Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subvertillata)

Found two Horsetail Milkweed plants this morning when I went out to work on my pathways.  Their flowers are as complex as orchids and beautiful in structure.  Each bloom is tiny, but together make a nice display that isn’t as flashy as some of its cousins because of the softer color.

Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata)

Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata)

I took this at 4X zoom.  The plant is slender with long narrow leaves that whorl around the stem.

Horsetail Milkweed

Horsetail Milkweed

The little flowerbuds are sweet with nectar and have been used as a sweetener or snack.  I only found two plants so far so I want reproduction over a sip of nectar.  This is another tasty floral addition to stirfry or fruit salads.  The high amount of nectar is an important source for butterflies, native bees, ants, and wasps, and is accessed through a tight slit to ensure pollination.  Honeybees frequently get their legs trapped and die.

Like all Milkweeds, this is a Monarch larvae host plant and an anathema to farmers for its toxicity to cattle.  A problem exacerbated by overgrazing.

If you are familiar with Milkweeds, you have seen their big seedpods break open and float the seeds away on gossamer silk.  The seed filaments are hollow and coated with wax which gives them good insulation properties and they are being used as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows.  Oglalla Down is a Nebraska company making pillows, jackets, comforters, yarn, and other products using silk from Horsetail Milkweed’s cousin. Horsetail Milkweed itself has been spun and woven into garments by First Americans.

I was excited to read about its fiber use because it is longer than many other aerial fibers and this is the first specific reference I have seen to spinning and weaving these types of fibers.  From what I am reading, it makes a silky fabric and is also being processed into a feltlike nonwoven material that is incredibly warm even at -22°F and it is 6x more buoyant than cork (used during WWII for life preservers).  Warm and silky!  Fields of Milkweed processed into fabric and felting might bring back the Monarch population.  It is surely better than the down industry wherein geese are plucked live several times, a truly painful thing to contemplate.

I admit to 3 down filled items: a mattress and 2 blankets.  All have leaked some of the down.  Tests show that combining down with Milkweed silk improves both. I will hang on to my down and see about combining it with Horsetail Milkweed silk.  I am more excited by Milkweed fibers than Winterfat because the fibers are longer, and likely easier for spinning by a newby spinner.  No need to retch while retting the fibers, and no loss of seed for reproduction.  Milkweed bast fibers are said to be superior to flax fibers and it is nice that they are perennial.  Of course, bast fibers require retting.

The seeds can be pressed for oil, which is about 25% of the seed.  It is semidrying and tested higher than soybean oil for color retention and flexibility in alkyd paint.

Cold pressed Milkweed seed oil is an anti-inflammatory pain reliever topically used in a balm to relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia, back and neck pain, shingles, TMJ, and arthritis.  Try it before and after workouts, too.

Horsetail Milkweed and some of its cousins are toxic, and medicinal.  Before you consider it as a potential food or medicinal, consider that Milkweeds were used by South Americans and Africans who dipped their arrows in a Milkweed sap concoction to hunt and kill enemies and game.  It contains glycosides that inhibit proper K+ and Ca+ concentration gradients causing heart arrhythmia at best and heart failure at worst.  Some northern Milkweeds have very little of these toxins and some more southern species have so much they are toxic to Monarchs.  I am curious because this has not been cited as a potential threat to Monarch butterfly populations.  I have seen these two referred to as co-dependent species; however, although Monarchs are fully dependent on Milkweeds, Milkweeds view Monarch caterpillars as a pest.  The balance between prey and predator can be upset when one or the other gets a new or improved weapon.  In this case, Milkweed has upped the ante and that may spread through the species.  As far as some having substantially less glycoside poison, some newer milkweeds are growing faster, perhaps helping them to stay ahead of caterpillar predation.  In that case, energy put into glycosides may fall away as being an ineffective use of resources.  Plants are always working on their defenses.

All that said, these are toxic plants and nothing you want the grandkids to chew on unless supervised by a knowledgable herbalist or naturalist who can prepare them for eating.  Positive note is that the more toxic an individual Milkweed plant is, the nastier tasting and they are unlikely to invite more than a brief nibble that gets spit out.  Not a toxic dose.

In all, Horsetail Milkweed is a pretty plant with many uses for my food forest.



About rebeccatreeseed

I am a naturalist raised by naturalists. Treeseed is my earned name, while Rebecca is my birth name. I am of Northern European descent, with a quarter Irish.quarter thrown in. I suspect I was a product of northern invaders into Ireland into Ireland. but hard to say since DNA disproved the family story about Apache blood! I have found some odd ancestors to replace them. Last year I bought 5 acres of pinyon-juniper forest on the side of a mountain in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. I am fulfilling a lifetime dream of a cabin in the mountains and a food forest that will feed me and local wildlife. I want to share this new phase of my life with others that might be interested.
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15 Responses to Horsetail Milkweed (Asclepias subvertillata)

  1. Helen says:

    Great new addition to your food forest.

    Why do you think cotton is so popular when there are plenty of other ways of getting yarn for clothes?

  2. Helen,
    Luck of the draw. Mainly due to mechanization… machines require monoculture to be effective. Crops that are easy to adapt to machines are picked. Cotton was never a big crop until the cotton gin, so it isn’t only field machinery. Long term storage is a factor for food. Understanding how we got here doesn’t change the fact that our bodies are not simple machines and require an amazing variety of nutrition to function well. So many edibles are not adaptable to machines, they have been marginalized and now looked on with suspicion. Ditto cloth fibers. I was amazed to find out about the properties of Milkweed silk. I don’t have the capability yet to spin and weave, but I will. Most of my life I just thought you would need a cotton field and sheep pasture for clothing. Last night I was looking at hand spinning again… for finer threads. You have to wonder how people wore one outfit for years… then cut it down for a child or made a quilt. Our fabrics aren’t 1/10th as durable. Our life is now bent around the needs of machines and we are suffering for it.

  3. Helen says:

    Yes, I have often wondered how I the past clothes could be so much more durable.

    Another factor could be the fact that clothes would have been washed less often and by hand, which would have been less damaging.

    • Dryers eat clothing. All that stuff that ends up in the lint trap is your clothes! I hang my things to dry… for at least 20 years. It helps.
      It is interesting to challenge “normal” and look at other ways. I suppose I trust “normal” less than most, it seems too fragile. I own enough clothing to last my lifetime and fabric and yarn to last past that. I did sew my clothes most of my life. I don’t like One World, it lacks resilience and more prone than nations to controlling behavior.

      • Helen says:

        What is ‘One World’. I don’t use a drier, so I guess that helps. But I think my washing machine has lost its temperature gauge, so the colours fade. The material also gets thinner over time, so skirts become see-through, for example.

  4. One World is the trend toward globalization. I consider TPP part of that. It puts a corporate council above nation states and sovereignty. EU is part of that too. Even more, the splitting up of the most basic survival needs across the globe. So that we lose the ability to take care of ourselves in any meaningful way. It requires each person fit into a niche determined by others. May be my generation. We have to be plugged into the matrix. Matrix plugs require a lot of conformity. Like having to conform your diet to machines. You can see the sense in it but… it doesn’t work for human beings. We will have to evolve into something not human to do it.

  5. Helen says:

    Thank you for the clarification. Is the term ‘one world’ your designation or one that is commonly (in say America)?

    • I think it is common enough here. The first time I remember hearing it was TWA, Trans World Airlines had an advertising campaign about One World. 40 years ago? Doctors without borders. There has been a push toward globalization for a long time. A push to united Canada, US, and Mexico. Mexicans want free entry into the US but have extreme regulations against US citizens entering Mexico. One way street. I lived in Mexico a while, it was quite restrictive. That was when I decided that we should restrict Mexican nationals. I could not buy property, get a job, get free medical care, or send my son to public school even as a legal resident. I never have been one to get into abusive relationships 😉

      • Helen says:

        I think the concept of globalisation is complex. I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to work in various countries, both as a European citizen and outside Europe. At the same time, the loss of local control and identity is distressing all the way around the world. And I didn’t work in other countries to live in Little Britain.

  6. Helen
    I would be distressed if the US split up. We fought the Civil War over it. Still, I have lived in various states and they are all different but all USA. I think the US has had to deal with that whole problem of losing local sovereignty to national sovereignty and it is not always pleasant. We turn around and pit the feds against states when we don’t get our way. It is complex, like marriages and families are complex. I believe in self-sufficiency because globalization takes our very survival needs and puts that in someone else’s hands. Water, food, shelter are so basic and I would keep that as much under my own control as I can. Personal sovereignty as it were. Trade? Sure. Survival? Nope.

  7. Helen says:

    The U.K. is actually a collection of different countries. Does it work? Could it work if each unit was independent? I guess we will find out if there is a second referendum for Scottish independence.

    As for self-sufficiency, I’m a very independent person. But that does have its drawbacks, too. Plus, in Britain there just isn’t enough land for people not to work together.

    • Europe worked for millenia without the EU so I think it would be fine, and Europe was a hotbed of innovation at the time. I don’t believe globalization is the only way. Like me, you grew up with “united” states and would miss it. I think there was always a lot of travel between countries before, they are small. We fight so much here, people want to split up. The globalist corporations (richer than all but a couple countries) want to be in charge now with One World and a hierarchical corporate structure.
      May You Live In Interesting Times.
      We do.

      • Helen says:

        I think the corporations are a big problem irrespective of any other considerations.

        Europe wasn’t really working any better before the Common Market, I don’t think – one hideous war after another which created the impetus for this Market. It’s just become more and more powerful, unfortunately, and brought new problems because of it.

  8. A very interesting Latin name – Asclepius surely suggests it has been regarded as highly useful as a medicinal herb? Looking it up, I note it has long been used in the treatment of pleurisy and especially asthma/bronchitis, e.g. in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. A. tuberosa is used even more extensively, seems to have an effect against bleeding and is also used externally for bruises. However, a warning is there to use with caution, as you say. Does it have a role in homeopathy, I wonder?

  9. Sylvia
    The family has long usage but I don’t think this member has been tested much, so I may test it myself. I did taste it to see if it has high or low glycosoides, I think it is on the low end of the spectrum, meaning it may be edible if prepared properly. There is enough variation in the family that I didn’t want to extrapolate too mucj, but just kept that info in my notes as a possibility.
    Plant families are amazing.

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