Common milkweed flowers are edible, in this post I'll describe the type I cook with, and how you can use their incredible aroma in desserts, syrups and savory dishes.
Note: This post only covers milkweed flowers. I've collected all of my knowledge on milkweed into a mother guide for you that covers all the edible parts in my Guide to Milkweed.
Nothing makes a beautiful Midwestern landscape pop quite like the deep purple milkweed flowers of the summer. They also make gardens look great, and will attract bees and butterflies, like the monarch, whose relationship with milkweed is probably the most known, and polarizing.
For this post, I'm referring only to common milkweed: Asclepias syriaca. Eating other milkweed flowers could make you sick, as one of my line cooks found out eating yellow milkweed flowers.
Touching back on polarization, I'm a forager, so I'm interested in eating things. Milkweed is one of the plants that if I post something about, I expect the floodgates to open from people saying that I shouldn't touch it, and that I'm doing a disservice to the monarch butterfly, and it's basically going to be all my fault if they are one day extinct.
However, milkweed has been used as a food for a very long time, and we still have butterflies. Also, milkweed harvesting that could take away food for butterflies I would consider as cutting the shoots.
As well, milkweed reproduces not only above ground via seeds through the pods, but also below the ground through rhizomes, so some of the milkweed harvesting nazi's arguments are on some shaky ground.
Sam Thayer has a great motto about foraging and the conservation and appreciation plants. I'm paraphrasing, but it goes something like this:
People who harvest parts of milkweed to eat aren't going to be the ones to kill off the monarchs. The poeple who value milkweed as a food source will be the people most vested in preserving paces where milkweed grows, not destroying habitat, which is the real killer of milkweed, and the monarchs.
So that being said, if you're worried about the butterflies, maybe just don't cut every single flower cluster from every plant in your patch. The flowers go a long way too, just a sprinkle onto a salad or a dish is all you need.
Plenty of insects can be attracted to milkweed flowers, so inspect them before you harvest. Even then, some can be very small, so make sure to wash your flowers before using.
Cooking and Eating
Milkweed flowers are unique for a couple reasons:
- They smell even better than they taste
- They have a long shelf life, longer than any other flower I've had. Fresh flowers can last for weeks under refrigeration
- They'll color liquids (like alcohol or sugar solutions) a deep magenta
What do you exactly do with the flowers? Can you actually cook them? Can you eat them raw?
Like most other flowers sans day lilies, you won't exactly want to cook them, in my opinion.
When I use milkweed flowers, generally I'm just going to sprinkle them on a salad, or an entree, typically fish. There is one way you can harvest their scent though, that I've tried. Like other flowers, milkweed has a strong, wonderfully sweet smell.
Cooking will destroy that scent, but their are some mediums that will absorb it, especially water, alcohol, and sugar based infusions. I have never had a problem serving raw sprinkles of milkweed flowers to guests at restaurants, or eating them myself in small amounts.
My favorite thing to do, besides sprinkling these on things, is to make a deep colored, sweet or sweet and sour infusion, I use it to make drinks, flavor sorbet and ice cream bases, or, maybe my favorite: drizzle over fresh strawberries and vanilla ice cream when using the shrub base that includes vinegar.
A recipe to use to flavor drinks and desserts like ice cream, sorbet, etc.
A vinegar based recipe, primarily for drinks, but also great drizzled over ice cream and fresh berries. Honey can be substitued for the sugar.