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Our First Steamed Milkweed Greens of the Year (like Spinach and Green Beans)

 What "weed" feeds Monarchs, bees and you? 

What is a weed?  When I was living in Scotland years ago a very savvy gardener told me weeds are simply good plants growing in the wrong place.  Of course the “wrong place” tends to be defined according to our goals, like food production, landscape beauty and pristine lawns.

Over time I have had to change my understanding of what’s a weed.  One chore I had growing up was plucking Dandelions from our lawn (my father would not use herbicides).  After marrying a wild foods forager I needed to reassess Dandelions as they are now our first steamed greens in spring, plus Lynette uses Dandelion root as one of 20 wild-crafted ingredients to make the most effective anti-cold and anti-flu remedy I know.

In the past decade I also learned to view common Milkweed differently.  Lynette loves Milkweed and it is allowed to thrive in our front garden amidst perennial ornamentals like lilies, peonies, grasses, balloon flowers and shrubs.  Unlike these cultivated garden plants our Milkweed is a “weed” in that it grows and reproduces aggressively, and can dominate a planted area.  It has become 10-20% of our garden plants. 

But this weed is uniquely important.  I wrote this piece last year about the importance of milkweed as a food source and breeding habitat for Monarch butterflies when I learned 90% fewer Monarchs made it from the US to Mexico to overwinter. I encouraged gardeners to help reverse this Monarch emergency:

“It starts with growing millions of milkweed plants.  This vibrant wildflower…is native to much of the US.  It is not only beautiful; it's essential to the life cycle of Monarch butterflies.  They sip the plentiful nectar; lay their eggs under the leaves, and then their fat striped caterpillars gobble the leaves (the only food that can sustain them).  No milkweed plants, no Monarch butterflies.”

Young Milkweed Flower Pods (Like Broccoli)

When we plant Milkweed it's blossoms will also help feed many other kinds of butterflies, as well as hummingbirds and honey bees.  But did you know Milkweed can also offer food for us from early spring through late summer?

Milkweed provides early greens; some describe the flavor as reminiscent of spinach, green beans and asparagus.  Milkweed’s new-growth shoots reach out of the soil when hardwood trees are leafing out.   At this stage they taste like asparagus. In mid-summer the unopened flower buds can be harvested and prepared like broccoli, which is what they taste like at that point.  After the flower pods whither each milkweed plant will produce 5-10 seedpods that grow up to 5 inches long.  Harvest the pods at under 1 inch in July-August and they can be prepared and eaten like okra.

We cook common milkweed by steaming or boiling it and we have not found it to be bitter as some foragers claim.  Any toxins in milkweed are washed out of the edible parts by gentle boiling.

So, this perennial weed grows easily and looks and tastes like spinach, green beans, asparagus, broccoli and okra.  Why not plant it to feed Monarchs AND yourself?

Lynette harvested several thousand Milkweed seeds last fall.  Let us know your address by clicking here and we will send some to you, with planting instructions and some recipe ideas, free of cost to help you HELP SAVE THE MONARCH.



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