Thursday, August 18, 2011


Fruit of Phytolacca americana, Pokeweed, in mid-August, Brooklyn

Probably everyone has played the game of "how did this become food?" while eating dinner. Well, my guess about pokeweed is that people were looking at the pretty colors of this native plant, and at what looked like really gorgeous fruit (miniature dangling brandywines in the wild perhaps, that unfortunately contain toxins making them inedible for most mammals) for so long that they just had to come up with a way to eat it. Eventually, they ended up with poke salad with the young spring greens in the south, though even then the recommendation is for cooked leaves only and with two water changes to rinse out the toxins.

Peterson's Field Guide of Medicinal Plants describes pokeweed as a "coarse, large-rooted perennial" and if you've ever tried to dig this plant up out of a garden or yard, you know that's not an exaggeration. Its tremendous thick taproot is one of the features that make this American native a tenacious survivor. Peterson's describes one of the plant's medicinal uses as cathartic, which in this book doesn't mean that it was used to free people from their pentup anxieties, but rather that a trip to the outhouse was advisable in the near future.

My favorite random tidbit of information about this plant comes from wikipedia though:
-A rich brown dye can be made by soaking fabrics in fermenting berries in a hollowed-out pumpkin.


sarah said...

YESSS!!! victory! I have spotted this plant on two occasions, both times far from home, and had no idea what it was and no easy way to ID it. Mystery solved. Thanks!

sarah said...

And that hot pink stem! Wow! (Things were still green - stem and berry - last time I saw this.)

Sweetgum Thursday said...

Happy to oblige. Have a good run and a walk through you wildflowers.