Phytolacca americana - Pokeweed


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Pretty prevalent - considered a weed by some.

Pokeweed Family (Phytolaccaceae)

A tall, big-leaved plant with magenta stems and conical clusters of small white flowers. Leave are 5 - 12" long and elliptic, tapering at both ends. Flowers are 1/4" wide without petals.

July to September (Fruit: September to August)

Edges of rich woods, clearing, roadsides, waste places.

Poke is an easy plant to identify, especially later in the season. It's vivid magenta stems towering 10-12 feet high are frequent roadside visitors. These stems are hollow affairs punctuated by tough membranes, making a series of hollow chambers, no doubt for support, as late in autumn many groups have fallen over under the weight of a huge amount of deep voilet, almost black berries. The flowers, composed of 5 white petal-like appendages, already seem to have a green hard berry inside, ready to inflate. Once these berries ripen, they are filled with a bright pink juice that stains the skin, like a deep birthmark. I confess, for fun, i've painted my whole hand and arm with poke, and it doesn't take many berries to do this. It only lasts thru 2 or 3 bathings, however. I seemed to have no ill effects, other than askance looks and comments, and some books indicate that it was used like this by indians.




A close-up of the actual flowers show that even without true petals, a flower can be attractive.


Poke, when picked April and May and up to 8" tall - before the leaves toughen and get more poisonous - is a great early spring leafy green. "Sallet" is both an Old English and Mountain Hill-folk word meaning "cooked greens", (Just like the word "Victuals" and "Vittles") and is NOT the same as "salad" which implies uncooked. Poke, even when young and tender - and any reddish part of the root cut away - needs to be boiled for 20-30 minutes, with at least 2 changes of boiling water at a minute each. The resulting greens are like a sort of wild-tasting asparagus and should be eaten that way. Some people have said they then pickle the shoots in hot vinegar, but i've not tried this. Anyway, it is rich in minerals and vitamins, and a tasty reprieve from hard store-bought greens.



My observations about this plant can be found at:


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