Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere



By Jeremy Trombley

Milkweeds are one of the most abundant wild vegetables available. In most cases they are thought of as weeds, but once the bitter element is removed they are very useful vegetable plants. The young shoots are collected in the early spring, and provide an asparagus-like dish. The new leaves can be served like spinach, the budding flowers like broccoli and the young pods like boiled okra. These last must be collected at exactly the right time, before the pods become hard and leathery. The tender flesh and slightly fluffy inside, once prepared, makes a nice addition to any meal. Care must be taken, however, as some species may be toxic.

Before these can be enjoyed, however, the bitter flavor must be removed. The preparation is the same for all four parts. Simply, place the vegetable in a pot and cover with boiling water. Allow the water to boil for a couple of minutes and then strain the vegetables. Repeat this process three times and then boil the vegetable once more in clean water for ten minutes.

In addition to eating, milkweed has several other uses. The down found inside the mature pod has remarkable insulating properties, and can be used in place of down or other blanket and pillow fillings. The latex for which the plant is named is full of alkaloids, and has been used as an astringent, for removing warts and as a treatment for poison ivy. Furthermore, its presence is beneficial for surrounding plants and for the insects who utilize its pollen.


Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. Rev. New York: Harper, 1958.

Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Field guide ed. New York: D. McKay, 1962.