012

Milkweed shoots

After our picnic in the field of flowering grasses at Dead Horse Bay, I collected a small bundle of young milkweed shoots. And by milkweed I mean common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, which grows straight up and tall and has highly scented lilac flowers, round about late June. Don't fool around with other species.

If you collect a large bundle you are doing yourself (and monarch butterflies - yes, small letter for common names) out of meals later in the season. This plant provides food at all stages: shoots, flower buds, flowers and seedpods. Shoots that snap easily are good to eat - my largest was about 8" tall.

I blanched the shoots twice to dissolve what many foraging resources say is the potentially irritating and bitter latex, and then I simmered them in a third change of water till tender, for about four minutes.

Euell Gibbons may be the source of this method, a widely-accepted foraging truth -  in his otherwise wonderful book of foraging Americana, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Expert forager and author Sam Thayer disputes the necessity for this ritual, saying that young common milkweed is not bitter at all. It is quite possible that subsequent authors have just copied Gibbons' advice verbatum, without thinking twice about it. Or else they're eating a bitter and potentially toxic milkweed. You must learn to identify plants accurately. I remain astonished at how little some foragers know about plants they intend to swallow.

Next time, no blanching.

Back to the cooked milkweed shoots. It all ends well, I promise. The flavour now is mild, the texture tender, a little like artichoke heart. The same blanch-thrice resources say that if you taste anything bitter at this stage you should discard or blanch again. I have never tasted this bitterness. After cooking some good, thick pasta I tossed in a handful of torn, tissue-thin prosciutto, the warm milkweed stems and leaves, some melted butter with a squeeze of lemon juice, some parmesan. And that was all.

The Frenchman hummed happily as he ate.


  1. This sounds so easy and satisfying - now to see if milkweed grows in this region! Aloha!

  2. This is why you get a book published and I read books.

    You're braver that I am.

    xo Jane

  3. Jill, hm, curious. be careful with ID :-)

    Jane - no, this isn't brave. Just greedy :-)

  4. Please save some milkweed for the threatened Monarch butterflies. It is the ONLY food the caterpillars eat. Joan in CNY

    1. I do :-)

      Common milkweed is fairly plentiful and the larvae eat many kinds of milkweed, and prefer some other species much more. Do a little more reading about it to see.


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