Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Very Cool Milkweed . . .

I have put off the 2010 return of One Hundred Species while my camera--the one that took a short dip in the Rio Grande--dried out. Utterly. And Completely. Now, a very cool member of the Asclepidaceae:

#48: Asclepius asperula--common names: Spider Milkweed or Antelope Horn. Like all the milkweeds, this plant is poisonous to animals (including humans), and contains a milky latex. It does attract bees, butterflies and birds, and is primary food for the Monarch Butterfly. Monarch then ingest the bitter milky latex and become bad-tasting to birds.


christinemm said...

Wow the milkweed in the Northeast is so different!

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Christine--this is a member of the same genus as the regular milkweed. We have that, too. In fact, I did not know about this one until last year!

Susan Ryan said...

That doesn't look like our central IL milkweed, for sure. I would have had to consider taking that out of the beanfield when we were walking beans. It's beautiful.
We keep our milkweed around our yard for the monarch, but I didn't realize the milky stuff was what made the butterfly so bad tasting. Interesting.

Brianna said...

I've meant to post this for a while, but I was never at home and I didn't want to post until I had my field guide on me for reference. But what I wanted to say was, while some varieties of milkweed are poisonous (undoubtedly including the one in your example), according to my edible plants field guide, practically ever part of common milkweed asclepius syriaca is edible. It claims that the plant is mildly toxic, but that this can be fixed by boiling. To quote

"cover the young shoots in boiling water and cook for 15 min, using several changes of water. The first few changes should be fairly rapid, with just over a minute between each change, as covering the plants with cold water and bringing them to a boil tends to fix their bitter flavor. The tender young top leaves, the flower buds, and the small young pods are all prepared in much the same way as the shoots. The flowers can be dipped into boiling water for 1 min, covered in batter, and fried to make fritters. Do not confuse young shoots with dogbane or butterfly weed." According to the guid, milkweed is actually quite tasty when properly cooked.

I've also come across resources that suggest using several changes of water is unnecessary, and that one is enough. But better safe than sorry, yes?

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...


Since I have a doctorate in plant biology but I am not a physician, I would be remiss to recommend anyone ingesting the latex in Asclepius for medicinal purposes because I know a lot about the plant and the particular toxins in the latex, but I know only enough about the physiological effects on humans to be dangerous. I know that the effects vary from person to person, and also vary with the different species in question, as well as the individual plant. That this genus has been used in herbal medicine is clear from its name, but I would be remiss if I recommended it on that basis, and someone was harmed by it. So I don't recommend ingesting the latex under any circumstances, and I don't recommend the use of the plant to anyone. People should know their own bodies and they should know the plant, and biochemical effects of the toxins in it, and then use it at their own risk for their own purposes.

Personally, I have never been partial to ingesting the particular toxins in this genus. But then I've had modern medicine at my beck and call. I might think about it differently, should doctors and medicines become unavailable. ;)
I am sure that in our litigious age, your field guide has a disclaimer in it somewhere as well.