Scientific Name(s): Phytolacca americana L.
What: young shoots & leaves, berry juice
How: young shoots & leaves boiled in three changes of water; berry juice boiled then made into jam/jelly
Where: woods, shady areas, sunny areas, fields
Nutritional Value: vitamins
Dangers: all parts of plant contain different amounts of extremely toxic (fatal) alkaloid compounds, especially roots, stems, mature leaves, and seeds.
Young pokeweed plants, ready to be boiled then eaten.
The pokeweed on the left is a perfect size for eating, the one on the right is too big.
Young sprouts next to a more mature pokeweed. Red color has already appeared in the older pokeweed's stem, indicating it is now unsafe to eat, even after multiple boilings.
Flowering pokeweed. The berries will form on the white flowerspike seen at the top of the pokeweed plant.
Pokeweed berries are very dark purple-black when ripe. Usually they'll hang downwards from the plant. DO NOT EAT!!
Young pokeweed berries. DO NOT EAT!!
Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.
North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Pokeweed was often one of the first greens to appear after a summer devoid of fresh plants and so it was cherished not just for its fantastic taste but also because it allowed satisfying a hunger for plants. It mainly grows in the protective yet sunny edges of woods with braver plants being out in full sun an others hiding in complete shade. It's bright green color stands out among the darker greens, browns, and grays of later winter plants. The stem starts out green like the leaves but quickly turns red as it matures. The youngest part of the stem at the top of the plant may stay green while the rest of the stem turns almost a purple-red color.
Young, boiled pokeweed leaves & shoots are considered a special treat in the South and a canned version is occasionally available in grocery stores. The pokeweed leaves must be harvested before there is any noticeable red color in the leaves or stem, usually when the plant is still under about six inches tall. Even at this young age there are highly toxic alkaloids present so the leaves must be boiled in three changes of water to render them safe enough to eat. Boil for five minutes in each change of water.
The seeds are very toxic even after cooking, but the juice of the berries can be made safe by boiling. After boiling the berry juice can be made into a jam or jelly. The berry juice can also be used as a dye or even as an ink.
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