Pokeweed: a bird-friendly native
|Purple poke berries feed lots|
|The poke roots get larger each year even though the top|
dies back. They look sorta like giant sweet potatoes, but
the fuchsia sprouts let you know it's a poke root.
I've done my share of foraging over the years, but I've never been tempted by pokeweed, because you need to catch it early in the season before the poisons build up in the stem when you can cut it off and eat it like asparagus. You also can eat the greens, but you must boil them twice and throw out the first water to get rid of the toxins--this has been called poke sallet, an old English term for cooked greens. I always thought people were saying, "poke salad," but that didn't make any sense because you'd never eat the uncooked greens. The root and the seeds are the most toxic parts of the plant.
Native Americans took full advantage of pokeweed, using the plant medicinally and employing the berries and stems for dye and for painting their horses. Supporters for James Polk, our eleventh president, reportedly wore pokeweed leaves around their necks. The common name is sometimes spelled, "Polk."
So let some of your property go wild and you might grow your very own poke weed forest for the birds.
For more information and photos of pokeweed, see its profile on:
Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants and the USDA website.
|Catbriar roots can also get surprisingly large, but they are|
whiter and knobbier than the pokeweed roots.
The catbriar roots usually have a peppery odor and were the source for root beer and sasparilla. Maybe they still are...