Silkweed (Asclepias Syriaca) – Becoming rarer (especially north of Iowa) in moist to wet prairies throughout most of the Tallgrass region, Prairie Milkweed can reach heights up to 3 1/2 feet. Similar to and often confused with the more common “Common Milkweed”, the flowers are a deep reddish-pink and occur in clusters of up to 40 near the top of the plant. Blooms from June through mid-August. Asclepias, from the Greek God of healing and medicine. Syriaca is from the Latin word for “of Syrian origin”.
The Milkweed Family has a long history of medicinal use. Asclepias incarnata was also cultivated for food uses, so it has been a valuable plant of the tallgrass biome for thousands of years. Some tribes added the flowers and bulbs to soups, some used the flowers stewed and served almost like preserves, immature pods were often cooked with buffalo meat and still others used the immature flower clusters and fruits as a cooked vegetable.
There are more than 25 species of milkweed found across the US with a dozen alone in the Tallgrass Biome. It is this species, Silkweed or Common Milkweed that enjoys the most popularity with edible plant enthusiasts.
Medicinally, the ground root of this species was used to induce temporary sterility, tea made from the root was used to “expel internal parasites” and the ground seeds were used in a poultice to draw the poison from a rattlesnake bite.
During WWII, the sap of the milkweed family plants were used experimentally to provide a rubber substitute. The silk produced by the seed pods was also used as a substitute for kapok in flotation devices for many years.
Edible Uses: Unknown
The root is anodyne, diaphoretic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and purgative. It has been used in the treatment of asthma, kidney stones, venereal disease etc. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. An infusion of the pounded roots has been used by the women of some native North American Indian tribes to promote temporary sterility. The leaves and/or the latex are used in folk remedies for treating cancer and tumours. The milky latex from the stems and leaves is used in the treatment of warts. The latex needs to be applied at least daily over a period of up to a few weeks to be effective. The stems can be cooked and applied as a poultice on rheumatic joints. One reported Mohawk antifertility concoction contained milkweed and jack-in-the-pulpit, both considered contraceptive. Dried and pulverized, a fistful of milkweed and three Arisaema rhizomes were infused in a pint of water for 20 minutes. The infusion was drunk, a cupful an hour, to induce temporary sterility. The rhizome is used in homeopathy as an antioedemic and emmenagogue in the treatment of dropsy and dysmenorrhoea.
A good quality fibre is obtained from the inner bark of the stems. It is long and quite strong, but brittle. It can be used in making twine, cloth, paper etc. The fibre is of poor quality in wet seasons. It is easily harvested in late autumn after the plant has died down by simply pulling the fibres off the dried stems. It is estimated that yields of 1,356 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc or is mixed with other fibres to make cloth. It is a Kapok substitute, used in Life Jackets or as a stuffing material. Very water repellent, it can yield up to 550 kilos per hectare. The floss absorbs oil whilst repelling water and so has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea. Candlewicks can be made from the seed floss. In cultivation, only 1 – 3% of the flowers produce mature pods. It is estimated that yields of 1,368 kilos per hectare could be obtained from wild plants. Rubber can be made from latex contained in the leaves and the stems. It is found mainly in the leaves and is destroyed by frost. Yields of 197 kilos per hectare can be expected from wild plants, it is estimated that by selection these yields could be increased to 897 kilos. Yields are higher on dry soils. The latex can also be used as a glue for fixing precious stones into necklaces, earrings etc. The latex contains 0.1 – 1.5% caoutchouc, 16 – 17% dry matter, and 1.23% ash. It also contains the digitalis-like mixture of a- and b-asclepiadin, the antitumor b-sitosterol, and a- and b-amyrin and its acetate, dextrose and wax. Pods contain an oil and a wax which are of potential importance. The seed contains up to 20% of an edible semi-drying oil. It is also used in making liquid soap.
Herbal Uses: Unknown
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