It’s been a few months since I walked on a nearby path where I have spotted many a wild edible. Busy with the homestead garden, ya know! Anyway, I was thrilled to walk the path yesterday and find two wild edibles that I have been wanting to try: green (immature) milkweed seed pods and staghorn sumac berries (blog post forthcoming).
So, I picked about 9 milkweed green/immature seed pods to try for the very first time. When i got home, I referred to my copy of Sam Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest to find out exactly how to prepare them. He says that some people can eat milkweed raw but other people cannot tolerate them raw. I did taste a bit of the raw silky white and a bit of the raw green part. The silky white part was pretty good raw and the raw green part was decent but I decided that I would cook the rest. Generally, when I try a new wild edible, I like to keep it simple so that I can really taste the plant. I steam/sauteed the pods, cut in half, for a few minutes in some butter (with a tablespoon of water) in my pre-heated cast iron skillet. They were very good! I now have yet another favorite wild edible! They taste mild and delicious. According to what I’ve read, you can put these pods in casseroles, stews, stir-fry’s, etc. They are so versatile! And, did I mention that they are delicious?!
What I did find out after I had picked them and come home is that I picked them a bit too big. According to Thayer, pods that are 1 – 2 inches are best. HOWEVER, I thoroughly enjoyed the pods that were 3 – 4 inches long. I have some that are slightly bigger and I will try them later. You should know, though, that once they turn brown they are no longer edible. As with all new foods, please do your own research and, if possible, consult with a local wild food “expert” to make sure that you are following the “rules” of eating wild edibles: 1. positive identification of the plant, 2. eating the correct part of the plant at the right time of development and 3. proper preparation (can you eat it raw or do you have to cook it to make it safe to eat?)
Note on behalf of the butterflies: please don’t take all of the pods. We want to make sure that this plant is widely available for the Monarch caterpillars. I’d suggest taking only 10 – 20% of the pods and, if possible, take some mature seeds and plant some on your property!
Update: I did try the bigger ones and they were fine for me!
2nd Update: I had started a draft of this and thought that I lost it. Well, I found it. I’ve copied and pasted from my draft below:
On identification: the leaves are in opposing pairs on an unbranching stem. They are 4-7 feet at maturity.
POISONOUS LOOK-ALIKE: DOGBANE. Thayer on comparing dogbane shoots versus milkweed shoots: “The young shoots of milkweed look a little like dogbane, a common plant that is mildly poisonous. Beginners sometimes confuse the two, but they are not prohibitively difficult to tell apart. Dogbane shoots are much thinner than those of milkweed (see photo on page 47), which is quite obvious when the plants are seen side-by-side. Milkweed leaves are much bigger. Dogbane stems are usually reddish-purple on the upper part, and become thin before the top leaves, while milkweed stems are green and remain thick even up to the last set of leaves. Milkweed stems have minute fuzz, while those of dogbane lack fuzz and are almost shiny. Dogbane grows much taller than milkweed (often more than a foot) before the leaves fold out and begin to grow, while milkweed leaves usually fold out at about six to eight inches. As the plants mature, dogbane sports many spreading branches, while milkweed does not. Both plants do have milky sap, however, so this cannot be used to identify milkweed.”
Thayer’s bottom line on eating milk weed, in my own words, is that if the plant that you think is milk weed tastes bitter then don’t eat it!
If you are looking for my other posts on wild edibles, they are here:
All posts tagged under the category wild edibles are here.