Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, aka Poke Salet, is an interesting plant. It can be eaten when the right steps are taken to prepare young foliage, and the berries can be used to make a natural red dye, but it is also extremely toxic.
I want to let you know before you go any further that Pokeweed is not a plant to be trifled with. Most of the other plants I talk about are harmless, even if taken in larger quantities for the most part. But hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Learn to respect this plant, or she can really mess you up.
NOTE: I will add pictures as the plants appears in my yard for you guys to look at.
Pokeweed is very common in the South, and appears early in the year. It does grow elsewhere though, it just isn’t native to the more northern parts of the U.S.. It is perennial, and mainly grows in sunny yet protected areas, like the edges of woods. I have quite a few that like to grow around the oak trees in my front yard. Some can be found in full sun, others in complete shade. I find it in shaded areas here in East Texas for the most part. The plants I have found in full sun get pretty droopy and pitiful under the stress of the Texas heat, which is pretty intense in the summer.
Poke is a bright green that stands out against most other greens you will find in nature. Stem starts out green, but turns red as it matures. The youngest part of the stem at the top of the plants may stay green after the rest of the plant has turned red.
The leaves are hairless with veins that alternate along the stem, edges are kind of ruffled and only scalloped a little bit. The leaves can grow over 10″ long.
Flowers appear in a swirling pattern around a flower spike. One plant will have multiple. These flowers will turn into green berries that will then ripen to a dark purplish to black color with bright red juice. Flower spikes can be as long as your hand.
Mature plants can grow over 5′ in one summer, making it one of the fastest growing plants in Texas.
Only young greens, boiled in 3 changes of water, 5 minutes each should be eaten. Any red coloring means it should not be eaten even if boiled. Greens need to be picked before any red coloring appears on the plant, no taller than 6″-12″. Mind you, these plants can actually grow into small trees if you let them. Vitamin C content is reduced with all the cooking, but it is still loaded with all sorts of other vitamins and minerals that can withstand the processing.
Even the young shoots contain highly toxic alkaloids, which is why they must be boiled.
For a safe Vitamin C source, check out my Pine Tree Series. Pine needles make a wonderful tea loaded with Vitamin C.
Seeds are very toxic even after cooking and should never be ingested, but the juice from berries can be made safe by boiling. Boiled juice can be made into jam, or used to make dye or ink.
The root is highly toxic, and should be handled with gloves. For the most part, people say it should only be used by trained experts for its medicinal qualities, but you can find a wonderful video here on making a poke root tincture. If you have some common sense and can follow directions, you will be fine.
Video does have some language if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, but this lady is AMAZING in her herbal knowledge. I also quite enjoy her reference of plants as ladies. Maybe that is just me. 😀
Poke root is a lymph flow stimulator and is anti-inflammatory, anti-swelling, and anti-bacterial. Poke root tincture has been used to kill breast cancer, but in a very drastic way, which entails it eating away at the tissue from the outside in…I don’t get any pretty pictures in my head when thinking about it, but if you are that desperate, there is always a way. I don’t recommend it though.
If you are really interested in making a tincture from poke root, please watch the video linked above in full before hand.
You can check out Foraging Texas for wonderful in-depth pictures on identifying this plant until I can add my own later. This is the time of year they start appearing and I wanted to tell you all about it now, but that also means I don’t have pictures yet. It is relatively easy to spot though, especially if it has berries, if you know what you are looking for.
My main reason for this post today was to show you that even the dangerous plants are useful, but I want you to fully research it through multiple resources before attempting anything with it, so check out the links in this post.
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Emma Lee Joy