Family: Dogbane Family Habitat: Gardens, overgrown yards, meadows, fallow agricultural fields and edges of agricultural land. Season: Stalk - spring Buds - early summer Flower - summer Pods - late summer
Harvesting notes: Special care must be taken when harvesting since this plant is an important source of food for the monarch butterfly larvae in North America. Since the Monarch butterfly are already in decline, along with theirs and milkweed's habitats, it is best to considerately minimize your impact on the plant populations. Only harvest from areas that will be mowed or plowed over anyway, and refrain from harvesting more than needed. Common Milkweed has a toxic look-a-like who grows at the same time and in similar habitats. Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) as a young shoot looks very similar to Milkweed, one of the easiest ways to tell them apart is Milkweed stems are hallow, while Dogbanes are solid. There are several other distinctions but this one seems to be the easiest to consistently identify. Take care when harvesting and be sure to familiarize yourself with both plants.
Culinary notes: We should advise you to to eat common milkweed cooked since it is reported to contain small amounts of cardiac glycosides which are poisonous to humans when eaten in large quantities. The cardiac glycoside in question, digoxin, is considered to be water soluble and blanching and discarding the water should remove the toxin. I have not encountered any accounts of human poisoning by common milkweed but it is always best to err on the side of caution so a brief cooking will render your milkweed safe to enjoy. Milkweed is one of the best spring vegetable with flavors of green beans and apricots. The flowers have a beautiful sweet and purfumey odor and the young seed pods are delicious blanched and stir-fired.
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