common milkweed – asciepias syriaca – as it’s name would imply is a relatively common weed, especially on those edges of vacant lots where they get less mowing. for those concerned about such things, the milk weed is a native to these lands – though you would hardly know it by it’s prolific methods of distributing itself. perhaps the thing milkweed is know best for is it’s seed pods which come fall, dry out, breaking open, and expose a mass of fluffy downy seeds. these pods when split open are a joy to blow out into a stiff fall wind, watching as the seed scatter far and wide. in addition to this rather ambitious method of spreading, milkweed also spreads via rhizomes underground.
milkweed is edible – it should be cooked, though i have eaten some young seed pods raw without feeling ill. the young shoots in particular are very tender, briefly cooking in hot water helps to rid the plants of the bitter flavors. the young seed pods pickled are supposed to make a good substitute for capers. i’ve never found it in large enough numbers to pickle it. fibers from the plant have been traditionally used for rope, though attempts at industrial production have failed, as have attempts to use the milky latex found when it is broken. the fluffy down in the seed pods has been used to stuff mattresses and pillows – that’s a lot of seed pods.
the latex sap has traditionally applied to rashes, and the roots have been used as diuretic and expectorant.