Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Milkweed Shoots vs. Dogbane shoots

Milkweed shoots ready to cook and enjoy

Milkweed shoots are not for absolute beginner foragers, and milkweed is a good plant to observe for a full year in all of its life stages before trying to consume it. A few people may have a bad reaction to milkweed in their diet as well, so taking it slow at first with tasting is a good idea. Spring shoots of milkweed are the only parts that can really be confused with another inedible and mildly toxic plant--branching dogbane. Both of these plants grow in the same habitat of open fields and roadsides, so some close observation, guidance, and experience is needed to safely forage this springtime edible.

Dogbane vs. Milkweed closeups of the stalks

 Common milkweed shoots, Asclepias syriaca, have a thick, lightly fuzzy stalk with opposite leaves that are oval shaped and fuzzy as well. They are at a good size for collection before the leaves have uncurled too much, about 5-8 inches tall. All parts of milkweed will ooze a white, milky latex when cut. Branching dogbane shoots, Apocynum cannabinum, are more slender than milkweed shoots, have a slightly red tinge, and are smooth, but also have opposite, oval shaped leaves that are slightly fuzzy. Dogbane also exudes a milky latex when cut. It is very important to look for the fine hairs on the specimen to properly identify milkweed vs. dogbane, we use a small jeweler's loupe, but a magnifying glass works just as well.

Dogbane vs. Milkweed shoots

While dogbane has practical uses in making cording, it is not an edible shoot, and contains cardiac glycosides, toxins that affect the heart. It is terribly bitter to taste, a warning sign in any plant that a human or animal may try to consume. Later in its life cycle, dogbane will produce multiple branches from the main stalk, differentiating it from milkweed which does not branch often. The flowers of milkweed and dogbane are also very different, and no confusion between the two plants happens at such a late stage. Dogbane is sometimes planted in flower gardens and is a common weed that is native to North America, so it doesn't need to be removed or eradicated, just properly identified when hunting for milkweed shoots in the spring as food.

Milkweed flowers


Bob Stanton said...

How serendipitous. I just came across your blog while looking for information on dogbane v. milkweed. I had decided to pick some milkweed shoots for the first time this morning, so I went to an area that I know produces common m-weed, ended up picking a bunch of dogbane instead. Fortunately, I realized the error of ways quickly. Your site looks great, I'm gonna check it out!

multikulinaria said...

I'm a beginner at foraging and love to learn about new edible plants. Since I didn't know the German name of milkweed I looked it up and read on Wikipedia, that the plant is poisonous. Weird.

Unknown said...


Are these milkweed shoots? I'm trying to clear an area for an herb garden but these things keep coming out of nowhere! I keep thinking for SURE I got all the roots out of the ground but nope! If they are milkweed, and I can actually eat them, that's good to know. I would dig up the rhizomes and try to establish them somewhere else instead of just killing them off entirely. The fact that they are white and not green is throwing me though. Thanks!

The 3 Foragers said...

Not sure what those are the shoots of, it doesn't look like milkweed.