Showy milkweed is well named: its purple-pink flowers are displayed near the end of tall stalks in round clusters 5–7 cm across, and a white sticky juice pours out if its stems or leaves are wounded. The dramatic seed pods are soft, large (7–10 cm) ovals that release seeds dispersed by the wind on long silky hairs.
Milkweed is a favourite food of monarch butterfly larvae. The toxin cardiac glycoside from the pant concentrates in both larvae and adult butterflies, and protects them from predators. Even taking a bite of a monarch’s wing will result in the predator vomiting.
Despite its toxicity, the plant is edible if it is boiled in fresh water, using two or three changes of water. Very small stalks (10–15 cm tall) can “be used like asparagus and firm young pods...like okra.” (Kershaw 146) Kindscher reports that “sometimes [a tribe] stayed on the prairies during their western hunting and gathering trips long enough to eat the delicious young pods.” (56)
The plant has many medicinal uses. According to Wilkinson, “Alberta’s Blood tribe used an extract from the plant as a poultice on swellings. (187) Kershaw reports additional medicinal uses. The milky sap was used to treat skin problems—cuts, burns, infections, ringworm and even warts and calluses. The root, both fresh and powered, was taken as a sedative, and used for digestive disorders, intestinal worms, kidney problems, rheumatism, asthma, venereal disease and as a contraceptive. Seeds were used to draw poison from snakebite or added to salves to treat sores. Kershaw reports the “dried juice from broken stems provided chewing gum.” (146) And, according to Kindscher, “the dried pods served as spoons.” (56)
To be added soon.
Kershaw, Linda. 2000. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies. Lone Pine Publishing, AB.
Kindscher, Kelly. 1987. Edible Wild Plants of the Prairies. University Press of Kansas.
Wilkinson, Kathleen. 1999. Wildflowers of Alberta: A Guide to Common Wildflowers and Other Herbaceous Plants. University of Alberta Press and Lone Pine Publishing, AB.