Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.
⚠️ WARNING. Butterfly Weed is listed in my source materials as both toxic and edible. Most sources say that it should only be used in small amounts. Please do further research from multiple sources before considering Butterfly Weed as forage. For tonight’s post we’re speaking specifically of Asclepias tuberosa.
When I first learned that Butterfly Weed was listed as edible I was fairly surprised. Butterfly Weed is in the milkweed family and as such I was always told it was toxic. Milkweed’s association with the Monarch Butterfly further reinforced that belief because in eighth grade science we all learned that Butterflies get their toxins from the food they eat as caterpillars. Here’s what to consider. Caterpillars concentrate toxins in special organs and carry that poison throughout their lives. And as caterpillars they consume the most toxic part of milkweed. And while Butterfly Weed is in the milkweed family it lacks the milky latex sap that gives this group of plants their name. Butterfly Weed sap is clear and that’s a good identification trait to remember. Also consider it to be important that the parts safe for humans isn’t the leaves and stems. Those are toxic to us and should be avoided.
The parts of Butterfly Weed that are Forage for humans are the unopened flower buds and the young shoots. One of my gotos for information is Green Dean of Eat The Weeds and he does recommend changing the water a few times when foraging the milkweed family. With that in mind let’s take a look at Butterfly Weed.
The unopened buds should be harvested when young and are said to taste like peas. They are toxic when raw even though they lack the milky sap. The other thing that I found interesting is that the nectar contains no toxins. Butterfly Weed yields up so much nectar and it’s so sweet that the sugars will often crystallize on the flowers. These lumps of sugar can be eaten on the spot or evaporated down into syrup the same way molasses is. I do also see the potential to simply collect the lumps of hardened nectar to be powered up and stored as a natural sweetener or if you’re a bee keeper with access to Butterfly Weed in sufficient quantities it might be stored and fed to the bees at times when you do your supplemental feeding. I certainly think it’s more likely to contain micro nutrients than sugar purchased at a store and more organic than corn syrup. If you’re a person who has plenty of room to raise Butterfly Weed and can meticulously harvest the lumps when they’re available then there might be a niche market for such a resource. However I should point out that unless you are able to develop a technique or technology to make it extremely efficient it may not be worth the effort to do on an industrial scale.
Old timers would often speak of “Pleurisy Root” and that is one of the names for Butterfly Weed. Traditionally Native Americans used the plant for a variety of lung ailments as well as Rheumatism. The powdered roots were applied externally to heal bruises and wounds.
Butterfly Weed is a native of the Appalachian Mountains and the bright orange flowers are a wonderful addition to native landscaping. As the name suggests it does attract butterflies and other pollinators. Like the common milkweed that seed pod contains a fluffy mass of fibers that were once used in life jackets by the Navy. And while we don’t need it for life jackets anymore I do wonder if it would make a nice natural textile.
That’s it for tonight’s Forage Friday! Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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