Milkweed Once More, Week Ending 7/12/2020

If you’ve been following this blog for a while – ok, a few months at any rate – you may recall a post about “cut and come again” wild edibles. Thank goodness milkweed is on this list, because even though I missed the window for shoots this spring, I now have a second opportunity.

Read on, or if you would prefer just …. Jump to Recipe

Milkweed shoots, three weeks after the mature plants were mowed
Milkweed shoots, three weeks after the mature plants were mowed

Three weeks ago, the farmer mowed the field filled with (my) milkweed. He does this every summer, so I should be used to it by now.

But each time, I think of the red wing blackbirds who nest in the field and the scores of monarch caterpillars lost with their habitat. 

Poor mowed milkweed...
Poor mowed milkweed…

Speaking of which, I haven’t seen a single monarch butterfly this year. There are fewer mason bees than I’m used to seeing as well.

Luckily – for me, anyway – milkweed grows back after being cut, and now it is magically shoot season again. In the middle of July! 

Obligatory warnings about milkweed (yes, you have to put up with this each time): milkweed looks remarkably similar to dogbane, especially at the shoot stage. They often inhabit the same environment so always make sure of your identification!

Dogbane versus milkweed - make sure you know the difference!
Dogbane versus milkweed – make sure you know the difference!

Check for the soft, downy hairs along the stem and undersides of the leaves to make sure you have milkweed, since dogbane is toxic. (Generally speaking, I avoid anything with “bane” in the name!)

Check for the superfine hairs on milkweed stems to confirm you have the correct plant
Check for the superfine hairs on milkweed stems to confirm you have the correct plant

Also, inspect your milkweed carefully when harvesting. This native perennial provides food for a plethora of local insects, in addition to being the only food for baby caterpillars. (About halfway through this post you can see what eggs and caterpillars look like on milkweed.)

To celebrate the return of milkweed, here are two recipes: one for the shoots, and one for a dip made with the leaves that you remove from the shoots. While older (and bigger) the shoots remain edible, they are tougher and chewier when cooked; younger shoots are preferred here.

Actually, the first “recipe” is more of a method, which I apply to most vegetables which cross my path: roasting.

Because the shoots are fairly small, they won’t need very long in the oven at 400 F. Strip off and reserve the leaves. Wash and thoroughly dry the shoots prior to cooking, otherwise they will steam rather than roast. Coat them lightly in cooking oil. I use a pump spray bottle filled with olive oil for this so they don’t get too oily. Because the shoots tend to be thin it’s easy to overdo! Spread them on a cookie sheet or baking pan so none of them touch. After five minutes, shake the pan to roll the shoots. Roast another five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, then sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and return to the oven another 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how you brown you like the cheese.

Roasted Parmesan milkweed shoots
Roasted Parmesan milkweed shoots

Almost any vegetable tastes amazing roasted and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese in this fashion. The exact roasting time will vary depending on the size of the vegetables / vegetable pieces in question. Generally speaking, I plan for .25 lb / 4 oz. of veggie per serving, so you can easily scale this method up or down depending on how much forage is available and how many people you plan to feed.

Use the leftover leaves to make this tasty, healthy dip for an appetizer or snack. This also makes a great sandwich spread or topping for crackers. (I might’ve eaten some of it straight with a spoon… it’s THAT tasty!) Plus, it’s super healthy, paleo and vegan!

Milkweed dip for veggies and crackers (or eating straight with a spoon!)
Milkweed dip for veggies and crackers (or eating straight with a spoon!)

Milkweed Dip Print Recipe

Makes approximately 2 cups

  • 1 c cashews, soaked overnight
  • 1 1/2 lemons, juiced (about 3 Tbs)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 c dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 – 6 oz tender milkweed leaves, divided (about 1 cup cooked)
  • salt to taste (I usually add about 1/2 tsp)
  • fresh ground black pepper 

Boil the milkweed leaves in a large pot for three minutes. Move the leaves to a cold water bath to stop cooking. Dry the leaves thoroughly to remove excess moisture (they retain a LOT of water).

Drain cashews. Add to food processor with lemon juice and olive oil, and process several minutes until the cashews begin to form a smooth paste.

Add garlic and nutritional yeast, and pulse to combine.

Add dried tomatoes and half the cooked milkweed leaves, and continue to process until well incorporated.

Hand chop the remaining milkweed leaves, and add to food processor. Pulse until just blended. There should still be large flakes of leaf for color and texture.

Remove from food processor and stir in salt. Serve with your favorite crackers or veggie sticks.

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