The Start of a New Down: A common weed takes on an unusual purpose

Is this what game-changing insulation looks like? [Photo] Nancy Hayden

Is this what game-changing insulation looks like? [Photo] Nancy Hayden

Milkweed isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when considering insulation materials. But the Canadian Coast Guard has other ideas and is testing the pods as a potential environmentally friendly insulation.

The Coast Guard works in partnership with Encore3, a manufacturing company in Québec, to prototype parkas, gloves and mittens made with milkweed insulation. And the appeal of the pod is threefold: it’s roughly five times lighter than synthetic insulation, is hypoallergenic and helps out monarch butterfly populations—milkweed is the primary food source for monarch caterpillars.


John Hayden poses with his latest crop yield. [Photo] Nancy Hayden

The new venture also presents opportunity for farms, like Cambridge, Vt.’s The Farm Between, to harvest and send the plant to Encore3. “Milkweed is grown as an intercrop between the rows in our apple orchard to increase biodiversity and to provide a host plant for monarch caterpillars,” says John Hayden, half of the husband/wife team who operate The Farm Between. “Monarch populations are in serious decline, and the two things we can do to help on the land we steward are to not use pesticides and provide milkweed habitat.”

This year, the Haydens harvested 500 pounds of milkweed, and the funds generated will go toward pollinator education. A new spin on insulation that’s lightweight and wholesome? Outdoor industry, take note.


  1. Milkweed is also an important ally of the respiratory system in Medical Herbalism.

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