It’s hard to keep up with this spring growth, so on to part 2. If you missed part 1, click here.
I’ve noticed that nature, like myself, seems to love the color purple. If you look around your own yard, you will probably notice a lot of little purple flowers. Violets (which I mentioned in my last post) are just one of many wild edibles that produce purple blossoms.
Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)
Have you ever seen those beautiful rolling purple hills in early spring? Well, what you are seeing is a field whose tilled soil has been completely overtaken by deadnettle. You can eat it raw or cooked, but I’ll tell you, I’ve tried it raw and it was pretty difficult to swallow…literally. The flavor isn’t great, and the fuzzy texture is not too appetizing to say the least. Likely the best preparation would be to boil and season, add to a soup, or saute in butter, but I haven’t actually tried any of those preparation methods yet. (If you’ve tried cooking deadnettle, please share your experience in the comments!)
Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
Nope, that’s not deadnettle, but it is another member of the mint family. Henbit looks similar to deadnettle with it’s square stems and purple flowers, but it’s flavor is milder and more palatable. Like chickweed, henbit got its common name from the affection it receives from chickens. All parts of the plant are edible raw or cooked.
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Ground Ivy, also called Creeping Charlie, is yet another member of the mint family; but this mint isn’t so mild. You can eat it raw, but it’s strong flavor is best used as a seasoning. Use it fresh or dried to add flavor to soups, salads, teas, etc. Ground ivy’s medicinal properties also cover a host of ailments, including kidney and digestive issues, cough and sinus, and was even used to treat scurvy due to it’s high vitamin C content. The Saxons used ground ivy to flavor beer before hops became the bitter flavor of choice.
Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris)
Winter cress (also called yellow rocket) is one of the most cold hardy wild edibles. I have seen winter cress as late as December, and as early as late February. All parts are edible, but the leaves are best eaten before it bolts while they are still mild and tender. Winter cress has a strong flavor, so I would recommend combining it with lighter tasting greens. You can also use flowering heads to add flavor to salads and stir fries.
Common/Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major)
Ok, I know I said I’d find 10 edible plants in the yard, so just think of this one as a bonus.
Plantain is mostly recognized for it’s external medicinal uses, but it’s also edible and nutritious. If you are eating it raw in a salad you will want to chop it fine, or remove the fibrous ribs as they are tough and difficult to chew. Quickly blanch leaves in boiling water before adding to soups or sautes to tenderize and remove bitterness.
Plantain is also great for bug bites and stings. If you get stung by a bee, mosquito, or nettle; or have other acute skin irritation, make a poultice by chewing the leaves and applying it to the sting. You can also infuse oil with the dried leaves to make a salve.
Once again, thanks for reading! Have a great day and happy foraging!
To see more of our foraging finds, follow us on Instagram.
So you want to forage, but you only have a small suburban yard and little time for gallivanting in the forest. Well, I guess you are just out of luck then, right? WRONG! You can forage anywhere there is dirt! As long as you haven’t turned your lawn into a “weed & feed” mono-culture, of course; but I’m guessing if you aren’t into weeds, you wouldn’t have wound up here in the first place.
I’m confident that no matter the size of your yard, you will find no less than five edibles at any given time (excluding winter). In fact, I bet I can find ten different wild edible plants in my yard in less than ten minutes. Let’s go for a quick jaunt around the yard and see what we can find. I’ll begin with the most common ‘weeds’.
Dandelions (Taraxacum) are practically the trifecta of wild plants. They are edible, medicinal, and you can find them anywhere. Seriously, if you are near a window right now, look outside…you’ve already spotted a dandelion, haven’t you? The leaves are edible raw or sauteed (they are tastier and less bitter earlier in spring before they bloom). You can eat the yellow flowers or use them to make syrup, jelly or wine. You can also cook and eat the roots, but they don’t taste very good. I prefer them dried and roasted to use as tea. The best time to harvest the roots is in late fall.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a lot like dandelions in that it is everywhere, and will take over any area of bare soil. It is one of, if not THE first edible to emerge in the spring and one of the last to go dormant in winter. It tastes best before it blooms in early spring and when it makes a brief return in late fall. I’ve seen lots of creative recipes for chickweed. You can simply eat it raw or sauteed, or you can make pesto or even bake it into bread. I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to put Google out of business…
Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia). Ok, I’m pretty sure I mentioned these in my one and only post last spring, but I think they deserve another mention. Flowers and leaves are edible as salad, and flowers can also be used to make gorgeous purple jellies and syrups.
Maple tree samaras (Acer spp.). Yes, you can eat the helicopters! The seeds of all maple tree species are edible at all stages of development. You can eat them raw in salad when they are young and small like the ones pictured here (which are red maple, if you were wondering). You can also boil and season them to remove bitterness. I ate these raw and didn’t think they were all that bitter. When they are fully grown you can remove the seeds from the hulls and eat them raw or roast them like pumpkin seeds, I’m hoping that will be an experiment for a later post. The seeds are still edible when they are dry and brown, but not as palatable. They still contain protein and would make a good survival food. Take a moment to enjoy them before they begin to fall into your flower beds and gutters, and take over your lawn, your home, and your life.
Wild Onion/garlic (Allium spp.) are everywhere, and they are tasty. They do have some poisonous look alikes (like grape hyacinth, for one), but they don’t have any smell-alikes. If it looks like onion, and and it smells like onion, it’s onion (or allium, at least). Add the green tops to salads, and use the greens and bulbs in stir fry.The bulbs are edible raw, but it’s similar to eating a raw garlic clove.
Bittercress (Cardamine spp.) has a peppery flavor like horseradish. It’s another common edible that you are almost sure to find in your yard. All parts of the plant are edible. You can eat flowers, young leaves and seed pods raw, older leaves sauteed, and roots can be used like horseradish. There are over 100 different varieties of bittercress, all with equal edibility. When the seed pods are mature they will pop when touched.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will talk about henbit, ground ivy, winter cress, and more!
In the mean time, check us out on Instagram @kentuckyforager.
Hey everyone! We got a bit of a late start to our foraging season this year. We are currently in the middle of a move, and for the last few weeks everything else has been put on the back burner.
I find that May is the best time for foraging. There is a bevy of edibles and it’s not yet too hot, nor too overgrown to access them. So without further adieu, here are just a few of those lush May edibles.
The flowers aren’t the only edible part of the violet, the leaves are also a nice salad green.
While the thorny smilax plant seems an unlikely edible, the tender new growth is crisp and delicious. You can eat it raw or cooked. I’ve only eaten it raw, but I imagine it would be a great addition to a stir fry. Almost like bean sprouts, but with a more distinct flavor.
The root of the smilax plant can also be cooked and eaten, or used to make sarsaparilla. (Smilax is the original source of sarsaparilla, although modern day sarsaparilla is made from artificial flavors.)
It also produces tiny black berries that won’t be edible until mid winter.
Milkweed is somewhat controversial as an edible for a couple of reasons. As I mentioned last summer in my post about milkweed, it is the primary food source for the monarch caterpillar, and due to mass die-offs in the monarch butterfly population, some people are hesitant to pick it. I just say stick to the 10% rule. The field I pick from is going to be mowed anyway so it’s not much of a moral dilemma for me. The other concern is that the sap can cause skin irritation and stomach upset in some people. To avoid this, never eat milkweed raw, always parboil it to remove the sap before eating. They may need to be boiled in 2-3 changes of water to remove bitterness. The tender shoots can then be steamed or roasted and eaten like asparagus, the buds, flowers and young pods can also be eaten, but it wont be to that stage for a few more weeks.
Be careful not to confuse milkweed with it’s toxic lookalike, dogbane. Not only are they difficult to tell apart, but they often grow in the same places at the same time. The underside of milkweeds leaves are fuzzier, and it has a hollow, green stem. Dogbane will have a solid stem that is white on the inside.
Wild Grape Leaves
When young, grape leaves are tender and edible. You can steam or sauté them, or use them for making dolmas just as you would with domestic grape leaves. If you aren’t a fan of bitter greens, you may want to pass on the grape leaves and just wait for the fruit. Mature grape leaves can be used when fermenting pickles to keep them crisp.
Foraging season is just around the corner, and what better way to kick off the season than with Kentucky’s only festival dedicated to wild and fermented foods. There’s still a week left to purchase discounted early bird tickets for Sustainable Kentucky’s WILDfest.
Join us April 19, 2014 at Cedar Creek Vineyards in Somerset for a full day of workshops, demonstrations, and a keynote and book signing by Sandor Katz, bestselling author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.
We will be leading plant identification walks for beginner foragers.
Other special guests include:
Rachel Milford, Reclaiming Your Roots
Use coupon code FORAGE15 at checkout and save and extra 15%!
Can’t wait to see you all there!
The world is looking a little browner lately, but there are still plenty of plants that thrive after frost. Here are a few edibles that are just hitting their peak.
EASTERN BLACK WALNUT (JUGLANS NIGRA)
More information on harvesting and processing black walnuts HERE via Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook
(In order for you to have the best quality content possible, I included links to other resources rather than attempt to tackle all the information myself.)
GROUND CHERRY (PHYSALIS SPP.)
Eat ground cherries only when ripe and yellow (pictured below).
Place green berries in a window for a few days to ripen.
More information on ground cherries HERE via Foraging Texas
Ground cherries will ALWAYS have husks.
Be careful not to confuse them with the highly toxic horsenettle (solanum carolinense), which can sicken livestock, and potentially kill a human.
It also has yellow berries, but will have thorns and no papery husks.
Below is a picture of horse nettle for comparison.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough,
DO NOT EAT HORSENETTLE BERRIES PICTURED BELOW.
CURLY DOCK (RUMEX CRISPUS)
My personal favorite of all greens, wild or tame.
More information on curly dock HERE via Eat the Invaders
GARLIC MUSTARD (ALLIARIA PETIOLATA)
And my least favorite green, but if you enjoy it, eat to your hearts content.
Garlic mustard is an extremely invasive plant.
More information on garlic mustard HERE via Eat the Weeds
ROSE HIPS (ROSA SPP.)
All rose hips are edible.
Another invasive, the multiflora rose (pictured) bears loads of tasty and medicinal rose hips.
Be sure to take some thick gloves!
More information on the medicinal use of rose hips HERE via Hawthorn Hill Herbs
STINGING NETTLE (URTICA DIOICA)
Keep those gloves on!
HERE is a recipe for stinging nettle pesto via Splendid Table
COMMON MALLOW (MALVA NEGLECTA)
Edible and medicinal
More information on mallow HERE via Edible Wild Food
CHICKWEED (STELLARIA MEDIA)
Chickweed is completely edible and loves the cold weather. It is the first edible we find in the spring and the last of fall.
Click HERE for a recipe for Creamy Chickweed Dressing via The 3 Foragers
WILD GARLIC/ ONION (ALLIUM VINEALE)
A good rule of thumb for identification is smell. If it doesn’t have a strong onion smell, don’t eat it.
Wild garlic is extremely strong, but I think it’s great added to stir fry or sautéed veggies and greens.
**Remember, when foraging for wild edibles, never eat anything that you can’t positively identify. If you are foraging a plant you’ve never eaten before, only try a small amount and wait a day to be sure you have no allergic reactions.
You are responsible for your own safety!!! Please use caution!
Lately I’ve had a little trouble getting motivated to write a post; but after stepping outside on this 40-something degree morning, I decided it is time to talk about grapes.
I don’t know much about tame grapes, but 2013 has been an exceptionally good year for wild grapes. If you live in Kentucky, finding wild grape vines shouldn’t be a problem. We see them everywhere we go. Your best bet would be looking in fence rows, where the grapes don’t have any trees to climb. If you look in the woods, you’ll find them, but you probably won’t be able to reach them.
Also, not all wild grape vines bear fruit. I don’t know much about the biology of grapes, but I have been disappointed by many a barren vine. I had always assumed it had something to do with male and female species, but I recently read that grape vines only bear fruit every 4 years, and that’s why only about one in four vines have fruit. I have no idea if this is true, but it seemed like a logical explanation.
In the spring, you can cook and eat the new young leaves of the wild grape. I have seen recipes for dolmas made with wild grape leaves, but have never tried them myself. Probably because I’ve never eaten a dolma and don’t really know what it is. It’s really just a word I like to say to feel cultured. And speaking of cultured, you can also add the leaves to your pickles while they are fermenting. The tannins in the grape leaves will help keep your pickles crunchy.
The grapes will start to form early in the summer, but don’t fully ripen until fall. It’s a long wait, but it allows plenty of time for scouting. I’ve been told the best time to harvest wild grapes is after the first frost. I usually notice a lot of grapes drying up before then, so if you’re waiting for frost, keep a close eye on them. We are about two or three weeks away from frost, but I decided to go ahead and get an early start so I could write this post before it was too late.
We picked about 3 grocery bags full of grape clusters, which added up to 9 cups of grapes. The most tedious step in this process is picking all the grapes from the clusters. I’d suggest doing this outside, because the clusters can be filled with ants. I’d also suggest using rubber gloves while picking them, as they are very acidic and can burn your skin.
I find that refrigerating the grapes overnight helps remove some of the bitterness. It might all be in my head, but I feel like they taste a little sweeter after they chill. (This is probably the reason for waiting until after first frost to harvest.)
You can make wild grape jelly using any grape jelly recipe. The only real difference is that wild grapes are smaller and less juicy than most tame grapes, so they will require more water in the juice making process. I would recommend starting with 9 cups of grapes to 2 1/2 cups water, then adding more water later to dilute it to your taste. Boil the grapes down for several minutes in the water, mashing them as you stir, then strain through a mesh strainer. Taste the juice and see if it’s to your liking. Mine was super concentrated at this point, so I added another cup of water. So altogether I used 9 cups grapes, 3 1/2 cups water. I ended up with about 5 1/2 cups of juice. Just enough for my jelly.
If you’ve never made jelly before, don’t be intimidated. It’s not as complicated as it looks. I’m not going to get into the details, because this post is already getting wordy, and there are thousands of tutorial videos and posts online that are significantly better than any instructions I could give you. I included a link to one of many great tutorial videos at the bottom of this post.
Wild Grape Juice:
- 9 cups wild grapes
- 2 1/2+ cups water
In a large saucepan, bring grapes and 2 1/2 cups water to a boil. Continue boiling ten minutes, mashing the grapes as they boil. Remove from heat and strain through a mesh strainer or squeeze through a cheesecloth to remove seeds and pulp. Add additional water to desired taste.
Wild Grape Jelly:
- 5 cups grape juice
- 1 packet pectin powder (6 Tbsp.)
- 7 cups sugar
Combine juice and pectin powder in a large pot. Bring to a hard boil over high heat, boil for one full minute, stirring constantly.
Add sugar to the pot, bring back to a hard boil, and continue boiling for another full minute stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and skim foam from the top.
Ladle jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 in. of head space. Wipe down rims and seal jars with lids and rings.
Process jars in water bath for 10 minutes.
If you are new to the water bath canning process, click here for an instructional video.
Greens that grow to 6 feet tall, produce almost all summer, and require no sowing, tilling, or watering. To someone who has never heard of lambsquarters, it may sound too good to be true.
Many people compare lambsquarters to spinach, some even call them “wild spinach”. I personally think their taste is totally unique and the only similarity they have to spinach is their versatility. It is, of course, just a matter of opinion.
Chances are you wont have to look far to find lambsquarters. They are very common and will grow just about anywhere there is disturbed or bare soil. Last year we only had them in one place in the yard (in a bare spot from a shrub we had removed). I let one plant go to seed and this year I have them growing everywhere.
You can eat lambsquarters raw or cooked. A lot of people don’t like them raw because they have a very strange texture. When you rinse them, you will notice that the leaves are completely water-proof. It’s almost like they have a teflon coating, which makes them unpalatable to some. I really don’t mind the texture, but I agree they are much more desirable when cooked.
Lambsquaters can be used interchangeably with spinach in any recipe, so I decided to try substituting them in one of my favorite spinach recipes, stuffed mushrooms.
The verdict: Better than the original!
I am confident that this is a recipe that anyone would enjoy. So go out, find some lambsquarters, and surprise all the wild food skeptics in your life!
Have a great holiday weekend!
Lambsquarters Stuffed Mushrooms
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 4 ounces feta cheese
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- 8 oz. fresh lambsquarters (Approximately, I just filled a brown paper lunch bag.)
- 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 24 fresh mushrooms, stems removed
- Salt, to taste
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Add lambsquarters and boil until wilted (about 5-7 minutes.)Drain in a colander and press out all excess water with a slotted spoon.
Wash mushroom caps, discarding stems.
In mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except mushrooms and parmesan cheese. (Keep in mind that feta and parmesan are very salty, so you won’t need to add much salt to the mix, if any.) Fill mushroom caps with mixture and place on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
In my previous post, “Infusing Oil for Making Salves, Soaps, Etc.”, I walked you through infusing oils. If you haven’t yet infused your oil, go here for a quick tutorial.
If you’re not yet sure what plants you’d like to use, here are some suggestions:
- Jewelweed- For poison ivy rash (and protection) and bug bites.
- Yarrow or Comfrey- For cuts, scrapes, and bruises
- Calendula- For diaper rash, skin irritations, cuts and scrapes, chapped lips, etc.
- Plantain- For bug bites, skin irritations, and rashes
- Rose bud- For lip balm
Ok, now that you have infused your healing herbs in oil, it’s time to make them into a salve.
For the salve, you will need the following:
- A double boiler
- Infused oil
- Bee’s wax, grated (or bee’s wax granules)
- Vitamin E oil
- Essential oil of your choice (optional)
- Plastic transfer pipettes (optional)
As I mentioned before, I don’t have a true double boiler, so I just used a heat safe glass bowl over a sauce pan. I like to use a sauce pan with a pouring spout. It leaves room for some steam to escape. I’ve found that leaving no space will sometimes cause pressure to build, causing boiling hot water to spurt out from around the bowl.
The only tricky part to making salve is getting the consistency to your liking. If you are wanting a very soft salve, start with an 8:1 ratio oil to wax. (i.e. 8 tbsp. oil to 1 tbsp. bee’s wax) If you are wanting a more solid salve, go with a 6:1 ratio, and for a very firm salve (consistency of tube lip balm), use a 4:1 ratio. You can play around with the consistency once the wax is melted.
For my jewelweed salve, I used 10 tbsp. jewelweed oil and 2 tbsp. wax. (5:1)
For my yarrow lip balm, I used a 8 tbsp. oil and 2 tbsp. wax. (4:1)
Heat the oil and bee’s wax in the double boiler until bee’s wax has melted.
Once the wax melts, add a small amount of vitamin E oil (for preservation purposes). Approximately 1/4 tsp. E oil to every 5 tbsp. salve.
Now, check the consistency of your salve. The easiest way to do this is to place a drop on a metal jar lid that has been in the refrigerator. (Pickle jar, jelly jar, etc.) You can also place a spoon in the refrigerator prior to making your salve to use for this purpose. It will solidify almost instantly on the cold metal. Feel the drop of salve, and if it is too soft, add more wax. If it’s too firm, add more oil until you get the consistency you like.
You can add a few drops of essential oil to your salve (mainly for scent), but this step is entirely up to you. I added peppermint oil to my jewelweed salve, and nothing to my yarrow lip balm.
Now the salve is ready to transfer to your containers (jars, tins, tubes, etc.).
With a steady hand, spoon or pour the salve into the containers. If you are using small containers or tubes, I would highly recommend using disposable plastic transfer pipettes.
Allow the salve to solidify before sealing.
That’s all there is to it! Your salve is now ready to use.
The first step in making a salve, balm, or soap is infusing the oil with the plant material. As simple as it sounds, there is a right way, and wrong way. The first oil I tried to infuse was plantain in olive oil, and I ended up with about ten dollars worth of sour olive oil. I’ve seen many instructional posts and videos that tell you to let fresh plants soak in the oil for 4-6 weeks, but what they don’t tell you, is that the water in the plants will likely cause the oil to sour. But enough about my dismal failure. Let’s talk about what works.
There is a fast way, and a slow way to infuse oils.
METHOD 1: Slow Infusion
The slow way, is to let the dried plant material soak in the oil for several weeks. It’s also the simple way, so let’s start with that.
As I mentioned earlier, some people use fresh plant material for this, but from my own experience I would not recommend it.
Start with a clean, dry jar or bottle. Add enough of the dried plant to fill the container 1/2 to 3/4 full. (depending on the density of the plant.) The yarrow I used was very loose and fluffy, so I filled the jar 3/4. If your plant material is densely packed, use less.
Next, add your oil. When choosing your oil, be sure to choose an oil that is liquid at room temperature and has a long shelf life. I plan on using this yarrow infusion for a lip balm, so I’m using almond oil. Almond oil is lighter, less greasy, and doesn’t have a strong smell like olive oil, so it’s perfect for a lip balm or moisturizer. Slowly fill the jar with oil, allowing time for the oil to settle, and cap the jar tightly.
Label the jar with the contents and date. Shake the jar daily for at least the first week, to ensure that the plant material is staying submerged in the oil.The plant material will turn dark and limp as it’s being penetrated by the oils. You will want to let the oil infuse for 4-6 weeks. Leave the jar sitting somewhere you will see it, so you will remember to check it regularly for mold or souring. When the oil is ready it should smell like the plant, and will most likely have an altered color.
After the oil is infused you will pour it through a strainer or cheese cloth to remove all plant material.
Store your oil in an airtight container until ready to use.
METHOD 2: Quick Infusion
The fast way to infuse oil, is to heat the plant material in the oil, forcing it to breakdown. This method is much quicker, but it’s also a bit trickier. You have to be careful not to burn your oil, and also not deep fry your plants.
The best way to infuse oils using this method is to use a double boiler to avoid direct heat. Oil can burn very quickly, so you have to keep a close eye on it. I don’t have a double boiler, so I just used a stainless steel saucepan, kept the heat low, and watched it very closely.
For this method I infused jewelweed in olive oil. I will be making a salve for poison ivy rash and bug bites.
First, roughly chop the plant. The ratio of fresh plant material to oil is roughly 3:1.
I used approximately 6 cups jewelweed and 2 cups olive oil.
Place the chopped plant into the pan and pour olive oil over it. Let it simmer for an hour over low heat. Keep a close watch on it. You want the plant to soften and wilt, not fry.
After the oil has simmered and the plant material has broken down, remove from heat and cover and let sit overnight, or for several hours until completely cooled.
Once cool, strain out the plant material (you may need to mash it through the strainer or squeeze it through a cheese cloth to collect all the oil.)
After you strain the oil, let it sit for a minute. You’ll notice water settling to the bottom. When you pour the oil into it’s container, leave the water in the bottom and discard it. If there is still water in the bottom, continue pouring it back and forth, discarding the water, until no more remains. You will lose a little oil in this process, but it’s better to lose a little now, than for all of it to go rancid later. I can not stress this enough, DO NOT skip this step. Any water or plant material left in the oil will make is susceptible to spoiling.
Now your oils are infused and ready for use!
Part 2, a walkthrough on salve making is coming soon! In the mean time infuse your oils and gather your ingredients. Aside from your infused oil, you will need bee’s wax, vitamin E oil, and the essential oil of your choice (optional) for scent.
I want to begin this post by addressing a couple of issues concerning the milkweed plant.
Issue #1: Almost every time I see a Facebook or blog post on milkweed, there is at least one person who expresses concern. “But isn’t it toxic?” “Doesn’t it irritate your skin and burn your eyes?”
The only question I have is, why are wild foods judged so harshly? Picking and juicing grapes or peeling tomatoes will cause my hands to turn red and burn for hours. Ever rubbed your eye after slicing a jalapeño??? It feels like the fire of a thousand suns is searing into your brain, yet no one uses that as a basis to stop eating them. This is something that I encourage you to research for yourself and make your own decision. I know a lot of people who eat it, some who have eaten it for 30+ years, and none of them have ever had even the slightest ill effects.
Now, I understand that different people have different reactions to everything. So, if you are trying something for the first time, just eat a small amount and see how you feel. One concern with wild foods is that doctors don’t test you for allergies to them. If you have food allergies, be very cautious and be sure to study the species of wild plant to make sure it is not related to a food you are allergic to. For a person with no sensitivities to the plant to suffer illness, they would have to eat a very large quantity of it.
This is just my two cents. Do some research and make your own decision, and be sure to positively identify the plant. There are many species of milkweed, and not all of them are food friendly. I could go on all day about the fear mongering and society’s war against wild edibles, but I’d rather get to the good stuff.
Issue #2: Milkweed is the primary, and possibly the sole food source for Monarch caterpillars. Milkweed is SUPER abundant in Kentucky, but it’s still important to be considerate of the caterpillars. I never take all the buds from any stalk, and if I see a caterpillar on a plant, I don’t harvest from that plant at all.
Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed is the plant you’ll be looking for. There are many different varieties of milkweed, but not all of them are edible. It stands three to six feet tall and produces milky sap when broken. It has one straight stem with opposite oblong leaves alternating down the stem. The pink flowers or green buds look like little pom-poms when in bloom.
The most common look alike in Kentucky is Apocynum cannabinum, or hemp dogbane. It’s in the same species as milkweed, so it has a lot of the same characteristics and grows in a lot of the same places. The dead giveaway for dogbane is that it branches and milkweed doesn’t. (but it’s more difficult to tell them apart in early stages of growth.)
The edible parts of the milkweed plants are the young shoots and leaves, under 12 inches tall (They get too tough and fuzzy when they are bigger), and the buds, flowers, and young pods of the adult plant. You can find a ton of information on milkweed (including how to prepare it) in this excerpt from Forager’s Harvest, written by Sam Thayer, one of the most well know foragers in the United States. You will find many articles about how to prepare milkweed, and many of them will encourage boiling multiple times in changes of water as you would pokeweed. I personally think that this would do nothing but remove flavor and vitamins from the plant, and I don’t know anyone who does that. In fact some people eat it raw, although I am not one of those people. I personally would suggest one quick parboil just to leach out sap and tenderize it before cooking.
The part of the plant that is in season now is the buds and flowers.
When you collect the flowers or buds, the first thing you should do before cooking or storing them is submerge them in cold water, take the bowl outside, and shake off all the bugs that surface. I think I shook/flicked at least 20 bugs off of this one batch. Store them in the refrigerator if you don’t plan to use them right away.
Milkweed Bud & Cheddar Soup
4 cups milkweed bud clusters
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 tbsp. butter (½ stick)
2 cups milk (or half and half)
1-14.5 oz. can chicken broth
½ cup celery, diced
½ med. onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. nutmeg
8 oz. cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Bring a pot of water to a boil, add milkweed buds and boil 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Sauté onion and garlic for 3 minutes, add celery and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes until tender. Set aside.
Melt butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until combined. Add milk and chicken broth to sauce pan and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
While the liquid is simmering, separate milkweed buds from the clusters. (they will resemble little peas with stems). I used kitchen shears, but they should be tender enough to remove them with your fingers.
Add milkweed buds, onion, garlic, and celery. Let simmer another 10-15 min.
Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheddar cheese.
Stir until cheese is melted.
Eat your delicious soup.