Asclepias species produce their seeds in follicles. The seeds, which are arranged in overlapping rows, have white silky filament-like hairs known as pappus, silk, or floss. The follicles ripen and split open and the seeds, each carried by several dried pappus, are blown by the wind.” (Via)
Above is a dried pod and seeds of Asclepias syriaca, which “Carl Linnaeus named the genus after Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, because of the many folk-medicinal uses for the milkweed plants.” (Via)
This February, I paid a visit to my friend at New York Medical College. Seeing her, one of my oldest friends, was healing and full of joy, but after spending a few days out of California, coming back to the sunshine and palm trees made me feel so fortunate. Being at a medical school made me think about how we heal people in this culture. We walked around and she showed me the labs and told me about the “med. school culture” while we walked through the squishy, cold grass and around the snow-scattered in mounds too tall to have melted. That was a full contrast to the hikes, surf, and sunshine I take in here on the west coast, even in the winter. Since I live up in the mountains, I am also lucky enough to have a calming and inspiring view. I have come to realize that many of the things I have here in California can promote my own healing.
I recently watched a mediocre PBS documentary called The Science of Healing. It gave me a framework to re-value the view and nature I get to take in every day here. I walk under a low-hanging group of trumpet flowers (Brugmansia) and next to a cascade of passion flowers (Passiflora) on my walkway. The other night I cracked my window to listen to a pair of great horned owls, crickets, and a pack of coyotes. Up there it is remarkably still—so still that I can sometimes hear a frog in the distance on the other end of the property.
But let’s back to the specific topic at hand: asclepias. Asclepias is the genus of what we may know as milkweed. Milkweed is one of those really terrible names for a really terrific plant.
I just found this old song called Milkweed Babies from this thread. Its a charming old school poem.
Dainty milkweed babies, wrapped in cradles green,
Rocked by Mother Nature, fed by hands unseen.
Brown coats have the darlings, slips of milky white,
And wings – but that’s a secret, – they’re folded out of sight.
The cradles grow so narrow, what will the babies do?
They’ll only grow the faster, and look up toward the blue.
And now they’ve found the secret, they’re flying through the air,
They’ve left the cradles empty, – do milkweed babies care?
Milkweed is incredible, and I am only too sad to say that I have not found any this season in California. I even made a bet with a friend that I could find some before he could, and nether of us has been able to spot one, despite being all over Northern California! Does anyone know where a patch might be? I must be looking in all the wrong places. Here, I have seen many Monarchs, though. Last November I went to Natural Bridges State Park and their Monarch Resting Area, where the butterflies hang in clusters on the Eucalyptus leaves.
And still, I haven’t seen California’s milkweeds. I used to see milkweed everywhere in Illinois. It is actually my mother’s favorite plant. She likes it for its milky latex sap and the food and protection it gives to Monarchs. I have been contemplating a tattoo of a milkweed seed and its silks for a while now. Something feathery like this or this would suit my taste. The second is from this nice blog post, also about milkweed and also monarchs. My mom broke her ribs recently—she was hit by a car while on her bike. She is healing slowly but surely. This whole post is dedicated to her, in the spirit of healing and a virtual bouquet of flowers.
I can’t wait to tell her that the pods are edible. Check out this link to the blog Hunger and Thirst for Life for an amazing recipe! The blog is seriously amazing for me, a novice forager. Take a look and get inspired. There are more interesting things about milkweed than I can explore in this one post. The seeds were used during World War II to stuff lifesaver vests and flight jackets (via).