Pokeweed

"A weed is simply a plant that you don't know what to do with."
Author Unknown

So much of the vegetation and trees were unfamiliar to us when we first moved to Oak Hill. We hadn't lived in the South before, and many of the shrubs and other plants were mysteries to us.



I was especially interested in edibles, of course. We moved in late summer, so the pokeberries were ripening. Wisely, I ask before I eat. I was warned early on to avoid these berries, which cause gastric distress and a host of other serious unpleasantness, and even in some cases, death. 


The leaves of young pokeweed are edible in the spring, but only after being boiled several times in a process that makes it safe to eat. "Poke salad" is well-loved here in Oklahoma. 


This is a medium-sized leaf in spring, still tender. I'm told that when the plant stems or stalks are larger in diameter than your little finger, the leaves are too tough to eat. The stems are a reddish color, as you can see in the photo below:


I usually find pokeweed growing along our fencelines and under trees, evidence that birds eat the berries and distribute the seeds. The plants are perennial shrubs, growing quite tall even in drought years. Most that I've seen are about four feet tall, but some that use my fences for support have grown up to six feet. Perhaps "shrub" isn't quite the right word, since the plants die down each fall and grow back from the roots in the spring. 

Pokeweed leaves grow to be quite large, and are tapered at both ends. Greenish-white flowers develop in long clusters in the summer, and develop into the purple-black berries in July to September.


The leaves and roots have long been used in folk medicine to treat chronic rheumatism and arthritis, and the berries used as ink and dye. My horses often have purple stains on their heads and legs from contact with pokeberries. 


I prefer to cut down the plants near the house and barn so that I don't worry about my young grandchildren eating the berries when they come to visit. The plants are hard to eradicate since they have a very long tap root, so I just cut them off at ground level several times a year. The stems quickly become thick and tough to cut, so it's a job I have to keep up on throughout the spring and summer.



Disclaimer: Remember, before using this or any herb or plant, please research it fully.
You are responsible for your own health.




Other posts in this series:
Plantain
Woolly Mullein
Wild Onions
Echinacea
Yarrow
How to Harvest Yarrow
Pokeweed
Lambsquarters
Curly Dock
Vetch
DIY Herb Field Guide



This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


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