Long before the seasonal change of light, or the first
falling leaf, the Phytolacca Americana
is growing vigorously and by late summer is covered with an abundance of tiny
white flowers and berries in various stages of development. By the time the berries are hanging in purple
masses, the nights are chilly and other indicators are saying AUTUMN is here!
Growing in the areas of the farm that don’t get much
attention, the pokeberry plants can reach enormous heights. We have a specimen behind the barn that prior
to last night’s wind must have been in excess of eight feet high. Despite the wind damage, it is remains
noteworthy. It does seem a shame that all that beautiful growth is just weedy
The animals won’t eat this particular species of plant. The jury is out on whether humans should
either. There are those who swear by its
healing properties and yet others insist the entire thing is poisonous and
should be treated with care.
In Appalachia and other parts of the rural South, in the
springtime the young plant is boiled and eaten and referred to as “poke salet”.
I understand that wine and jelly can be made from the berries (if they are handled "just right"). I remember eating the greens in the
springtime at least once as a little girl.
They tasted a lot like spinach, and I did live to tell the tale. However, just like any other wild food, there
is a time and technique to preparation, and I would never recommend its consumption
to the uninformed. Some old timers
suggest eating a dried berry or two a day for the pain of arthritis. This has
led to a renewed interest in the plant for possible medical use for many
The berries are a beautiful color. They start out a pale
chartreuse and eventually turn a deep purple. When popped, they make a pretty
pink stain. Historically, it was used
for ink and dye. It is said that the Constitution is written in pokeberry
ink. Legend also has it that many
letters written to the home folks during the War Between the States were
written using the purple berries. Native Americans marked their animals with
it, too. Back in our early homeschooling
days, the girls mashed some for a project in writing and drawing. Using dowels sharpened with a pencil
sharpener, their fingers and a couple dozen q-tips for paintbrushes, they
enjoyed pretending they were back in the “olden days”.
About the time the pokeberries are evident, the summer
garden grinds to a screeching halt. The
tomato vines that just a week or so ago were producing abundantly are brown and
withered, their fruit small and misshapen.
The cucumber plants have succumbed to blight and are no longer
producing. The same can be said for the
squash plants. The garden is a weedy,
messy, discouraging sight.
That is, until you turn the other direction.
By facing away from the rotting tomatoes and the dying
cucumbers, you see kale and turnips growing in a luxurious green carpet. Beyond them, the fall broccoli plants are
just beginning to form small heads inside their sturdy leaves. The same can be
said for the cabbage and cauliflower plants. There are potatoes and sweet potatoes just
under the surface of the garden, waiting to be harvested and stored for winter.
The okra is still going strong and when the yellow flowers
open in the late afternoon, it is a beautiful sight. There are younger,
healthier plantings of squash, cucumbers and beans that have the potential to
keep the supply of those crops going until the frost settles…so, harvest time
is long from finished.
But, the pokeberries are like an early warning system…hey,
there…pay attention…things are going
to change…and change SOON!
|A Pokeberry Wave - 1994|
Because, this, my friends, seems like it was only yesterday! J