Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

img 0349 300x225 Poke Weed: To Eat or Not to Eat, that is the Question!

The past two months were unusually dry for the second year in a row in my area.  Today periodic rain showers were a refreshing change of pace and a welcome sign to me that Fall is coming!

I’m currently cooped up indoors recovering after a minor surgery, but I made my way outdoors when the first ray of sunlight peeped through the clouds, to take pictures and look around.  I found a stray Poke Weed that had taken up residence under the deck stairs, and was struck at how pretty even that looked after the rain. With the right mindset anything can be beautiful!  Covered in rain drops those berries look inviting to even me, although I am pretty sure they are not what the doctor ordered!

Can You Eat Poke Weed?

I was reminded of a lecture that one of my professors gave me years ago.  He told the class that the leaves of a young Poke Weed are edible and safe to humans, as long as the plant is not producing fruit or flowers. He explained that once reproductive cycle begins, the plant, and later berries are toxic for human consumption, and that the window of opportunity around which the plant is edible can vary, thereby making it a questionable snack for the unwary. I chuckled when I remembered that random fact and tucked it back into the recesses of my brain reserved only for life-or-death survival tips likely to benefit me in the event of nuclear holocaust. Should I ever be eking out a living with nomadic tribes in the hills of Tennessee, I’ll happily volunteer to fix a poke weed salad if the others go club dinner over the head, but short of those extreme circumstances, I’ll stick with Romaine Lettuce!

With the potential risk involved, I think I’ll leave the plant and its berries to the local wildlife for now, and hope they return the favor by dropping their berry dyed “calling cards” on the neighbor’s cars and not mine! But just in case you ever do find yourself desperate, here are some hints to help you identify Poke Weed.

How to Identify Poke Weed

Pokeweed often grows rapidly in one season up to a height of 10 feet.  Generally first appearing in late spring, they prefer hearty soil, and a little moisture, and have rather fleshy stems that are easily broken, and pink, with the color deepening at the time of fruiting.  Pokeweed flowers from July to September, and produces self-pollinated fruit anywhere from late summer to mid-fall.  The flowers of the plant grow at the ends of the branches, in clusters of white flowers that are followed by clusters of dark blue or purple berries.  The berries produce a deep magenta dye that is often impossible to remove from clothing.  (Belated apologies to my mother, who made many heroic efforts against set-in stains following childhood “combat” missions at the park with the neighborhood kids)

What do you think: Is there an odd plant that you have been told could be a survival-only, Bear Grylls-style, eat only as a last resort, food source?