PokeWeed – A Periphal Power Plant:
#Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a controversial plant, but in the right dosage and application is highly medicinal and also, if rendered correctly, it’s a delicious edible plant.
This plant can be VERY poisonous if worked with incorrectly, due to cyanide like compounds within mostly the adult plant, and oddly enough, it’s not an invasive plant. It shows up often where people dont want it to grow, BUT, it has every right to be in North America, as the species name (americana) indicates. It IS a native plant!
The fears and controversies over this plant are nuanced and that is tied up between not having clear chemical analasys of different parts and preparations of poke, and the confusion from the colonization of the people who carried aeons of experimental knowledge with this plant teacher.
in my experience, I’ve had a very slow growing relationship with poke as some of my earliest childhood memories. It took 6 years of intensive foraging to begin to eat poke greens and work with it as a medicine. This is an ally that must be first learned and respected as an entity, and after that time and work, seen as a plant to consume. For lymph congestion I definitely first recommend getting competent with an herb like cleavers first before going to poke.
Often, to eat the green, there is a short 10:10:10 minute boiling technique to make the younger shoots edible, and on my poke preparation youtube video, I show one of the easiest ways to prepare it. Poke is often discussed with the caviat that for food, you MUST pick the young shoots in the spring only, that are under 12 inches tall and only take those shoots which have no reddening on the stem. Despite these concerns, I have heard many stories of people pushing this process.
Last summer, at Sage Valley in Indiana, during a plant walk I met a woman who, without me seeing at first, peeled and ate a 1.5 ft stalk raw in front of the whole class, after some initial shock, she said she has done it for years. I thought she and the other person who ate it would have a serious allergic reaction, because of the plant being deadly poisonous, and was preparing for that, but she was absolutely fine and so was the other person who tried it. In talking to her, I learned that she had learned it from a man named Greyhound monzel. It is suggested by them that the poisonous properties are in the peel, not the inner pith. I have not systematically experimented with it yet but more to report, and it was eye opening how much we truly don’t know about some of the most basic food preparation techniques to even change poison into medicine; at the right dose.
The berries have a distinctive and poisonous taste which I find has a similar “NutraSweet ” flavor similar to other poisonous berries such as woody nightshade which I have expressed the juice of the berry and touched to my tongue. That to me is the “bittersweet” indicator of being poisonous, but at what dose? Many poisonous plants at low dose are being discovered to cause cancer cell apoptosis, and they are slowly finding their ways into pharmaceuticals, such as taxol, from the yew tree.
The berries of poke are edible with intelligent consideration. But as far as I am concerned is more for medicinal uses (sans seeds), even though Henry David Thoreau mentions foraging for them as a food. I cannot conceive how hungry he would have to be in order to try to eat these berries in large amounts due to their taste. One of the old recipes is for pokeweed ade and the seeds are well filter it out, but it probably is more like sugar ade with 10% of pokeweed. However, more systemic experimentation needs to be done.
It is often stated that the seeds inside them are toxic if chewed and I haven’t been one to challenge that yet. within each tiny berry has many seeds.
But if swallowed whole pass through a person “usually” and swallowing a few berries whole is an Appalachian folk cleanse. In this case, “usually” means you must be systematic; take on proper research, anecdotal accounts and compare the value of the nutrients with your needs and health and potential risk involved. Ive consumed the juice a few times, sometimes as many as six or seven at a time, as they are packed with purple/blue/black nutrients but they are very acrid.
It’s also possible to use the berry juice as a food colorant or dye plant and the berries of poke can be made into a natural dye. Crush the berries, strain, add a pinch of yeast to ferment, and you have ink for art or writing.
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