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Mystery Solved: Pokeweed


pokeweed by beautifulcataya

image by beautifulcataya

I am so excited that with a visit to one of my regular reads, I solved a little mystery.  I have these plants growing behind my vegetable garden and on my aging compost heap that were  previously unknown to me.  They are so huge and happy seeming, and they are the on the fringes of the evolved areas of our garden, that I couldn’t bear to to take them down and I have left them to do whatever they do all season.  Pleasantly, I have been rewarded with these beautiful berries.  Not knowing what they are, I have cut some to use in an arrangement that I am donating to my daughters PTO fundraiser.

pokeweed by JKissnHug

image by JKissnHug

Anyway, when I went over the see what Dana was doing in Italy, I saw with joy an Italian description of my giant weeds.  A little translation and now I know that I am the proud involuntary grower of Pokeweed.

poke berry poke weed by T i s d a l e

image by T i s d a l e

So on my quest to understand this rather happy plant and see if I can harness its virtues in some better fashion, I did a little research.

This is the most interesting stuff I found over at WaynesWord:

“Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a robust perennial potherb native to the eastern United States. It belongs to the pokeweed family (Phytolaccaceae), a small family found mostly in Africa and the New World. In addition to pokeweed, it also includes several enormous South American trees and some unusual serpentine vines of the tropics. Poke is derived from the Algonquian Indian word “pakon” or “puccoon,” referring to a dye plant used for staining. It is sometimes spelled polk and the leaves were reportedly worn by enthusiastic supporters during the campaign of James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States. The generic name Phytolacca is derived from the Greek word phyton (plant) and the French lac (lake–a dark red pigment), referring to the crimson juice of ripe berries. Pokeweed may grow to nine feet tall, with large, alternate leaves and a carrotlike taproot. It may become a very invasive weed in southern California gardens and is difficult to eradicate when it becomes well-established. Greenish-white flowers are produced in long clusters (racemes) that droop due to the weight of ripening fruit. The flattened berries change from green to shiny purplish-black. Ripe berries yield a crimson juice that was used as a substitute for red ink and to enhance the color of pale wines. The coloring of wine with pokeweed berries has been discouraged because they are very poisonous.”

poke salet greens pokeweed

“Freshly cut young leaves and shoots may be cooked and eaten like spinach. They should be boiled twice, and the first water being discarded. In 1969, when astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a popular song on the radio was “Poke Salad Annie.” The song depicted a poor southern girl who picked a wild plant called pokeweed for a vegetable. The greens are also called poke salet, and they are sometimes canned and sold in markets.”

I love how plants have this way of seeping into our cultural consciousness from al angles. We eat them, they play a huge parts in our history, we sing about them, they define regions and their menus. So interesting do you think?

So one final thing….Dana clearly had the same idea as me — she has this lovely arrangement of pokeweed in her home right now…beautiful….I hope my arrangements come out as nice…I will share if they do.

dana garden design pokeweed arrangement

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  1. dana says:

    WOW ..we are on the same botanical-line… perhaps witches
    kiss Dana

  2. louise garwood says:

    Living down south for 11 years, we had neighbors who used poke (before it became 1′ high) for spring greens (high mineral and calcium content) cooked with fat back. Then with fall the berries became body paint for our kids- seeds are the toxic part- so they were always told not to eat but the juice made a great stain! Then the old folks would harvest some root after the plant went dormant and chopped small, made into a tincture (steeped several weeks in 100% alcohol) for stimulating the immune system, defense against colds and flu, so they said. Russian, Native American and contemporary herbalists all list it as beneficial. Your own backyard pharmacy. Versatile, healing, fun and beautiful! Lovely arrangement dana!

  3. Check this pokeberry ink out! I’m SO doing this! http://www.curiousgood.com/?page_id=324

  4. Keli says:

    Please be careful. Pokeweed is very poisonous–the whole thing, not just the berries. It’s a plant that may be beneficial, but it needs to be treated with a great deal of respect and considerable knowledge.

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