Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) For the last 50 years or so, the culinary use of milkweed has been somewhat distorted. If you have read the chapter on milkweed in Euell Gibbons’ book, you would be lead to believe that a bitter compound is present and needs to be leached out. If you taste common milkweed raw you would be pleasantly surprised by its delightful sweet flavor but also curious about the location of the bitter flavor.
It is possible that a bitter species of milkweed were mistaken for common milkweed by Gibbons and a thorough leaching was necessary in order to make the plant food worthy. Gibbons was one of the most influential wild food writers of the mid 20th century, probably the most influential one. Being so, he influenced the way common milkweed was cooked amongst learning foragers until a determinedly curious Samuel Thayer questioned Gibbons’ methods and re-wrote the foragers recipe for cooking common milkweed.
We find the best way to treat milkweed is to cook it lightly, just blanch it until the leaves have wilted (about 2-5 minutes) and serve with a light dressing. Serve it in place of another freshly flavored green vegetable.
Although I often eat common milkweed raw, as I am harvesting it and cooking it, I should advise you to eat it cooked since it is reported to contain small amounts of toxins which may be poisonous to humans when eaten in large quantities. I have not encountered any accounts of human poisoning by common milkweed but it is always best to err on the side of caution, particularly when eating a new food.