Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Pokeberry Plant - a weed to some, food to others

Although it's mature (black) berries are not very attractive for enhancing the beauty of a garden, the Pokeberry (also known as Pokeweed) in Southeast Texas  produces an ornamental red berry  and red stem that is quite functional, attracting some important birds in to the garden. It's leaves are ornamental to some degree, especially if you like the look of thick large leafed vegetation or reddish stems. It grows quickly and can reach heights of up to 10 feet. Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Mockingbirds will enjoy this berry. Availability during migrating season also helps it to play a role in attracting birds to the back yard in the late summer or early fall.
The plant's leaves are food to humans, but it is very debatable whether they are harmful or not. To prepare "Poke Salad", one picks the leaves and stems when in the early  spring, when the leaves are tender and developing. They have to be boiled and the water thrown away. Some say the leaves taste like Broccoli and other say Collard Greens.2 In the East Texas forests,  this low cost food source  has been around for centuries. The Indians used it for medicine but I apparently not for food. The roots have really bad toxins. Gradually those toxins make it into the leaves of the plant. The berries are poisonous to humans.  One university professor states "Do not eat this plant. It is poisonous." 1 There are actual recipes3 for using the leaves.  I am conservative on this. Why eat a poisonous food  if you have so many other choices? If I were in dire need, I  know I can use this plant as food. Otherwise, it a no no for me and my family! 

1 Don't Eat Poke Salad
2 Preparing Poke Salad in 1939 in Marshall Texas
3History and recipe for Poke Salad

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