July in Vermont. The fragrance of milkweed is in the air. Everyone has seen milkweed, it grows in our gardens and along the roadsides. First graders learn that Monarch caterpillars attach themselves to milkweed in the late summer, forming their cocoons on the underside of the the milkweed leaf. In the fall, we have all seen the fluffy, cottony white pod of the milkweed dispersing it’s seeds into the air.i
Milkweed provides food and shelter for many species. The Monarch caterpillar feeds on the leaves of this important plant. Milkweed leaves contain a toxin that is absorbed by the caterpillars body and remains there throughout the butterfly’s life. The toxin protects the butterfly from predators. The beautiful, dark pink flowers are fragrant and dripping with sweet sticky nectar which provides food for pollinating butterflies and bees.
The blossoms of the milkweed can be boiled down with sugar and water to make a lavender colored simple syrup that can be added to drinks or made into sorbet. The stems of the young, six to eight inch plant are edible. No part of the milkweed plant should ever be eaten raw.
A book that I highly recommend is ” Backyard Foraging“, by Ellen Zachos.
Remember, when you forage for milkweed or any other plant, be mindful not to over harvest. Take only what you need and leave some for the wildlife that need it to survive. Foraging encourages u to eat locally and in season and gives us something to look forward to as the seasons change.