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So…What’s it like to Harvest Milkweed?

Common milkweed
Asclepias syriaca
Family: Apocynaceae


Well….not all milkweed is edible…so I needed to harvest from the common milkweed.  Butterfly weed is beautiful but poisonous!  The butterflies enjoy it and it is beautiful to look at.  What a gorgeous splash of red-orange!



So this is butterfly weed.  Butterfly weed is in the milkweed family. I was so happy to finally see some.I found these beautiful plants in Indiana.
Food for the butterflies and a sight for road weary eyes!

In Idaho I found the Showy Milkweed.  I haven’t found conclusive information on whether it is edible so I would steer clear of this plant to eat.  It is wondrous though.  I discovered it at the edge of the snake river with some dogbane growing next to it. 



There are noticeable differences between Showy Milkweed and Common.  I have experience foraging common milkweed but not showy milkweed. This source indicates that showy milkweed is edible.

Please research milkweed carefully because most milkweed species are poisonous. I am providing my experience. Please seek expert guidance when foraging! Many field guides and resources are available.

***edible milkweed and inedible milkweed contain CARDIAC GLYCOSIDES which may be an issue for some people. Although milkweed can be safely prepared and eaten by many. Caution is warranted!***


Please see guidelines for preparation and avoid all NARROW LEAF milkweed. Know your milkweed. Stick to common milkweed or showy milkweed.

Most importantly: *Seek Medical Advice if need be or if any question about your health/heart health!

It was very interesting to find showy milkweed. It gets intriguing when I am in different habitats than I’m used to.  And, traveling throughout the U.S…excitedly there are countless habitats. Thankfully.

Consider, habitats near a stream. An edge to woods.Habitat can be dynamically diverse. And, peripheries are often super charged exchanges for wild plants. Next time you are in a meadow or near a stream. What do you find there? What do you find growing wildly in your city lot? What do you find growing near your arroyo? It’s exciting foraging!

But, caution is always warranted when foraging wild foods.  Know your wild foods! And, I sure am researching every tidbit I can.             

For example, in Idaho, near the Snake River, I recognized the milkweed or dogbane as being just slightly different species than I had seen in the midwest. Which raises questions. 
Dogbane: Poisonous…got it!

Showy milkweed…Have only read one quick entry that leaves may be edible if boiled in many exchanges of water…not enough info to say yes.
So, it’s a NO for me!

This definitely adds to the mix of discoveries and explorations with my attempts to forage, gather and collect information as I go.

And, the funny thing is once you start thinking about and exploring the world of milkweed…you start seeing it everywhere!
Hahahaha! Just Kidding! And very petunia in nature?

I’m not a botany expert but more of a passionate enthusiast. Nevertheless, identifying nuance and differences in plants is crucial.  And, you can see some signposts along the way…

When foraging you come upon all sorts of artifacts of modernity. Like trash, for instance. Being a collagist, artist…I often will pick an interesting object off the ground…even if it’s for a quick look
Yet, another reminder…to observe, be aware…cross check and check check check!

Dogbane has some visual similarities to milkweed but is ***POISONOUS***

It is also a useful plant that has a long history of cordage making. Pre-dates cotton usage and would be an interesting material to work with. Check out this useful site for picture identification and cordage making.

Another important note…dogbane branches out at the top. Unlike milkweed which grows on a single stem. But early shoots of dogbane can be easily confused with milkweed since it is unbranching as a young plant.

Also, dogbane leaves are NOT fuzzy. And dogbane leaves are squeaky when rubbed together. Milkweed leaves do not squeak.

Both have a milky sap! So, don’t use this as your only identification guide!

So, now… it gets down to the nitty gritty. 🙂 The fun, get in the dirt and weeds kind of fun.

Bring gloves and garden shears (small) or a pair of scissors…when foraging milkweed. The common milkweed.


Terri (a foraging accomplice) and I were surprised by the amount of milky white sap that oozes out of the plant when you harvest.

What do you harvest?

Forage the green flower buds (before they start to open up and flower)

Here’s a recipe using the common milkweed flower buds:

Later on in the summer forage the 1 inch long green pods. You want to harvest the pods in the pre-seed fluff stage. Known as the silk stage.
Harvest the pods when they are approximately 1/3 their full size.

You know how butterfly weed is home to butterflies? So is the common milkweed!

Check for baby Monarch caterpillars.

Some people transfer them to another plant. But, if you are more concerned about the habitat for the Monarch…but, still want to harvest milkweed…try a different plant. Or, choose another wild plant to forage. But, if you want to forage milkweed like I did…always look for the Monarch caterpillars first.

So, the pods weren’t formed yet and there were the lovely fragrant milkweed blooms. But, some of the flowers were still in the bud stage. The flower bud stage…the green bud stage.

***You can start harvesting the green flower buds in early summer. The pods at about
1 inch in length can be foraged later in mid summer. I harvested mine the third week of July.***

Here’s a recipe and tips for preparing milkweed pods


Harvest Time!

So, here goes!

You can always bring a dog for fun!

These green flower buds taste a lot like a mild cauliflower or broccoli to me. Kind of a nice change of taste actually!

The wind had been blowing really hard actually…the night before. The plants we harvested from had been knocked down in the wind. So, we opted to harvest from these plants since they would die soon anyway.

This is going to sound paranoid but, I wasn’t sure if you could harvest from a broken plant. A plant that wasn’t withered or anything but wasn’t technically standing/attatched to the ground. O’kay. Maybe this is farfletched. But, Terri told me once of some goats she and friends had in a community once. They loved elderberry branches stems and leaves. Straight from the plant. Munch munch happy.

Someone did some clearing and fed the goats trimmed branches, stems and leaves and the result: unhappy.
The goats died eating the elderberry parts which were no longer living. 😦

Sad story but told to illustrate the power of nature and the biochemical pervasive nature that is due respect and proper inquiry.

Needless to say…I think my descendent sign is goat…(capricorn) but I still ventured forth with the broken stemmed milkweed. Goats are known for their sure footedness! Insert smile here, I’m hoping anyway!

Needless to say…I was FREAKED out by trying milkweed. Yes. Enthusiast for sure. I was treading on new ground. The milkweed. Beloved childhood friend of the meadows. Ironically it is favorite childhood plants like the milkweed, daisy, skunk cabbage, rhubarb, briar leaf…that really spun me back into the wild edible food foraging path.
Here I am. Happy on the foraging path!

It occurred to me that maybe there was more to these weeds than just being cast out of the domestic itinerary of decorative flowers or hedges.

Perhaps these could be eaten. Or cure dropsy. Or cure thirst or inflammation. I think you get the picture.

So thankyou familiar milkweed for the inner revolution that you inspired.
Now, what to do with the milkweed flower buds that we harvested.

You really have to be careful with the milksap. It oozes quite a bit. Even from plants which had broken at their base.

***CAUTION this milksap can cause skin irritation and severe injury to eyes. Be careful with those gloves and don’t wipe sap into your eyes inadvertently.

Caution does abound with milkweed…but, excitedly so does Enthusiasm and Experience with foraging milkweed successfully!

I’ve read that milkweed needs to be boiled in several changes of water due to bitterness but, most people who actively forage milkweed do not find this to be the case.

One boiling of the green flower buds in salted water for 8 -10 minutes is deemed sufficient.

***Milkweed is NOT a raw food. It is similar to, for instance, many edible nightshades that it contains some toxins when raw. Boiling renders the food not only edible but DELICIOUS too!

Check for bugs when harvesting. Rinse away the sap and any dirt, etc. I soak rinse mine.

Boil for 8-10 minutes…sautee, stirfry, puree cooked buds for soup.

Yummy! I liked these so much. We harvested one bud per plant…(from broken plants which worked fine)

And, I think this is a good idea. Save some flowers and habitat for the Monarch butterfly.

Here are the buds we harvested.
Then a bit anxiously…I boiled for 10 minutes.
Cook em up and you got:
From freaked to fabulous!

Here are the immature milkweed pods I harvested in Wyoming near Nebraska.


These were too big to harvest because you don’t want to forage these when the seed fluff has developed.


Harvest the immature pods when they are 1/3 their eventual size. They grow to about 3 to 5 inches at maturity.

Harvest this size up to 1 1/2 inches


We stopped at a rest area to walk Hibiscus our cat and to make a lunch. We made a simple lunch. Annie’s mac n cheese with boiled milkweed pods.

Rinse pods. Toss the pods in after rinsing milky sap off end where you picked it. Use gloves/caution and avoid getting milky sap on your skin or in your eyes.

Boil milkweed for, at least, 8 minutes so time it with your meal. Cooking on a truck is easier using 1 pot so we tossed the milkweed pods in first and then our pasta.

It’s not gourmet but it was yummy!

Harvesting milkweed pods and preparing it is just that easy! Try stirfrying it…putting it in a casserole or soup. I’ve read that it has a nice cheesey taste when baked in a casserole!

If you enjoyed this post… check out my post about Mullein being a soil indicator and more about