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Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)

Asclepias syriaca

Milkweed, Common

Plant TypeForb
Life CycleAnnual
Leaf PatternOpposite
Flower Colorpink
DescriptionA stout unbrancning plant with downy grey-green leaves. It releases a milky, sticky sap when cut. The flower buds open into pink-to-red flower bunches which give way to distinctive knobby seed pods, often with soft spines. The seeds are attached to fluff to help them disperse in the wind.
EdibilityThe young shoots can be boiled in several changes of water and eaten like asparagus. The young seedpods (before they develop fluff) can be prepared the same way and taste delicious. The flowers may be batter dipped and fried into fritters.
ToxicityThe milky sap is bitter and mildly toxic. But since it is water soluble it is easily removed by boiling.
Medicinal UsesThough I do not know of any confirmed medicinal use, the scientific name refers to the ancient greek god of health. There may be something to this.
Utilitarian UsesThe seed fluff is a useful tinder material since it catches flame quite easily. Be careful though, since it burns-up as quickly as flashpaper. A tinder bundle made of this material exclusively would dissapear so quickly that it would be useless for starting a fire. It can be very useful, however, for kickstarting a tinder bundle by mixing it in with other materials.
If harvested at the right time in the late summer or fall, the stalk fiber makes a fine cordage.