Useful Plant: Pokeweed

Ok, so this plant has very limited uses for humans, but it has a few. I discovered this beautiful pokeweed plant growing in the corner of the pasture where it was apparently able to dodge the tractor mowing!

Practically a pokeweed *tree* surrounded by volunteer coneflowers. I have no idea where any of them came from–were they ALL pooped out by a bird sitting on that fence?

Pokeweed ( Phytolacca americana) plants at this stage are poisonous. Birds enjoy the berries, but humans should not eat them. It is also known as pokebush, pokeberry, poke, pokeroot, polk salad, polk sallet, inkberry, pigeon berry, cancer root, red ink plant, shang-lu (Chinese), congora (Spanish), coakum, scoke, red weed.

On one site they said many Civil War letters sent home were written with pokeweed berry ink! The Native Americans used it as a dye for feathers. I wonder how it would work on wool.

Culinary uses from :       “A salad is made of the young leaves (less than 8 inches long) which must be cooked in two changes of salted water before serving so as to leach out any toxic components (10 minutes the first time, 5 minutes the next). You may have heard the term poke salet. Do not eat the mature leaves because they can be emetic. The Portuguese have used the berries to color wine. Cooked berries have been made into pies. Never eat raw berries.” Other sources state it is the seeds of the berries that are toxic, not the berries.

It apparently is toxic to livestock, but my guys just ignore it. According to Wikipedia it is a treat for Cardinals, Catbirds, Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers.

The flowers are pink, the berries turn from green to dark purple, and the white part is where the berries were picked off.

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6 Responses to Useful Plant: Pokeweed

  1. Laura says:

    Pokeberry dye on wool is a bright magenta. I’ve used it on wool and on baskets. However, it is what is called a “fugitive” dye – it fades away fairly quickly. I’m surprised it was used to write letters. A basket dyed with it will be dreary looking in a few months. I’ve not heard of a mordant that would keep it true.
    The good news is all those brilliant splats on your decking and driveway will also fade away. Birds sure must love it since so many of those splats are falling from the sky…

  2. Julie, I’ve never seen that plant around here. Thanks for sharing those great pics! Every plant is useful for one thing or the other. All we have to do is figure out exactly what! “:)

  3. Glory Lennon says:

    How I love/hate this plant. Love to see it once its grown–the berries are rather pretty– but hate that it shows up where I don’t want it and it spreads everywhere. OY!

  4. Mona says:

    My mother cooked poke salet when I was a young girl. I never knew the cooking process or even if she followed the one Julie posted. The taste of poke was somewhat bitter (at least the way she cooked it) but it was quite edible. We also ate cooked lambs quarters and some other wild greens including wild onions. I never liked wild onions cooked with eggs, but apparently lots of people in OK treated them like a delicacy.
    Growing up, we always had a great vegetable garden and usually a bounty crop. Mom was the manager of course. A few feet away from the garden was a bed of wild garlic. She was a gatherer as well as a planter and also knew where to find sassafras root and we had fresh tea when it was in season.

  5. Tracy Stoermer says:

    I got a beautifully rich burgundy color on wool thanks to the book “Harvesting Color” by Rebecca Burgess. Vinegar is the *only* mordant that will get the color to hold, and there is a 25:1 berry weight to wool weight ratio, so be prepared to spend the day harvesting, plucking, squishing and simmering. But well worth the effort – such a fabulous color…

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