Milkweed History

Throughout history Milkweed was used for medicine, food and fiber. Eighteenth century Europeans used milkweed for numerous home remedies including removing warts and age spots. The plant was considered so useful that in 1753 Carl Linnaeus named milkweed Asclepias, after the Greek god of healing. Native Americans included milkweed in their diets and early Canadians made a type of sweetener from milkweed flowers. Seventeenth century Europeans wove milkweed silk into clothing and Native Americans used the warm milkweed clusters to line their children’s cradles, swaddle their babies and line their buffalo robes.

During World War II school children collected milkweed pods so that the fluff could be used to fill Mae West Life Jackets. The motto of the day was “Two bags save one life!” meaning two bags of milkweed fluff would keep a downed serviceman afloat for days. Scientists attempted to create rubber from milkweed but concentrations of latex were too small for commercial purposes. During the energy crisis in the 1970’s Standard Oil of Ohio used milkweed to produce synthetic crude oil but the project was not cost effective. Later Standard Oil and Kimberly-Clark collaborated to develop facial tissues with milkweed Clusters but the project was abandoned when BP sold the Milkweed Project.

Troubled Present

In many parts of the United States milkweed stands are disappearing due to urban sprawl and land-use practices such as farming with crops that are genetically modified to resist herbicides. The herbicides kill milkweed that grows around farm fields. Due to the disappearing milkweed stands, the number of Monarch butterflies is decreasing at an alarming rate.

Hopeful Future

Monarch Flyway seeks to preserve and restore Monarch butterfly habitat by developing commercially successful products using milkweed. We are looking for fellow innovators so more Monarch habitat can be protected as we expand the Monarch Flyway. 

The future of monarch butterflies looks brighter due to initiatives such as ours, seeking to find commercially successful businesses for milkweed raw materials, the monarch caterpillar's host plant. Uses for milkweed are limited only by your imagination. Explore, invent, imagine, dream, join the Milkweed Movement to transfigure a weed into something beautiful and valued knowing that your actions can and will change the world. Persistence, passion, and vision.

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