You won’t see a lot of milkweed posts from me this year. Maybe only this one. The farmer across the way sprayed his fields with herbicides earlier than usual, rendering the milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) useless from a foraging perspective.
No worries! Over the past few years, I have been curating a pollinator friendly spot in my own backyard, including a safe haven for milkweed. It’s a fraction of the size of the field across from my house, but at least the myriad insects who need milkweed for survival have this little patch to enjoy.
… which means I won’t forage milkweed from my own yard because the insects need the plants more than I do. Especially the monarchs! I have other wild and garden food I can live on (heck I could even drive to the grocery store if gas prices weren’t so crazy), and they don’t.
Luckily for me (and this blog post), a handful of milkweed plants grew in the front yard as well, in the brand-new landscaping we had installed last year.
While these two healthy milkweed specimens are way past the “shoots” stage (when most people prefer their milkweed harvest), it turns out you can eat the leaves as well. As the plants mature, the leaves eventually will get stiff and dry and downright unpleasant. “Edible but regrettable”, as foragers like to say. But in the photo above, the leaves (while large and dark) are still mostly pliable.
FORAGING ALERT: Make sure you are harvesting milkweed, not the toxic lookalike Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum, also known as dogbane, and no, not that kind of hemp). Milkweed has super fine, downy hairs on its upright stem and Indian hemp does not. Also Indian hemp branches, whereas milkweed does not.
Pro tip! You can cut the midrib out of the milkweed leaves, just like one does with kale, if the texture is a little too firm for your tastes.
When cooking with milkweed leaves, I recommend adjusting the boiling time based on the maturity of the leaves (judging by their relative stiffness and how dark green they are as follows).
- Boil the oldest leaves for about five minutes.
- Add any intermediate-age leaves (large but still flexible if you curl the leaf), and cook for another three minutes.
- Finally add any super young leaves from new shoots, or the very tops of the plants, and cook for just one minute more.
- Drain all leaves at the same time, then plunge into a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking.
- Once the leaves are cool, squeeze handfuls at a time or otherwise press them to wring as much liquid out of them as possible – milkweed leaves retain a LOT of water.
Cooked milkweed leaves are perfect for any dish that calls for a firm-textured green, such as this low carb, gluten-free artichoke dip!
Makes 8 servings
- 6 oz milkweed leaves
- 1 c shredded Parmesan cheese
- 7 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/3 c sour cream
- 4 oz cream cheese, softened
- 3 Tbs mayonnaise
- Boil milkweed leaves according to their relative age: 5-8 minutes for more mature leaves; 2 – 3 minutes for intermediate leaves; 1 minute for very young leaves. Drain the leaves and plunge into cold water to stop cooking. Squeeze out excess liquid and chop.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Mix cooked milkweed leaves, Parmesan cheese, and artichoke hearts in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix garlic, sour cream, cream cheese and mayonnaise until completely blended and lump-free. Add to milkweed mixture and stir until well combined.
- Bake in an ovenproof dish for 25 – 35 minutes.
- Serve piping hot.