Pokeweed, Friend or Foe?

A picture of  Pokeweed  blossoms being pollinated. 

A picture of Pokeweed blossoms being pollinated. 

Pokeweed flowers bloom on racemes that curl up while flowering and droop down when heavy with fruit, making it the perfect roost for birds to perch and eat.  Several years ago I had a Pokeweed plant appear outside my office window.  Many times I would think I must go dig that up or cut it down, it's out of place!  As each day past that I didn't deal with it the "weed" got bigger and bigger, reaching a whopping  6-7 feet tall.  Then, to my amazement, I realized the birds were feasting on the berries, one berry at a time.  If you've ever seen a Pokeweed you know there are many berries to be consumed, that equals loads of entertainment!   I saw all kinds of songbirds and thrashers.  What really sealed the deal for me, an Indigo Bunting appeared and returned every day!  It was then I realized mother nature had a message for me...these "weeds" as we refer to them, serve a purpose...yes 

They pop up in the most unexpected places and ruin "order" but order does not  apply in nature and we just need to readjust our lenses! 

Pokeweed certainly has alot to offer but it is also true there is need to exercise caution around this plant, especially with children.  

 I am certainly not an expert on this plant and my take away might differ from others.  What we do know is we should all be aware what we're dealing with.  I totally related to one article I found on the internet, The Weed, The Myth, The Legend.   The author goes over the plant in toto, offering the facts and the legends so that we approach the plant with the knowledge necessary to enjoy it, safely.

My husband, in his youth ate the leaves (Pokeweed Salad) but knew that those leaves must be picked at a very immature stage and cooked several times,  otherwise he knew he could be very sick.  While researching Poke Salad I found a wonderful recipe/article in Saveur mag that made reference to the song, Poke Salad Annie and many famous recollections of the "weed" .


"Though mostly obscure to the mainstream, poke sallet, which is sometimes referenced as "polk salad" or "poke salet," has occasionally dipped its toe into the pop culture pool. Most notably, in the lyrics of "Polk Salad Annie," by Tony Joe White, released in 1968: "Everyday for supper time / she'd go down by the truck patch / And pick her a mess of polk salad / and carry it home in a tow sack." The song about a rural Southern girl and her family peaked at Number 8 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1969, and was later remade by Elvis in 1970, and put into regular rotation at his live shows. Country legend Dolly Parton even mentioned in her memoir that she would use crushed poke berries for lipstick as an adolescent, since her parents forbade her from wearing makeup."

As a child I remember going to my grandparents home and my forever attraction to a yew tree (or bush...it looked like a  TREE  to a small girl) .  I don't recall whether it was the fragrance or the way they POPPED but I did enjoy them...yet I had heard, ..."DON'T EAT  THE BERRIES".  Somehow I recall every time I approached that bush,  I heard the voice of an elder...


  I love that I  learned more as I shared this topic with you!

I hope that you enjoy all the history, lore and environmental benefits this plant has to offer.  These are probably not "landscape" plants but they sure have alot of benefit in their natural settings.