Entry Detail

common milkweed

Entry Type:  
Scientific Name:  
Common Name:  
common milkweed
Myaamia Name:  
Harvest Seasons:  
Wet Prairie grasslands with flooding

Media(Image/Video) Description
Image Early spring shoots of common milkweed
Image Common milkweed in one of its native habitats: sand dunes along Lake Michigan (Northwestern University)
Myaamia Archival Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Archival Data Comments
Rafert, S. 1989 Horticultural Info 

"Milkweed was very important. Milkweed was usually gathered when it was about eight to ten inches tall. We always broke off the small leaves at the top--I mean the leaves at the top which were really the largest ones--they used mostly the stem, much like asparagus".

Rafert, S. 1989 Use - Food 

"It was boiled first--they didn't have flour for thickening--so they just boiled it and ate it with seasoning. Seasoning was probably some type of meat. But in later years, as they acquired knowledge of using thickening like flour or corn meal, they thickened it, and made a type of gravy, much like you would cook asparagus today. It was one of the real important things for the Indians, important foods of the spring." "It was used like a tonic and of course it was something green, which they hadn't had in the winter time" .

Aatotankiki myaamiaki 1998-2006 Use - Food 

A milkweed harvesting trip was part of the Myaamia language camp in June 2004, when the milkweed had both young shoots and taller stems for harvest. Mildred Walker, Howard Walker, Daryl Baldwin, and many other tribal members participated in this late spring harvesting. 

Rafert, S. 1992 Use - Medicinal 

The milky sap is used to treat warts.

Timmons, F. 1946 Description 

"Asclepias syriaca has an extensive root system with lateral roots at two depths, the upper 4 to 8 inches below the surface and the lower 2 to 12 inches below that one. These two layers are connected by vertical taproots several feet apart. It spreads vegetatively by sending up shoots along the surface lateral roots and occasionally from deeper lateral roots to form clumps that appear to be separate plants, but which actually all come from the same root system. These clumps can be up to 50 feet across".

Rafert, S. 1978 Use - Food 

"Wash harvested buds well and chop up. Boil them, pour off water, parboil it and cook until tender, then pour off most of water, then add bacon. Then sprinkle flour over it and stir it. Eva always made it into rivlins, which is using fine flour and milk or water, cooking it a bit after adding the flour. Or just add vinegar and salt to taste, not pepper".

Rafert, S. 1978 Use - Food 

Swan Hunter liked eating milkweed, and her father did too. Eva also mentioned wanting to get some milkweed and knowing where. Swan says she had some plants to harvest. Eva froze some.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food 

"Pick the center, tender leaves and shoot part, of the top of the plant and cook it". She also indicated that when the pods were small, you can take out the insides [immature floss] and cook it for eating.

Olds, J., Olds, D. and D. Tippman 1999 Use - Medicinal 

"My mother [mother-in-law: Rebbeca M. Stitt Walker] used milkweed and other plants as medicine. It was good spring medicine. She cooked it and we ate it because it was good. It had a lot of iron in it and everything and so we'd have that for greens. Pods were not eaten".

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Horticultural Info 

Mildred Walker's mother-in-law, Rebbeca M. Stitt Walker, brought seeds of common milkweed from Indiana and planted them in her garden in the Quapaw, Oklahoma area for harvesting and eating as greens. Other women in the neighborhood also harvested milkweed for eating and when Mildred returned one time as an adult to her old home and to Rebecca's old garden, the milkweed had been harvested, presumably by the old friends of Rebecca.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food 

Mildred Walker remarked that the young shoots and leaves of common milkweed they harvested for eating were fuzzier and narrower than the ones we harvested during a language camp outing.

Some variation in leaf width and fuzziness does occur between individual plants and areas. Mildred also picked a very young dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) shoot and said it was a type of 'milkweed' and was eaten as greens. Dogbane has narrower leaves, not necessarily fuzzier, but has milky sap and looks very similar to common milkweed shoots--it may have been called a milkweed at this stage due to its similar look and milky sap. – Michael Gonella
Baldwin, D 1997 Use - Food 

"The young shoots with four leaves or less are harvested in early spring".

Tippman, D. 1999 Use - Food 

Jim Strack and his family did not eat milkweed but he knew other Myaamia people that did.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food 

Leaves and young stems are eaten as greens

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food 

The sap from common milkweed was used as chewing gum.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Medicinal 

"The sap of milkweed was used to remove warts".

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food/Medicinal 

"Milkweed was used as food since 1400's and 1500's, known as 'medicine food', this is not written down anywhere, that it was used so far back, but the info has been passed down orally . . . soup was made from milkweed, using some part for medicine or food".

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Use - Food/Medicinal 

The young shoots, top four leaves of stems, and flower buds are gathered, cooked and eaten. Sap is used to remove warts.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Horticultural Info 

Dani Tippman and her mother Mary (Strack) Swenda harvest the top four leaves of taller plants, or plants of any stage of growth and cook them as greens. "The four leaves represent the four directions, " said Mary. The white milkweed, not eaten was probably a name for dogbane, which looks reddish and not-fuzzy when young, unlike milkweed. She has noticed the stems kept growing and flowered after tops removed for eating.

Rafert, S. 1978 Use - Food 

"Harvest young shoots at various heights, when they first have the little buds beginning and the buds are still green, then you just take about 6-8 inches off the top".

Dunn, J.P. 1902 Use - Food 

[Gabriel] "Godfroy says young milkweed has "substance", just like a potato - used as substitute for potatoes - cooked like asparagus, and put a little vinegar on before eating makes it better. The flower buds are also used to put in soup".

"Common milkweed - län-ín-zha - makes (are like asparagus) greens most preferred by Indians, young shoots - the upland milkweed and pleurisy root - butterfly weed - asclepia tuberosa is bitter - not good. They call this lä-mon-dä-sa pl. laki - or "young pup root"".

Peoria, Eastern Shawnee, Wyandotte, Seneca-Cayuga, Miami and Ottawa Tribes 2003 Use - Food 

Asclepias syriaca was listed in this report as a plant commonly used by the local tribes in the city of Miami, Oklahoma, including the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

Botanical Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Data Comments
Cheatham, S. & Johnston, M.C. 2002 Ecological Info 

The quality of bast fibers, derived from the phloem of the common milkweed, varies greatly depending on soil type, climate, amount of rainfall, and other environmental factors.

Gonella, M.P 2003-2006 Related Info 

The dominant vegetation around Miami, Oklahoma and western Kansas at the time of Myaamia relocation was tallgrass prairie, the large buffalo herds and fire kept the forest limited to river bottoms. The buffalo only went through a particular area about once a year; probably following early spring shoots of prairie plants north as spring progressed. Common milkweed plants would've persisted well in this annual, early spring disturbance, and Myaamia harvesting of this disturbance could have been a fair mimic of the disturbance caused by buffalo.

McCauley, D. 1991 Ecological Info 

The red milkweed beetle Tetraopes tetraoophthalmus feeds almost entirely on this species of milkweed, its life cycle often restricted to one plant.

Steyermark, J.A. 1963 Horticultural Info 

Cases of poisoning have been recorded from livestock feeding on leaves and stems, but usually these plants remain untouched in pastures

Foster, S. & Duke, J.A. 1990 Description 

This species flowers from June to August, fruiting from July to the first frost.

Related Sources  
Reference Source Reference Type Data Comments
Cheatham, S. & Johnston, M.C. 2002  

Young shoots of other milkweed species have been noted as food of Canadian Indians, beginning as early as the 18th century. Use of young flower buds and pods as food by Native Americans in recent times has also been documented for the Zuni, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Rio Grande Pueblo at Jemez, Tarahumara, Tewa, Kiowa, White Mountain Apache, and Hopi. Often, pods were cooked with meat in an attempt to soften the meat by action of a compound in the pods that caused tenderizing. There are some reports of Native American groups eating butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa tubers, although these are treated by contemporary researchers as poisonous. Numerous Asclepias species were used by numerous tribes for the bast stem fibers for cordage, ropes, basketry and netting in historic times.

Densmore, F. 1974  

The Chippewa word for Asclepias syriaca was recorded as as "ini'niwunj" meaning, man-like, and it was used as a medicine for the diseases of women, as a charm to counteract evil charms, and the flowers were eaten.

Cheatham, S. & Johnston, M.C. 2002  

"And while A. syriaca blooms copiously from July through August, only a small percentage of the flowers set pods, and many pods are only incompletely filled out or are aborted". 

McPherson, A. and S. McPherson. 1977  

"The Miami Indians used the sap to rid themselves of warts . . . milkweed may have been cultivated by the Potawatomie Indians. Milkweed grew so close to the wigwams that it could have been planted there, since the Potawatomies used it for food and fiber".

Coulter, S. 1932  

The dried roots of Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly milkweed, in small doses of 1-3 gm reduces arterial tension by depressing heart action and causing diaphoresis (excessive sweating) and increasing diuresis (excessive urination). It is also an expectorant, and be a slight tonic, mild laxative, carminative (relieving flatulence), and an emetic in large doses.

Olds, J., Olds, D. and D. Tippman 1999  

Mildred Walker has consistently described two milkweed species being used as greens; one being slender and growing in wetter areas with white flowers and another bigger and more robust and fuzzy. When in the field with her she said that young shoots of Asclepias syriaca is the regular one that was gathered.

Dunn, J.P. ca. 1900  

The Myaamia did not eat the shoots of a smaller species of Asclepias, called the white-flowered milkweed [Squaw milkweed, Apocynum cannabinum] which they called 'lemontehsa'. They considered the small shoots or pups of this species to be poisonous.

Smith, H. 1933  

The Forest Potawatomi used stem fibers from the common milkweed for cordage, as well as the root as a type of female medicine, and flowers and buds used in meat soups. "One always finds a riot of milkweed close to the wigwam or house of the Indian, suggesting that they have been cultivated". 

Smith, H. 1932  

The root is used by Ojibway as a female medicine. Fresh flowers and tips of shoots are gathered and dried and cooked in soups. The sap along with the milk of Canada hawkweed are used to put on a deer call.

Clark, J.E 1993  

The Shawnee collected this plant.