November 19, 2012

Pokeweed

Once a week a young lady comes over and rides the horses with me. She often asks me "what kind of bird is that?" or "what is that flower?"

Last week it occurred to me that while I've been showing her the good things that grow here, I should also be showing her the bad things. She was walking past a large pokeweed plant after filling the horses' water trough from the tank. I told her to study that plant for a few minutes until I could get over there.
The Free Dictionary defines pokeweed as:
"A tall North American plant (Phytolacca americana) having small white flowers, blackish-red berries clustered on long drooping racemes, and a poisonous root. Parts used: fruit, leaves, stems, roots; uses: laxative, emetic, rheumatism, pruritus, upper respiratory ailments, antifungal, antiviral, antitumor; precautions: pregnancy, lactation, children, ulcers (stomach and duodenal), possible toxicity; known to cause respiratory depression, coma, and death. Also called cancer jalap, cancer root, changras, coakum, crowberry, garget, pigeonberry, pocon, pokeberry, poke salad, redink plant, redwood, scoke, txiu kub nyug, or Virginia poke."
I told her that although there are good foods growing wild here, such as blackberries and persimmons, there are also things to be cautious of, and this is one of them. DO NOT EAT THESE BERRIES. In fact, don't eat ANYTHING if you are not 100% sure of what it is.


You can eat young poke greens with proper preparation. This info is freely available on websites so I'll let you do your own research.


Here at Oak Hill the pokeberry or pokeweed plants grow in the fencelines, spread there by birds who've eaten berries and then deposited the seeds while sitting on my fences. Many of the bushes are 4-6 feet tall and quite bushy. By now, they've been nipped by frost so they are rather straggly. The photo below was taken earlier this year:


My friend said the berries remind her a bit of blueberries in appearance, but later on as they mature they kind of pucker at the end and flatten out to resemble thick buttons or beads. The berries are white when they are immature, and then change to green and finally to a purpley-black color. The trunks and branches are red this time of year and easily recognized.


The stems that hold the berries resemble that of grape clusters, but unlike grapes, the berries grow in long rows rather than in a bunch.


At least once a summer, one of my horses will have a dark purple splotch or streak on its head, neck, or leg. My heart will momentarily stop while I think it's dried blood, but after a moment I realize it's poke juice. The horse either stuck its head against a bush or otherwise crushed a berry or two.

The important thing is don't eat the berries.


~~~~~

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