Saturday, September 24, 2011

Milkweed as a Vegetable?

Below is part of an exerpt from Forager's Harvest. It fit in so well with the foraging post that I had to post it here.

I had no idea that milkweed was even edible! I am going to try them next spring, especially using the silks like cheese!
"Milkweed season begins in late spring, just about the time that leaves are coming out on the oak trees, when the shoots come up near the dead stalks of last year’s plants. These resemble asparagus spears but have tiny leaves, in opposing pairs, pressed up flat against the stem. Until they are about eight inches tall, milkweed shoots make a delicious boiled vegetable. Their texture and flavor suggests a cross between green beans and asparagus, but it is distinct from either. As the plant grows taller, the bottom of the shoot becomes tough. Until it attains a height of about two feet, however, you can break off the top few inches (remove any large leaves) and use this portion like the shoot.

Milkweed flower buds first appear in early summer and can be harvested for about seven weeks. They look like miniature heads of broccoli but have roughly the same flavor as the shoots. These flower buds are wonderful in stir-fry, soup, rice, casseroles, and many other dishes. Just make sure to wash the bugs out.

In late summer milkweed plants produce the familiar pointed, okra-like seedpods which are popular in dried flower arrangements. These range from three to five inches long when mature – but for eating you want the immature pods. Select those that are no more than two thirds of their full size. It takes a little experience to learn the knack of how to tell if the pods are still immature, so as a beginner you might want to stick to using pods less than 1 ¾ inches in length to be safe. If the pods are immature the silk and seeds inside will be soft and white without any hint of browning. It is good to occasionally use this test to verify that you are only choosing immature pods. If the pods are mature they will be tough and bitter. Milkweed pods are delicious in stew or just served as a boiled vegetable, perhaps with cheese or mixed with other veggies.
Silk refers to the immature milkweed floss, before it has become fibrous and cottony. This is perhaps the most unique food product that comes from the milkweed plant. When you consume the pod, you are eating the silk with it. At our house, we eat the smallest pods whole, but we pull the silk out of the larger (but still immature) pods. Open up the pod along the faint line that runs down the side, and the silk wad will pop out easily. If you pinch the silk hard, your thumbnail should go right through it, and you should be able to pull the wad of silk in half. The silk should be juicy; any toughness or dryness is an indicator that the pod is overmature. With time, you will be able to tell at a glance which pods are mature and which are not.

Milkweed silk is both delicious and amazing. It is slightly sweet with no overpowering flavor of any kind. Boil a large handful of these silk wads with a pot of rice or cous cous and the finished product will look like it contains melted mozzarella. The silk holds everything together, so it’s great in casseroles as well. It looks and acts so much like cheese, and tastes similar enough too, that people assume that it is cheese until I tell them otherwise. I have not yet run out of new ways to use milkweed silk in the kitchen – but I keep running out of the silk that I can for the winter!

With all of these uses, it is amazing that milkweed has not become a popular vegetable. The variety of products that it provides ensures a long season of harvest. It is easy to grow (or find) and a small patch can provide a substantial yield. Most importantly, milkweed is delicious. Unlike many foods that were widely eaten by Native Americans, European immigrants did not adopt milkweed into their household economy. We should correct that mistake.

You will find that some books on wild foods recommend boiling milkweed in multiple changes of water to eliminate the “bitterness.” This is not necessary for common milkweed Asclepias syriaca (which is the subject of this article, and the milkweed that most people are familiar with.) Common milkweed is not bitter. Read more on "Milkweed As a Vegetable"...

I will have these seeds for sale this fall.


Janet Lynn said...

Great information Sheryl. Look forward to your own personal review on how it cooks up, tastes, etc : )

The Girl in the Pink Dress said...

Very interesting post! I've been foraging this year as well- lots of canning elderberry medicine in the pantry for those flus and colds that seem to drop by. :) Would love to see a post on cheese from the milkweed silks!
The Girl in the Pink Dress

The Japanese Redneck said...

I'm not sure I've seen these around our house.