Specimen #40 Common Milkweed
Photo by me, March 2009.
Raccoon River Nature Park
The "milk" in the name has to refer to the latex, or juice, that comes from the broken stem of this plant. Milkweed is the host plant for monarch butterflies. If you want to see butterflies, you want this "weed."
As always, the Native American uses are listed in the University of Michigan, Dearborn, database. It reports that natives used the plant as medicine (mainly for women, but also for others), for food, for thread and bowstrings, for glue, and for chewing gum (Mom's cousin Mike told me this when I was younger).
The article here has very interesting facts about the milkweed. It is too long to copy here. And from 2binthewild:
Historical Lore: Despite it's toxicity the very young shoots and leaves and the newly formed seedpods can be eaten if boiled in two or three waters discarding these to remove the toxins and bitterness before cooking. The young shoots are sometimes referred to as Wild Asparagus. There are accounts of sugar being made by pressing fresh flowers and cooking down the juice.
The silky down of the seeds has been used to fill bedding and life jackets and was once thought to have a future as a commercial fiber. The fiber from the stems was also used much like Indian Hemp, Apocynum cannabinum.Medical Uses: The down of the seed has been used to dress wounds and the latex like sap applied to various skin eruptions. There are several accounts of the root along with the root of Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum being used by Native American women to prevent conception. A root tea has been used by various tribes as a diuretic, expectarant and for any number of medical conditions including respiratory conditions, joint pain and digestive problems. Warning:This plant, especially the root is considered toxic!