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Common Milkweed

By Martha Boyd, Program Director, Urban Initiative, Chicago

This summer, at the Eat to Live Garden in Englewood, many Yale Elementary School students knew about the connection between common milkweed and Monarch butterflies, who lay their eggs on milkweed plants. When a Monarch caterpillar hatches, it eats milkweed leaves until it forms a chrysalis and -- if all goes well -- becomes an adult butterfly and continues on its journey.


I saw only one or two Monarchs this early summer when the milkweeds were starting to flower in the Eat to Live Garden -- but they attracted many other pollinators, even before the fragrant flowers opened up in late June.


Milkweed is edible by humans in many stages of growth, including the tender young shoots, the flower buds, and the young pods before the seeds and silk mature. Boil them, pour off the water, and eat!  See recipes for milkweed here.


After that, milkweed fluff can be used to stuff parkas and lifevests!  One pod contains a remarkable number of tightly packed seeds. 


Milkweed spreads both by wind-borne seeds and underground. It can overwhelm a small space but is great to have in our Learning Garden since so many people have heard about it yet not seen it up close.  It keeps sprouting and growing all summer, so come to the Garden and check it out!