For the past month, the Milkweed Propagation Society (MPS) has been going about its work with diligence and enthusiasm. The mission of the MPS is to aid the spread of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to all non-hayed fields. While we work without funding of any kind, efforts to reach fields outside of our headquarters in North Central Vermont depend entirely on YOU!
What you need to become a member of the MPS:
1. A staff or stick.
2. Access to fields containing at least one milkweed plant (the field must not be intended for animal feed or hay; remember you must get permission from the owner if it’s not your field.)
When the milkweed pods split open, revealing the dried seeds and fluff, take a ramble through your field, whacking the pods with your staff. The fluff will carry the seeds all over the field, and beyond, ensuring the spread of milkweed in the coming year.
WHY should you join the MPS?
Common milkweed is a valuable source of food, not only for Monarch butterflies and other insects, but also for humans. Native Americans ate milkweed in a number of forms, from the early spring shoots, to the flowers, to the unripe seed pods (Thayer, Forager’s Harvest, 290-291). The latex (milky white sap) of some milkweed species does contain a toxin, but there is little evidence that the amount of toxin in A. syriaca is a threat to humans (Thayer, Forager’s Harvest, 297). The taste of the plant is generally mild, and the various vegetables harvested from it can be cooked fresh from the plant, or frozen or canned for later. Watch this space in spring for tips on identifying common milkweed shoots, harvesting, and preparing them.
And go out there and join the MPS in its valuable work today!
***CAUTION: While common milkweed is not as dangerous as many wild foods handbooks have suggested, there is a danger in confusing the plant with look-alikes such as spreading dogbane, a plant that is both unpleasantly bitter and toxic to humans and other animals (as its name suggests). See the discussion in Samuel Thayer’s The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants (Birchwood, Wisc.: Forager’s Harvest, 2006), 290-305.