Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pokeweed! A plant of folklore, beauty and danger

Pokeweed  (Phytolacca americana)
photos by Jonathan Schechter

Don't be fooled by the deep purple berries and munch a sample. All parts of this plant are
 poisonous to mammals with the highest concentration of  toxins in the roots.  A quick literature
search may leave you scratching your head with the mix of folklore, fact and myth on Pokeweed,
an herb that grows six feet tall and has deep purple stems and berries.  One source states that 
 Cherokee would harvest the young tender shoots in early spring, peel them to remove toxins and
cook them. Herbalists tend to agree that when properly prepared the very small tender spring
shoots can be consumed--but if you make an error your reward can be as simple as cramping,
vomiting and diarrhea or can be dangerous heart rhythms, coma and death. 
Others have suffered allergic reactions from contact with the sap.

  Pokeweed inspired the 1969 song Polk Salad Annie, a lively southern tale of  woe, poverty,
    poke shoots on salads and a swamp-lurking gator consuming granny while she worked in a
     Louisiana chain gang. Poke salad continues to find its way into southern diets in 'the hills' 
             and historical records seem to confirm that during the Civil War soliders use an a simple
 ink made from the  juices of the plant to send letters home from the battlefield. 

Pokeweed is at its deepest colors now adding a richness  of nature to moist area in woods and
fields of Michigan. Medical research continues on of this plant that was (and still is) used as a folk
 remedy in Appalachia for many ailments ,but for you and me, putting pokeweed in the belly in
the days of Autumn should be considered dumb, dangerous and perhaps even deadly.



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