Swamp Milkweed – Asclepias Incarnata: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Hot Pink Milkweed of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, bu’giso’win meaning “swimming“, swamp milkweed is not as edible and medicinal as its common relation. So we’re all the more talking about how much of an all-star this plant is for pollinator gardens and native landscaping.

Swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata) can be found in the margins of swamps, marshes and other low wet areas. It’s not as prolific as its other swimming friends like joe-pye weed and common milkweed. But once you start spotting this bright pink milkweed in the mix it’ll keep standing out.

Years ago we covered common milkweed and swamp milkweed got a mention in that piece. We’ve also talked about milkweeds in our monarch diary. In the wilds of cottage country, Ontario, common and swamp milkweed are the two you’re most likely to come across. We’ll skim over the human uses here and quickly get to the nitty gritty – why and where to plant these native beauties. And what other milkweeds are native to Ontario.

Swamp Milkweed – Asclepias Incarnata

Edible Uses of Swamp Milkweed

Like common milkweed, the buds can be prepared like broccoli. However, swamp milkweed is not as palatable. It’s also less of a spreader, so we recommend leaving it for pollinators.

Medicinal Uses of Swamp Milkweed

Swamp milkweed is primarily said to support these body systems:

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Medicinal tags include Anthelmintic and Emetic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a purgative root, often cited for tapeworms. But certainly go see a professional if you have a tapeworm infection. Invasive larval infections can be serious.

Swamp Milkweed – Asclepias Incarnata

Alternative Uses of Rose Milkweed

Milkweed fibers can be used to make fish nets, other fine cordage and thread.

Growing Asclepias Incarnata

Growing milkweed from seed can be difficult. The seeds need periods of cold stratification. They could use protection from being eaten as well, perhaps with a light fabric. You can buy divisions or plant carefully prepared seeds in the spring. Swamp milkweed prefers heavy wet soil but may grow in average soil. And it also prefers full sun.

As an early successional plant, it may only live a few years in your butterfly garden. If you have a wet ditch or pond in full sun (or at worst partial shade) that may be a better spot than among overwhelming and more aggressive plants in a bed. Some folks will prefer something like swamp milkweed over common milkweed because its not an aggressive spreader.

Milkweed is the all-star butterfly garden plant, a must in “Monarch Waystations”. The long lasting, vanilla scented flowers of asclepias incarnata will attract many kinds of pollinators including a variety of bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, and even hummingbirds. Besides monarchs, milkweeds are the host plant of swamp milkweed leaf beetles and large milkweed bugs. They even have their own aphid.

There are some other milkweed options here in Ontario to also consider for your native plant landscaping. The orange flowered “butterfly milkweed” is often recommended (check specifically for asclepias tuberosa var. interior and not var. tuberosa. The labels can be confusing and the subspecies var. tuberosa isn’t native to Ontario!)

The other asclepias native to Ontario are dwarf (a. ovalifolia), four leaf (a. quadrifolia), green (a viridiflora), poke (a. exaltata), redring (a. variegata) and whorled (a. verticillata). A rainbow of orange, pink, whites and paler colours to choose from! And the deer won’t eat them, due to that milky latex. Which milkweed have you planted.. or plan to?


Large doses can cause upset stomach and vomiting.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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