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Friday, April 27, 2012


The common milkweed is native to North America, and has been introduced to Europe, where it was cultivated as a bee plant. It certainly has very fragrant flowers, to attract these insects. It was formerly class in the Asclepiadaceae family, with relatives which included Indian sarsaparilla and aak, although not it is in the Apocynaceae or dogbane family along with the devil tree and bitter oleander, among others. A synonym for this species is Aslcepias cornutti.
  It has been used for medicinal purposes by Native American tribes, and the root, combined with cuckoo pint, was used by Mohawk women for temporary infertility. The leaves and stem contain latex which was applied to rheumatic joints to bring pain relief. This latex was also used for cancer and tumour treatments. In the past the edible seeds were used to treat asthma, to disperse kidney stones and to treat STDs among other diseases. The root possesses diuretic properties too and can also promote sweat during bouts of fever.
  The Cherokee used the plant for backache, stones and gravel in the body’s organs and for STDs.
  In the US and Canada the plant is well-known as it provides sustenance for the Monarch butterfly’s caterpillars, but we can eat it too. The flower buds, unopened, can be cooked and eaten like kachnar buds, (these are said to taste like garden peas or broccoli) and the open flower clusters can also be eaten in the same way as elder flowers. The tender young shoots are considered a delicacy by some and are used as an asparagus substitute, while young leaves and shoots can also be cooked as spinach. However it is best to use a plant for culinary purposes that is under 20 cms. tall. The flower clusters can also be boiled down to brown sugar, and should be harvested for best results in the early morning when dew is still clinging to them.
  The young tender seed pods (around 3 centimetres long) can also be cooked and are said to taste like okra. The seeds themselves can be eaten raw or cooked but are best used before the floss forms on them, although this is also edible. The latex in the stem and leaves can also be chewed like gum.
  You can also eat sprouted seeds and oil for culinary purposes may be obtained from them.
  The common milkweed also has other uses: a gum may be made from the latex and can be used to adhere gemstones to settings in jewellery. It is also possible to make rubber from the latex.
  The seed floss has been used as a substitute for kapok, which was not available during the Second World War. Schoolchildren all over the Midwest were recruited to gather thousands of pounds of this floss so that it could be used as stuffing for life-preservers for the armed forces. Today it is used instead of down for insulating jackets and comforters by a firm in Nebraska, and it is said to be much better than down for insulating purposes, of course it is cheaper too as down is imported.
  The plant was studies in the 1990s as a possible source of biofuel, and scientists are renewing their interest in the common milkweed now that technology has further advanced, as production methods are becoming more cost-effective that they were in the past.

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