Milkweed: Really, Pretty Gross

It had to happen.  I’d been pleasantly surprised by my foraging experiences, and enjoyed the new foods I was trying.  My latest experiment was not so pleasant.  Preparing milkweed is rather involved process, and it’s possible that I botched the preparation, but I don’t think that’s the case.  There are several other edible stages of milkweed, and I will try those before I write the plant off, but I’d have to be quite hungry to repeat my most recent experience.

Finding Milkweed

There is a great picture of common milkweed on the Wikipedia site which might help with identification.  It’s most identifiable feature, however, is the mini-avacado-like fruits, which split open to reveal its seeds, each of which is connected to a silky strand of fiber.  It is usually found along roadsides, although I found it often among the sand dunes along Lake Michigan as a kid.  Monarch butterflies use it as a food source on their way through our area.

Harvesting Milkweed

There are many different edible stages of milkweed.  In the spring, it can be harvested like pokeweed.  The leaves can be eaten as greens.  The pods can be eaten, when they are young, before they get to the rubbery stage.  I tried to eat the flower blossoms.  I found a patch near my house, cut off several flowerheads that had not yet opened, and put them in a plastic bag.  The stems bleed a gluey white substance, so minimal handling is ideal. 

Preparing Milkweed

The gluey goo gives milkweed an inedibly bitter taste.  To eliminate this taste, milkweed must be dunked in boiling water repeatedly.  I rinsed my flowerbuds, pulled off any leaves, and put them in a stockpot.  In a larger pot, I boiled enough water to fill the smaller pot several times over.  I poured boiling water over the milkweed, and put them over heat until the water started boiling.  I then poured off the water, and repeated the process twice.  After boiling the flowerbuds three times, I seasoned them with a little salt and butter. 

Eating Milkweed

Not good.  I didn’t get a bitter flavor, so I assume I’ve done the preparation correctly, but it was still not good.  The flavor wasn’t bad, but the texture was really unpleasant.  Not only did the plants absorb a lot of liquid, giving them a really watery quality, the flowerbuds had a clothy texture.  I’m not sure that word has been used in an epicurean sense before, but eating milkweed buds was a lot like eating a bit of wet cheesecloth. 

I will try the pods when they are ready, but the flowerbuds were supposed to be the most desireable stage of milkweed.  Given the amount of work necessary to prepare it, the unsatisfying results are enough to put me off milkweed until a period of extreme hunger. 


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4 Responses to “Milkweed: Really, Pretty Gross”

  1. valereee Says:

    Edible does not equal palatable! 😀 Many (if not most) foods listed in ‘edible plants’ manuals should be labelled ‘for when you are in danger of starving.’ As opposed to those that are also yummy.

  2. glge Says:

    This is the first time I’ve been unpleasantly surprised by a wild food. I’ve had worst food served to me in restaurants, but I’m not looking to go back to milkweed again.

  3. glge Says:

    Well, I tried milkweed again this year, and it wasn’t nearly as bad. I picked much younger buds–about the size of a vegetable-tray broccoli floret. The cloth-y texture had not quite developed at that point, and it was a far more pleasant eating experience.

  4. Hatta Says:

    Recent research has busted the myth of bitter milkweed. Someone somewhere, probably Euell Gibbons, misidentified a milkweed specimin and the myth has stayed with us. Real milkweed is suprisingly mild, and tastes great blanched for 3 minutes in water.

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