Butterfly feeding on Swamp Milkweed flowers taken in Naperville
IL. (photo by provided by Teune)
The Citizen Potawatomi Nation, along with the monarch
habitat rebuilding initiatives, is working with six other Oklahoma-based
Native American tribes, the Euchee Butterfly Farm and
the University of Kansas Monarch Watch to help restore
the monarch population. CPN members and employees have learned that
milkweed is a very important plant to monarch butterflies. The plant,
native to many areas in the tribes jurisdiction in Pottawatomie
County, it is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat,
so it is typically where they lay eggs.
Milkweed is abundant in the midwestern and northern states and
was traditionally a special spring treat for Potawatomi people.
During certain times of year, there are specific ways milkweed can
be pruned to promote growth, such as cutting the tops off the plant.
By doing this, the Potawatomi people have been assisting monarchs
and milkweed growth for many years.
I know almost every Potawatomi and Kickapoo in Kansas
eats them. Im pretty sure up into Wisconsin they do too,
Enedina Banks, CPN Language Department employee and a Prairie Band
Potawatomi member, said of the milkweed plant. They are a
delicacy of sorts as they are picked at certain times of the year.
In Kansas, where the Prairie Band Potawatomi live, nenwejek, or
milkweed, is plentiful. Actually, as soon as you drive into Kansas
from Oklahoma on the highway you see them everywhere; its
Banks shared her familys recipe for cooking nenwejek,
which can be identified by velvet fuzz covering the entire plant
and large leaves.
First, identify the milkweed by breaking a leaf or stalk and
seeing if it exudes a large amount of white, milky fluid. You can
also taste the plant to see if it is slightly sweet. If it is bitter,
do not eat it.
Next, cut only the top four inches off of the plant prior to
them blooming. There is about a two week window in early spring
when these plants are ready for harvest.
Parboil the milkweed for one minute, discard the water and heat
them in fresh water with pieces of bacon and dumplings on low until
they are tender. To make the dumplings, put flour in a bowl with
enough water to make little chunky dumplings and the extra flour
will make the soup creamy.
Potawatomi people have always cared for the environment, so
planting and eating the milkweed plant assists in the rebuilding
of the monarch population and can connect tribal members to their