poke, poke sallet, red ink plant, crowberry, cancer root, coakum, chongras
Pokeweed is a native American perennial that produces terminal clusters of fragrant white flowers in the mid to late summer followed by attractive purple berries that taste pretty awful to humans but are enjoyed by a variety of birds. The plant can grow to a height of 10 feet. The reddish stem deepens in color as the plant matures.
Pokeweed can be found along roadsides, in ditches and fields and its favorite spot, the sunny edges of forests.
Pokeweed in History and Folklore
The United States Declaration of Independence was written in fermented pokeberry juice.
European settlers were introduced to pokeweed by Native Americans. They liked it so much they took it back to Europe where it grows wild today. Native Americans used pokeweed for food, medicine, dye and to paint their horses. Poke salet (young poke greens, boiled twice) is historically a popular southern dish.
The seed may be slow to germinate, it may take several months, but it germinates readily in moist (but not wet), rich soil at moderate temperatures. Pokeweed prefers a sunny position but doesn’t mind a little bit of shade.
Despite its toxicity, pokeweed is an impressive and even somewhat ornamental plant when in bloom and in fruit. Several birds eat the berries, including mourning doves, cardinals, mockingbirds, and catbirds and the larvae of some caterpillars eat the leaves.
Harvesting & Storage
Young leaves should be harvested just as they emerge from the ground, boiled 2-3 times with the water being discarded after each boiling. They may then be eaten with a little salt and fatback to taste.
Berries should be picked when ripe, purply-black and firm.
Pokeweed for Magick
Pokeweed is aligned with the energy of Uranus.
Pokeweed can be used for exorcisms, it’s violent purging action symbolic of purging the body of spiritual as well as physical poison. Taking pokeweed internally is never recommended.
An infusion of pokeweed can be used to break hexes and to protect an area from negativity and other harmful influences.
Pokeweed berry juice makes a good magical ink and can be used in place of blood in any ritual.
Poke Around the House
Pokeberries can be used to make ink or dye.
Pokeweed for Healing
Pokeberry juice may be added to other juices and jellies to help relieve arthritis.
Grated pokeroot was used by Native Americans in a poultice to relieve inflammations and swellings of the breast (Please note, this may leave toxins on the breast. Not recommended for pregnant breastfeeding mothers internally or externally.)
Poke root extracted in alcohol (no more than a drop or two a day!) is used to combat colds and viruses. It is particularly useful for issues of the lymphatic system- anything that causes swollen glands. An oil extract can be used to make a salve for minor bumps, bruises, and bites.
Research is underway with regard to possible treatments for leukemia, AIDS and other deadly diseases.
Note: This is provided for your information only. I do not recommend taking pokeberry internally for any reason.
Pokeweed in the Kitchen
Although all parts of the mature plant are toxic and can cause violent vomiting, diarrhea, and death, the young leaves are said to be quite delicious. They must be harvested just as they emerge from the ground and if there is any red in them they are too old! They need to be boiled in three changes of water for 20 minutes each to ensure that all the toxicity has been leached out.
The berries are apparently edible, provided the toxic seeds are removed without crushing them, but I get conflicting reports on this. I feel like the risk isn’t worth it.
Although poke is enthusiastically eaten by some, it is quite toxic and can cause paralysis of the respiratory system and death, although violent vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms. It is especially dangerous to children who can be killed by eating just a few berries.
The berries are the least toxic part and the roots are the most toxic part.
- Pokeweed from Penn State Extension