The Common Milkweed Plant and Uses of the Milkweed Fluff
The common milkweed is known throughout northeast and Midwest America and Canada, a weed with a thick stalk that typically grows between two to perhaps five feet in height. A common weed of the fields and roadside and a favorite wild weed for the inclusion in butterfly gardens. The milkweed is the main food of the Monarch Butterfly caterpillar; milkweed and Monarchs are almost always found close together in the summer and fall. Monarch Butterflies need the milkweed plant in order to survive. The Monarch caterpillars acquire mild toxins from the milkweed plant, which they incorporate into their bodies without harm.
These bitter milkweed toxins give the adult Monarch Butterfly a most disagreeable taste. Any birds not already familiar with Monarchs only need to try eating one. They are in for a nasty surprise, an experience they will likely not care to repeat. Thus, other Monarchs are 'protected' by their foul-tasting reputation.
Milkweed as Human Food, and Home Remedy
A natural Food, juvenile Milkweed stalks can be boiled and served like asparagus. The tender leaves can also be boiled and sprinkled with vinegar for bitter greens that is loaded with vitamins. Both of these are improved with the addition of melted butter. Even the immature seedpods are edible in stir-fry. There are many such natural wildfoods in the fields available for eating.
The sticky white sap from the stalk and leaves of the milkweed plant was also used as a remedy for warts. Just apply it to the wart and let it dry. Repeat a few times as necessary and the wart should be sufficiently 'poisoned' and would fall off if the old-time wisdom.
Milkweed Fluff is Usable Too
The green textured pods that every milkweed plant produces contain thousands of seeds, each attached to a silky thread. In late autumn as the plant is beginning to desiccate, these pods split open and release the seeds, each attached to a fluffy parachute. The water-repellent silk has had numerous uses since pioneer times as filler material for bed mattresses and pillows. A type of thread was made that included the fluffy milkweed silk and this thread was often used to produce soft inner-wear like socks.
Milkweed Fluff and Life Vests
Milkweed fluff was used by the military during World War II. The buoyant milkweed fluff was needed to fill life jackets and for use to line the jackets and outerwear of the U.S. Air Force. Schoolchildren would gather the milkweed pods and the pods from all over were sent to be processed at a central location for the Armed Forces. The natural buoyancy of the silken milkweed fibers made ideal filler material for these life vests. Lightweight and very buoyant, just several pounds of milkweed fibers provide enough buoyancy to keep a man afloat.
I am interested in making a pillow stuffed with milkweed fluff. I intend to gather a large amount of mature milkweed fluff this fall and filling an inner-liner of tight-woven linen and closing it up then placing this inside of a washable removable pillowcase. I should have a fairly unique pioneer pillow that is probably every bit as comfortable as the best down pillows.