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Gather ye Asclepias syriaca while ye may

Asclepias syriaca or Common Milkweed (aka Butterfly flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallow-wort, Virginia Silkweed) is sprouting like, well, a weed here, and determined not to let Old Time fly away from me this year, I have already harvested its sprouts twice.  

While I'm not a complete virgin wildcrafter, I might as well be for all the experience I've had gathering wild foods, and this year was my first to try milkweed. The sprouts are tender and deliciously sweet, with a taste reminiscent of asparagus (around the leaves) and green beans (the bottom of the shoot).  Milkweed was apparently a common staple of Native Americans' diet, and they enjoyed first the sprouts, then the flower buds, then the immature pods, then the "silk" inside slightly older pods.  If we are here till summer's end, I shall try all the stages and report back in on how I find each.

This is a really good article by Samuel Thayer on common milkweed (identifying, gathering, eating, etc) that I recommend reading if you want to get wild with your food, too. (O how I would love to take a class with someone like Mr Thayer to learn more about living off the land. Might have to get ahold of his books and that DVD.)

The milkweed I gathered was definitely of the common variety, and like the aforementioned article said, I did not have to boil it in multiple changes of water to get rid of the bitterness; they weren't bitter at all. We ate the first harvest boiled, then sautéed. I made soup out of the second today, which we'll have tonight or tomorrow.  Very simple, but tastes good:

Boil 1 pound of sprouts, drain and toss water. Sauté a small onion and a garlic clove in a scant tablespoon of olive oil. Add sprouts and chicken stock (I used homemade stock--very thick), and added just enough water to cover.  Boil until sprouts are very tender.  Mix (in blender or with whatever you have) until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

And now the poem that the title of my post is ripped from:

by Robert Herrick

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

Ah, spring has me inhaling happiness, so much so that I want to wax poetic about it.  You are saved from that because pjthompson  already took care of it for me with her updated Poetry selection.  


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 4th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
Milkweed sounds delicious. Who knew? I like to sautee leaks with EVOO, garlic, salt, pepper, then add chicken stock and cook until it almost boils away. Quite yum.

And thanks for the plug. :-)
May. 4th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
You are welcome; it was quite serendipitous to see you had updated with spring poems and lovely poems, too!
May. 4th, 2011 08:08 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm....I don't think they grow wild here.
May. 4th, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
I think the patch where I harvest mine was once a garden. There are shoots of asparagus that grow there, as well as ornamental stuff like irises (domesticated, not wild) and lilacs.
May. 4th, 2011 10:37 pm (UTC)
Now this is one I haven't tried, though we have milkweed all over here. I've tried to obtain the fibers from it--not the silk from the pods, but the long fibers from the stems--because Indians used to make twine from it, and theoretically you could spin it. But I've never really figured out a good way to do it.

So you pureed them?

(back after reading article)

I want to try the silk now!

But first the shoots. They haven't come up yet, here, but when they do, I'll try them.
May. 4th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
(They are weeds in my garden; I will have no trouble finding some!)
May. 5th, 2011 08:51 am (UTC)
Lucky you. :D Since the plants aren't native to Europe, I'm really lucky to have stumbled upon some.
May. 5th, 2011 08:43 am (UTC)
Yeah, remember we talked about the silk last year? And I went and let the season get away from me. I hope to catch them this time around.

And yes, I pureed them to make the soup. Sautéed, they have a great texture, nice and firm, not mushy. At least mine did because I don't like things boiled to death; still, just to be on the safe side with the milk, I boiled them for about 12 minutes, which is a lot longer than I'd cook something like green beans or asparagus. Actually, I'd steam those two veggies, but I'm thinking milkweed must always be boiled first for the milky sap.

Speaking of wild foods, how do you prepare your nettles? I harvested some the other day (just 5-6 tops) and boiled them, but they seemed rather blah and a bit mushy, even after only a few minutes of cooking.
May. 5th, 2011 02:01 pm (UTC)
I've never eaten the nettles as greens, only pureed in soup--that gets around any problem with mushiness. I found the flavor pretty distinguishable--maybe you need lots more nettles (I usually fill up a shopping bag full).

About mushiness, though, the way I like to cook soft greens like spinach--and I'd guess this would work for something like nettles--is to put them in a colander or sieve and then just pour boiling water over them. They literally only get enough cooking to wilt them and turn them a brilliant green. (Nettles might, upon reflection, need a little more--but if you do sorrel, this would work for it... only sorrel will not turn bright green; more of an olive color.) Then you squeeze out the water and put chopped garlic, a little oil, and soy sauce on, plus a little chili powder if you want it spicy.

May. 6th, 2011 08:30 pm (UTC)
I just ate, but all this talk of greens is making me hungry again. :P
May. 19th, 2011 01:44 am (UTC)
I did it! I cooked up some milkweed as you directed, and it was delicious!

Also! I modified my journal header! Yaaaay!

Thank you <3
May. 19th, 2011 03:59 pm (UTC)
Yay! Another milkweed lover in the world. :D
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


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