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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Hildegard

Milkweed (Asclepias species)

Small clusters of colorful flowers, a distinctly milky latex sap, and of course those spectacular seed pods that burst into fluffs which take flight on the wind. Milkweeds are a common sight throughout much of North and South America. Tropical varieties are native to parts of Africa and Asia. Milkweeds are charming perennial plants that perform well in the garden.



One of their essential functions is to attract pollinators to the garden. In particular milkweeds are famous as a host plant for monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. In truth they are useful to many other butterflies as well as bees and other insects. The nectar of the milky weed will bring many visitors to the garden who will in turn enrich the biodiversity of all manner of flowering plants. It's a win-win.



As magic is concerned with manipulating and strengthening the bonds between objects, spirits, and living beings in the world of phenomena, and since greater biodiversity equals greater robustness within living systems, the presence of milkweed in the magically constructed garden is a total potentiator.


One of the more interesting folkloric angles on milkweed species lies in their Linnean latin name, "Asclepias". Asclepius was the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing. He was the son of Apollo, a very interesting god with both solar and chthonic roles. Asclepius's temples were famous sites of miraculous healing. Those mortals who served him were known as "Therapeutai (Θεραπευταί)". They provided healing services at his temple sites.


He's commonly depicted with the "Rod of Asclepius", a staff with a single serpent coiled around it. This symbol of healing has often been confused with the Cadecus, Hermes' staff, and the Cadecus image has become a common one in hospitals and medical contexts in the present day.

It's not used so often in contemporary herbalism, but a certain species of milkweed (A. tuberosa) was once a much beloved remedy given the name Pleurisy root. It was used to drain excess fluid from the lungs. Medicinal use of milkweed species has been documented in the traditional practices of the Omaha, Dakota, and Ponca peoples, among other native American groups. The "fluff" of the milkweed seeds carries them far and wide, helping them spread to new areas. This fluff is used today as a hypoallergenic pillow stuffing.



Consider milkweed for spells involving healing or attracting worthy collaborators. Or simply grow it to enrich the connections flowing through the magical garden, to haunt it with many beings visible and invisible.



Identification & Growing Info

 

Once true leaves appear, milkweeds are easy to spot with their elongated leaf shapes and "compass rose" or "plus sign" growth pattern.The leaves tend to grow in this even fashion:


Some milkweeds may require cold stratification to sprout. This can be performed in the fridge if you're eager to grow milkweed. If you scattered seeds and didn't see milkweed babies, wait until the following spring and you may spot some.


Once established they need little care and their seeds will spread naturally (via fluff on the wind)


Different species grow a little differently, but in general they top out around 5 feet tall. 3 feet tall is more likely. They've got a generally upright growth habit, meaning they're taller than they are wide. Milkweeds often spring up in clumps in the wild or in gardens where they're left to spread.


 

Note: this is part of series of posts connected with the release of the Mystery Seed Packs. These posts are intended to provide solid plant identification info as well as basic magical and esoteric uses. They are not exhaustive, but introductory. An invitation to deeper relations...

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