Foraging for Wild Edible Plants: Milkweed

milkweed

This is common milkweed, and it is a wild edible! One thing I enjoy doing in my spare time, is finding wild edible foods to forage. I like nature anyway, so it is a good activity, its fun, and productive. And its free; why pay for fresh vegetables when there are plenty all around you! (I buy vegetables too, don’t feel bad).

Warning: I am not a foraging expert. I have a few foraging books and consult websites. Always be certain of identification. If I’m wrong and you get sick, you can try suing me, but there’s not that much to take! Some edible plants have poisonous parts, poisonous look a-likes, or must be treated before eating. This plant in particular is poisonous when raw, it must be cooked!

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Okay now that we got that out of the way, I can tell you about my first milkweed flower and bud cluster experience. First I found some milkweed in my parent’s backyard, and properly identified it. Milkweed stands on a stalk, and does not have any branches (a poisonous look alike has branches). Its leaves are opposite each other, and alternate a half turn as they go up the plant. Looking from the top, it appears as a plus sign. When broken, the plant excretes a white sticky “milky” sap, like this:

20140709_144748The young tips and newly unfurled leave are also edible, and later the seed pods, but today I just foraged the bud clusters, and flower clusters (every part of milkweed must be cooked before being eaten, usually boiled for 15 minutes, sometimes in a change of water). Young tips would be slightly earlier in the season, buds are great now (at least in my region of southern MA) in July, and later into August seed pods will become more prevalent. Just for reference, here is the young plant that has not yet developed buds.

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You can eat the bud clusters, and newly opened flower clusters, though the books more specifically tell you to go after the bud clusters as opposed to flower clusters. I picked some that were still firm and green, some that were a little farther along turning pinkish, and some where most of the flowers were already open.

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Then, milkweed is pretty simple to prepare. I just boiled the bud clusters for about 20 minutes, changing the water at 15 minutes by adding already boiling water to the pot once I drained it of the original water. Apparently these could be a little bitter if you don’t change the water.

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I just ate them with a little bit of salt in order to get to know the flavor, but there are plenty of ways to prepare these, just make sure you cook them, but otherwise, be imaginative! That’s one of the best parts of foraging. But anyway it had almost a rice like taste, but sort of the texture of cooked broccoli (which makes sense, those are bud clusters as well). I think with a little cider or balsamic vinegar it would be quite the fare. This is what it looked like cooked.

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And this is proof that I’m not just messing with you!

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And while we are on the subject of foraging, I found a little sheep sorrel while picking my milkweed. Sheep sorrel is a small green leaf that grows close to the ground in clusters, and sort of looks like a dagger, or a wizard hat. There are no similar looking poisonous plants.

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Notice the signature barbs at the bottom of the leaf. It is an awesome “trail nibble”, you can eat it raw and it has a sour taste, sort of like a green apple. I like to eat it raw, but you can also cook it and serve it like spinach (just might take a while to pick enough!), and then use the leftover water as a nice drink, almost like a cross between iced tea and lemonade. There is a warning in my book not to eat too much because it could cause stomach upset. Apparently I’ve never had enough for that to happen. This one is pretty easy to identify due to its distinctive look.

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All this information I have gained from the books Edible Wild Plants by Thomas S. Elias and Peter A. Dykeman, and Foraging New England by Tom Seymour. The former is a great field guide, and the latter is a great introduction, and includes more reading material on each plant mentioned, though fewer plants are shown. Let me know if you find these and try them for yourself!

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