Along the Grapevine


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Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods

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Until recently, milkweed was considered a noxious weed and we were discouraged from allowing it to grow in order not to harm livestock. Now that we are encouraged to grow it to save the monarch butterflies, it has really taken off – at least in my garden. I am referring to common milkweed (asclepias syriaca), which is only one of over 100 existing varieties, many of which are toxic. I have written about using all parts of the plant, shoots, leaves, buds and pods, but if you are unfamiliar with this plant its distinguishing features are as follows:

  • an upright plant about 2-5 ft tall
  • a milky substance oozes out of torn leaves or stem
  • umbels of pink flowers, 2-4 in. wide, grow from the axils off the upper leaves
  • in mid-summer pods grow from the little flowers of the umbels in a tight cluster

The pods are filled with a tight wad of seeds attached to a fine, white, silky thread-like material which will be released and dispersed by the wind. However, when small (about 1-1 1/2 inches long) they are edible as long as they are boiled first for about three minutes, at which point they can be frozen for later use. The ones I used are pictured here with a 25 cent coin to give you an idea of the size. DSC02416

The flavour is sweet, a bit like a cross between okra and green pepper. DSC02418

I decided to roast them and make an Asian inspired dish with a spicy, sweet sauce. The sauce can be made in a few minutes and altered to suit the level of spiciness you are comfortable with. Served with noodles or rice, it makes a wonderful vegetable side dish or a complete vegan meal.

Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods

1 lb milkweed pods

oil for coating

1/4 cup palm sugar

1 clove garlic

1 tsp chopped fresh ginger

1/2 tsp hot chili sauce, or to taste

1/4 cup soya sauce

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Cook the pods in boiling water for three minutes, strain and cool under cold running water. Toss them in just enough oil to coat. Lay them on a baking sheet and roast in a 425 F oven for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Place the rest of the ingredients, except the sunflower seeds, in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved, lower the heat and simmer for two minutes. Toast the sunflower seeds in a pan for a few minutes until they begin to brown. To serve, pour the sauce over the roasted buds and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds.

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Everything can be made in advance and heated up at the last minute. After roasting them, I put some aside, sprinkled with some salt flakes and served them as I would padron peppers. DSC02425 Related Posts: Stuffed Milkweed Pods; Buffalo Style Milkweed Pods</a

Spicy Roasted Milkweed Pods on Punk Domestics


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Milkweed Shoots

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I have already written about the other three edible parts of the common milkweed or asclepias syriaca (leaves, flowers and pods) in previous posts but this is the first spring where I have enough shoots to harvest them. In contrast with the other parts of the plant which can be picked off in small amounts without damaging it, collecting shoots means there will be no further growth. So unless you have plenty of them already well-established, you’d be well advised to allow them to grow. I have been encouraging their propagation for a few years now, and they are appearing virtually everywhere – among my perennials, in my vegetable gardens and in containers. There are still plenty in the ‘wild areas’ to provide ample sustenance for any monarch butterflies who make it here in the summer when they are in full bloom.

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How to identify them: The shoots resemble young asparagus, but have leaves in opposing pairs pointing upwards against the stem. They have a milky sap and should not have a bitter taste. Any milkweed which tastes bitter, spit out and disregard. Make sure you do not confuse it with dogbane which has a smooth, as opposed to slightly fuzzy stem. Also, the colour of dogbane’s stem is reddish and thinner at the top where milkweed has a consistently green stem and is of equal thickness from top to bottom. Both have milky sap so do not rely on that fact for identification. Be sure you have properly identified it before eating.

Where they grow: This variety is native to  the eastern part of North America, and grow wild in open fields, roadsides and hedgerows. Some people cultivate them as ornamental flowers, and their seeds are easily spread. Toxic to many livestock, farmers try to keep their fields clear of it.

How to prepare them: The shoots need to be cooked, but not aggressively. If you are unsure or haven’t tried them before, you can boil them and discard the water. The flavour is similar to that of a cross between green beans and asparagus. If you have a small amount, they can be mixed with these vegetables and prepared in the same way.

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The ones I picked were between one and six inches.

As this was the first time I had prepared them I kept it simple. I sauteed them in olive oil with dried garlic flakes and maldon salt for a few minutes until they were cooked through – a thoroughly tasty side dish.

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Related posts:

Milking the Weeds

Milkweed Bud Fetuccine

Milkweed Flower and Lambsquarters Soup

Milkweed Flowers

Stuffed Milkweed Pods</a

Milkweed Shoots on Punk Domestics