Wild About - Milkweed Buds

I can't wait to tell you all about foraging and eating milkweed buds. But first, a little rant. When writing about foraged foods, it's tempting for me to include the nutritional benefits of a particular plant as an incentive for people to try it. But here's the thing - I hate to break food down into components. Ok, so it's high in vitamin C or vitamin A, but nourishment doesn't come from reductionism, it comes from the synergy within a whole food. That's part of why eating real foods, not engineered simulacra, is so important. Nutritional breakdowns used to rivet me, but now I think, so what? Do I really need to be told that a fresh vegetable is nutritious? Is that more likely to make me eat it?

Instead, let's think big picture. If you're eating the freshest, tastiest food, in season, assume that's it's packed with nutrition. 'Nuff said. Assessing a food's nutritional content is merely academic, and drains the joy from the experience of eating it.

I am so excited to share this foraged food with you! So many of the green foods picked as forage are leafy in nature, and must be harvested in good quantities to get a good fork-ful. But this foraged plant has the substantial heft of a commercial vegetable like broccoli or cauliflower. It is a food that you can really sink your teeth into. Best of all, it tastes really good.

What foraged food am I speaking of? Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). If it grows in your area, you'll recognize the mature seed pod, which releases its downy fluff in the fall. They were a favorite toy in my childhood, but I had no idea that they were edible.

When I was out on my bike the other day, I saw that some pinky-purple milkweed flowers were already blooming. I looked around for tightly closed flower buds, the ones which resemble tiny fuzzy heads of cauliflower. Like a goof, I forgot to bring along a plastic bag or container, so the buds oozed sticky white sap (milkweed) all over my bike bag and its contents. Don't make the same mistake.

But do go out and harvest a bag full of milkweed buds, being careful to leave enough for the wildlife that rely upon them as a staple food. Then bring them home, and wash them to remove any dirt or bugs. Boil them in a generous amount of hot water for a few minutes, making multiple changes of water if necessary, to remove bitterness. To be honest though, I've never had a single bite of our local showy milkweed that was even slightly bitter. Drain and rinse, then pat dry.

At this point, consider them a blanched veg, ready to be used in just about any recipe. I think most foraged veg are good in a salad or egg dish. But as far as I can tell, the sky's the limit with this one. Milkweed buds are truly delicious, and to my taste buds are most like asparagus. So toss them into pasta or a casserole or a stir-fry. Over the weekend, I made a nice milkweed bud soup.

My favorite milkweed bud recipe so far was to throw the boiled florets into a skillet, and saute them for a few minutes with garlic and chile flakes, finishing with a hit of sesame oil and salt. If I had thought of it (next time, next time, darn it), toasted sesame seeds would have added nice crunch.

To read my entire foraging series, click here.




This recipe appears as a part of Real Food Wednesday, which I come back to time and again for Real Food recipes and tips.

Comments

  1. Ha. I didn't know that milkweed was something people ate. I thought it was primarily for the butterflies. Cool that the flavour is reminiscent of asparagus.

    Well done for having the courage to forage! I'm a sissy and always nervous about misidentification.

    -Elizabeth

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  2. In the beginning, I was worried about misidentification as well. But one of the most useful things I did was to study a foraging book which had a list (with pictures) of local poisonous plants. That way, I learned to recognize toxic plants, and avoid them or anything that looked like them.

    Caution is always a good thing when foraging ;)

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  3. Thanks for visiting my blog. I had no idea that you coud eat milkweek. So much to learn about foraging. I wish I knew more and could do some foraging in the fields and mountains around my home. I so agree with your food philosphy ( I just spent the entire morning in my vegeatble garden and I am anticipating great harvest.

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  4. Great post! I'm totally off to read your other foraged foods blog posts. I am slowly getting into foraging as well. I eat wild mustard flowers, comfrey and mint and nettles I collect. I want to learn about lambs quarter and dock next. Thanks!

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  5. Bonnie- I just spent the afternoon in my garden cleaning up the mess the rabbits left behind after their feast. Sigh, you win some, and you lose some.

    Alyss- Shoot me an email sometime if you want to talk foraging. I don't know many people who are active foragers. I got my neighbors to taste milkweed buds tonight, but they were pretty skeptical (they gave me "the look"). Nettles scare me! One time when I was hiking, I grabbed onto one for support, and deeply regretted it.

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  6. These grow all over near our house. I was just looking up what they were and whether they are a pest weed. Come to find out you can eat them and they are good for butterflies!

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  7. Does it matter what species of Asclepias you use? Are they all edible? Here in Wisconsin we have several, some endangered, some very common.

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  8. Green Deane cites two universities on his site that claim that all species of Asclepias are edible, but cautions he wouldn't eat any with narrow leaves. I only have experience with our local A. speciosa. Most, including WI forager Sam Thayer, speak of eating A. syriaca. My advice would be to check the threatened species list for your area, harvest with care so as not to harm the Monarchs, and never eat milkweed you find to be bitter. http://plants.usda.gov/java/threat?txtparm=asclepias&category=sciname&familycategory=all&duration=all&growthhabit=all&wetland=all&statefed=all&stateSelect=US01&stateSelect=US02&stateSelect=US04&stateSelect=US05&stateSelect=US06&stateSelect=US08&stateSelect=US09&stateSelect=US10&stateSelect=US12&stateSelect=US13&stateSelect=US15&stateSelect=US16&stateSelect=US17&stateSelect=US18&stateSelect=US19&stateSelect=US20&stateSelect=US21&stateSelect=US22&stateSelect=US23&stateSelect=US24&stateSelect=US25&stateSelect=US26&stateSelect=US27&stateSelect=US28&stateSelect=US29&stateSelect=US30&stateSelect=US31&stateSelect=US32&stateSelect=US33&stateSelect=US34&stateSelect=US35&stateSelect=US36&stateSelect=US37&stateSelect=US38&stateSelect=US39&stateSelect=US40&stateSelect=US41&stateSelect=US42&stateSelect=US44&stateSelect=US45&stateSelect=US46&stateSelect=US47&stateSelect=US48&stateSelect=US49&stateSelect=US50&stateSelect=US51&stateSelect=US53&stateSelect=US54&stateSelect=US55&stateSelect=US56&sort=sciname&submit.x=62&submit.y=7

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  9. My Ho-Chunk Auntie told me about milkweed soup and how delicious it is, but I have never tried it. Now I definitely want to have some. Thank You much! Megwitch! Pilamaya!

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