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Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Showy Milkweed
Asclepias speciosa

A good quality tough fibre is obtained from the bark[92, 99]. It is used in twine, coarse cloth, paper etc[92, 99]. The fibre is 10 – 45mm long[189]. It is easily harvested in late autumn, after the plants have died down, by simply pulling it off the dead stems[168, 169]. When making paper, the stems can be retted by leaving them in the ground until they are dry in the winter or they can be harvested in late summer, the leaves removed and the stems steamed to remove the fibre[189]. The stems are then cooked for two hours with lye and pounded with mallets[189]. The paper colour varies from white to creamy green depending on how the paper is made[189]. If the stems are used in the summer the latex will often find its way onto the fibres and is hard to remove[189].

The seed floss is used to stuff pillows etc, or is mixed with other fibres to make cloth[168, 169]. It has also been used as a baby’s nappy[257]. The seed floss is a Kapok substitute, used in Life Jackets or as a stuffing material[169]. It is very water repellent. The floss has also been used to mop up oil spills at sea.

Rubber can be made from latex contained in the leaves and the stems[57, 92, 112]. The yield is up to 3%[112].

Pods contain an oil and a wax which are of potential importance.

A green dye is obtained from the flowers and leaves combined[168].

  • Medicinal Use

    The latex is used as a cure for warts[168, 257]. The latex needs to be applied at least once a day of a period of some weeks for it to be effective[K]. The latex has antiseptic properties and has been used to treat skin sores, cuts and ringworm[257].

    A decoction of the plant tops can be strained and used to treat blindness and snow-blindness[257].

    The root is either chewed when fresh, or dried, ground into a powder then boiled, and used in the treatment of stomach ache[257]. A decoction of the roots has been used in small doses to treat venereal diseases and also to treat coughs, especially from TB[257]. A poultice of the mashed roots has been applied to rheumatic joints[257]. Some caution should be employed when using the root since there is a report that it can be poisonous in large quantities[257].

  • Edible Use

    Flower buds – raw or cooked[61, 92]. They taste somewhat like peas[85]. They can be used to thicken soups[257].

    Young shoots and leaves – cooked[46, 61, 62, 92, 95]. An asparagus substitute[85, 183]. One report says that they should not be eaten raw[85], whilst another says that the young spring shoots were eaten raw by some native American tribes[257].

    Tips of older shoots are cooked like spinach[85, 183].

    Young seed pods, 3 – 4 cm long – raw or cooked[85, 257]. Very appetizing[85]. The immature pods are peeled before being eaten[257].

    Flower clusters can be boiled down to make a sugary syrup[85] or they can be eaten raw[161, 183].

    Seed – raw[161, 257].

    A chewing gum can be made from the latex contained in the stem and leaves[46, 61, 92, 183].

    Root[183]. No further details are given, but another report says that the root can be poisonous in large quantities[257].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Although no specific reports have been seen for this species, many, if not all, members of this genus contain toxic resinoids, alkaloids and cardiac glycosides[274]. They are usually avoided by grazing animals[274]. One report says that the plant is considered poisonous in large quantities by some native North American Indian tribes[257].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn or in late winter[134, 169]. We have also had good results from sowing the seed in the greenhouse in early spring[K], though stored seed might need 2 – 3 weeks cold stratification[134]. Germination usually takes place in 1 – 3 months at 18¡c[134]. As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick them out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out when they are in active growth in late spring or early summer and give them some protection from slugs until they are growing away strongly. Division in spring. With great care since the plant resents root disturbance. Pot the divisions up and place them in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse until they are growing away strongly, then plant them out in the summer, giving them some protection from slugs until they are established.. Basal cuttings in late spring. Use shoots about 10cm long with as much of their white underground stem as possible. Pot them up individually and place them in a lightly shaded position in a greenhouse until they are rooting and growing actively. If the plants grow sufficiently, they can be put into their permanent positions in the summer, otherwise keep them in the greenhouse until the following spring and when they are in active growth plant them out into their permanent positions. Give them some protection from slugs until they are established.
Prefers a well-drained light rich or peaty soil and a sunny position[1, 134, 200]. A very ornamental plant[1], it is closely related to A. purpurascens[200]. The roots can spread quite freely when the plant is in a suitable position[233]. Many members of this genus seem to be particularly prone to damage by slugs. The young growth in spring is especially vulnerable, but older growth is also attacked and even well-established plants have been destroyed in wet years[K]. Plants resent root disturbance and are best planted into their final positions whilst small[134]. The flower of many members of this genus can trap insects between its anther cells, the struggles of the insect in escaping ensure the pollination of the plant[207].
Western N. America – Minnesota to British Columbia, south to Kansas, Utah and California.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.