The dried seed pods of Whorled Milkweed are prized among florists for use in floral arrangements. If you are deadheading them to control their population and consider yourself crafty then it is time to get creative!
All parts of the plant are toxic in large quantities. Monarch caterpillars and butterflies have evolved the ability to digest milkweed despite its toxicity. Caterpillars and butterflies are also toxic to potential predators because they fed on milkweed leaves during their larval stage.
Name: The genus name Asclepias was derived from the Greek god, Asklepios, who was the god of healing and medicine. Several species of this genus have been used by people from many cultures around the world to treat a whole host of ailments concerning the human body’s cardiac, digestive, and respiratory systems. This plant has been relied on heavily for centuries, if not millennia.
The species name verticillata roots in the Latin word, ‘verticillatus,’ which means “whorled.” This alludes to the leaves of Whorled Milkweed. Each node along the stem has 3 to 6-inch long narrow leaves that grow out from the stem, like rays of the sun in a child’s picture. The scientific descriptor for this leaf growth pattern is “whorled.”
Historical Uses: Despite the many mentions of its toxicity, this plant was cooked and eaten by several Native American tribes. Some records indicate that the stems and leaves were cooked and eaten. Its latex was used in a kind of chewing gum, while the flowers were eaten fresh or incorporated into dishes. While it is true that some modern-day foragers venture to add parts of the plant into dishes, others heed the warning of potential toxicity and steer clear.
The seed pods contain a fiber that has been used to make baskets, cordage, and even bowstrings. Some U.S. companies use milkweed seed fluff to make hypoallergenic pillows!
In summary, all parts of milkweed have been used historically not only for medicinal purposes, but as a food source, and as raw material to create many objects that would have been vital to living everyday life in the pre-modern era. That is one valuable plant!