Milkweed buds and leaves washed and ready to cook

Milkweed for Dinner

Where we live, the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is just coming into bloom. Plenty of them still have lots of green-tending-to-rose clusters of buds, and those are the best eating.

I haven’t tried to harvest and eat young milkweed shoots because they’re harder for me to find in the riot of green on our mountain, but they can be harvested and they regrow quickly.

Green milkweed buds
Green milkweed buds

Harvesting the young milkweed tops (buds and leaves)

By July milkweed is unmistakeable and very easy to harvest with a quick snip of a kitchen scissors. In fact, we have so much milkweed I could have harvested several buckets of it in the span of a few minutes.

And I don’t worry about the monarchs, because they will be using and eating parts I’m not harvesting, but if I see a caterpillar or the eggs, I leave them unbothered.

I cut just the tops of the plants, mostly only green buds and leaves. You’ll see the milky sap, or latex, on the cut stems. It’s sticky and hard to get off; don’t get it in your eyes. You can see the white milkweed latex on the cut stems in my foraging bucket in the photo below.

Shake out (and wash out) any hitch-hikers

I had to also be sure to shake out the bugs; mine had some earwigs lurking in them, but they were easy get rid of. I didn’t see any evidence of leaf miners or oleander aphids, which I usually don’t see on the milkweed until later stages.

Milkweed buds and leaves in my bucket
Milkweed buds and leaves in my bucket (also an early apple). Note the white milkweed latex.

Cook milkweed just like broccoli or asparagus

You can’t eat milkweed raw. It needs to be cooked, and even then I’ve read that some people are sensitive to it and can get an upset stomach if they eat too much. I haven’t had any problems with it.

The taste of the cooked milkweed buds, leaves, and stems reminds me of asparagus, although like all wild greens, it has its own particular flavor. It’s a great wild vegetable!

For cooking, I put a quarter cup of water in the bowl with my well-washed milkweed and microwaved it until it was just tender. It was sweet and not bitter in any way at all. I served mine with brown rice and almonds, and it made a tasty and substantial summer dinner.

Milkweed buds and leaves washed and ready to cook
Milkweed buds and leaves washed and ready to cook

You can also blanch and freeze for later

Because we have a healthy and sizable colony of milkweed on our mountain (and vast fields of it across the road), I would consider harvesting a larger quantity of the young buds, then blanching them and freezing for later. I just haven’t tried doing that yet.

Milkweed flowers and young pods are edible, too

In a week or two, when our milkweed comes into full bloom, I have plans to make some milkweed flower tea, which I’m told is sweet and has a watermelon-like flavor. I hope to try eating the young pods this year, too.

Milkweed with brown rice and almonds
Milkweed with brown rice and almonds

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