I love this tidy little plant, blooming now across our meadows--and so do the Monarch larvae that feed on it exclusively. Like other milkweeds, this one (Asclepius asperula) contains toxic cardiac glycosides, which makes the adult Monarch distasteful (truly!) to potential predators--a handy way to stay alive in the highly competitive world of nature. We have plenty of this lovely little flower in our pastures: our cows won't eat it, for the same reason that birds won't eat Monarchs. It's toxic. And it tastes bad.
This plant has healing properties, too: it's been used to treat various lung ailments and as a tonic to strengthen the heart. I think about this as I walk the dogs in the morning. These days, we all need strong hearts--and just the sight of this little perennial gladdens mine. It's a native inhabitant of this place, truly at home in its small and very ordinary corner of the earth, as I aspire to be. And that, all by itself, is a healing thought, and I'm grateful.
You probably know that Monarchs are in trouble, and that the situation is likely to worsen. As a Monarch food, milkweed is indispensable, but as our wildlands are disappearing, so is this wild plant. For more information and seeds, check out this site. For information on planting and harvesting native milkweeds, look here.
On the road this weekend: heading to Houston for a talk tomorrow at the Herb Day Symposium and a book signing at Murder by the Book on Sunday. I'll be in New Braunfels next week, if you're in the neighborhood.
In the garden. The squash, cantaloupe, cucumbers, and zucchini are up and thriving. We'll have fresh new cabbage next week; this week, it's been snow peas. My favorite easy way to serve snow peas: steam them in the microwave, add to hot gnocchi, serve with butter and fresh parsley. There's something sacred (I don't use this word lightly) about eating food we've grown in the soil of the place where we live. If we could do that just once every day, just think how much more closely we would be connected to our place, to our planet.
Reading note. To inhabit a place means literally to have made it a habit, to have made it the custom and ordinary practice of our lives, to have learned how to wear a place like a familiar garment, like the garments of sanctity that nuns once wore. The word habit, in its now-dim original form, meant "to own." We own places not because we possess the deeds to them, but because they have entered the continuum of our lives.--Paul Gruchow