There are so many plants waiting to be gathered right now! I wake up excited to greet familiar friends that I have not seen for many moons. Milkweed is everywhere--in fields, at the edge of stone walls, sneaking into gardens where it suddenly becomes a weed. I don't want the milkweed to feel unwanted. As a gardener, I work for people who want their "weeds" removed. Their weeds became my dinner, the tender shoots seen in this photo:
When you snap a stalk you will notice that a white sap oozes out, hence the name milkweed. If you get it on your skin it will itch and burn. If you eat it raw it will really be uncomfortable! Milkweed needs to be boiled in at least two changes of water. Some of the old field guides say three, but I think they liked there greens more cooked than we do. I have had no problem with two changes. The easiest way is to boil two pots, throw the shoots in, boil for a few minutes, dump, put them back in to the other boiling pot until they have reached, as the guides say "desired tenderness." (Isn't that what we all want?) They taste like green beans and are delicious hot or cold. I liked to eat them in a dijon vinaigrette.
Below are two photos of milkweed flowers about to burst. They can be picked now and eaten. Parboil them. I like to make wild tabouli with them. The look and the texture is similar to bulghur wheat, though the taste is lighter and fresher. Add some chopped almonds and dressing of your choice (lemon, vinegar, herbs, mustard.)
Many of you probably know that milkweed is the favorite food of monarch butterflies. They rely on it to complete one of the most incredible journeys on our planet, migrating to and from pine forests in the mountains of Mexico. To me, the most inspiring aspect of this journey is that they change forms halfway. A butterfly leaves Mexico, flies all the way to Block Island, lays eggs which become a caterpillar, which weaves a chrysalis around itself in which it completely dissolves. When it emerges, it is winged again, ready to fly south to begin the cycle.
We are at a time on our planet in which many cycles are coming to an end as the result of human action. I feel immense sadness when I think that maybe one day butterflies will not appear over the bluffs and come to feed on flowers in the island's fields. I am also coming to trust that there are larger cycles that I can't see. The butterfly is a symbol of psyche, the soul. Could it be we, like the caterpillar, are dissolving into something we don't recognize yet, something light as breath under wings, translucent and shining with the knowledge of our own beauty? That is my wish for us all.