"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:
Woolly Mullein
Wild Onions
How to Harvest Yarrow
Curly Dock
DIY Herb Field Guide

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


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  1. Oooh, thanks for posting this with all the fantastic pictures! I've had a mysterious plant making itself known in the backyard, and it pops back up like crazy every time hubby mows, and I'm pretty sure it's pokeweed now. The stalk and leaves look identical to what you've posted.

    1. You're welcome, Rebekah. I'm glad it helped you identify the plant. I like knowing what's growing!

  2. I love finding local foods! We recently moved to Arizona and it has been interesting finding local food in the desert. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit!

  3. Heidi, isn't it amazing to find food and medicine growing wild? I'm really enjoying the education too.

  4. Kathi, I remember poke weed from when we lived in NC! I miss the South! I pinned this to my Children's Garden/Homesteading board and invite you to pin there, if you feel you have something to share. Its meant to inspired all ages of children, not just littles, in this homesteading lifestyle. You'll need to follow the board so that I can send you an invite; here's a link, if you'd like to preview it. Cheers! http://www.pinterest.com/homesteadlady/childrens-gardenshomesteading/

  5. Anonymous12:17 PM

    We call it poke stalk and poke berries around here. They can be quite the nuisance. I've always wondered how the birds could eat the berries (I've seen it happen) and not get sick. My Grandma and Mama like battered and fried poke leaves. I believe you boil them or just soak them alot and them batter them in a flour/cornmeal/pepper mixture and them fry them. All my aunts and uncles love them. Me....not so much.

  6. Thanks for the knowledge!! Great post with great pictures. Are you a professional herbalist, or do you just dabble? I wish I knew you IRL!

  7. I've only heard of them served boiled like spinach, although you have to boil them and change the water several times for it to be safe. Battered and fried is new to me. I guess it depends on what you ate as a child; those things seem "normal".

  8. Hi Rose, I'm not a professional herbalist... I'm just learning as I go. There is a wealth of medicine and food outside my door and I like knowing what something is, what kind of tree or plant or bird I'm looking at. I wish you were near enough to know in real life too. :-)

  9. I've seen this at the farm where I volunteer on weekends. You're so knowledgeable about these wild plants!

  10. I still have a lot to learn, Daisy!

  11. Fascinating! I'll be featuring this post tomorrow at Tuesdays with a Twist! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  12. Thank you, Marci! I'll be sure to come visit.

  13. Great post, Kathi, on an old fav wild edible. Love the photos of the berries.

  14. Thank you, Janet. I'm glad you liked the photos.

  15. They grow all over my backyard.I pick the tender leaves in the spring and take it to my Mom. Mom is 90 and my Dad is 96. She boils the leaves and then cooks them in scrambled eggs. She and my oldest brother loves them.

  16. I'm sure your mother appreciates it your effort, slowjoco. What a nice thing to do for her.

  17. We live in MO. And oh how we hate polk. We can run over it with the lawnmower, the tractor, and its right back. Yes, we have tried to rid the fence lines, to no avail. I appreciate it's food value but some things are a bit too much trouble! :) LOL Out in the field, the live stock seem to enjoy it. I understand that area artisans use the berries to dye wool and cloth.

    Just want you to know also how much I enjoy your blog. ~ Mrs. C

  18. Thank you, Mrs. C. I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

    Poke is a pain. Now that my granddaughter is old enough to know not to eat those pretty berries, I've stopped trying so hard to eradicate it -- but when my little grandsons come to visit I'll be out there chopping down the current year's growth before they arrive. It's nearly impossible to get rid of. Oh well, the berries feed the birds.


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