Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Name that Plant: Red Stems with Clusters of Berries Edition

I've noticed a fairly interesting weed along my usual walking route, and today I decided to see if I could name it. Here's what it looks like:

I typed weed with red stem and a cluster of dark blue berries into Google and the first hit back was for COMMON POKEWEED: Phytolacca americana. The pictures were a near perfect match for what I had snapped above. This one turned out to be super easy to identify.

Now that I had it named, I was curious to see if I could eat it? Those berries looked awfully tasty.

From the above link:

Toxicity: All parts of common pokeweed are toxic to humans, pets and livestock. Roots are the most poisonous, leaves and stems are intermediate in toxicity (toxicity increases with maturity), and berries are the least toxic. Since common pokeweed is not very palatable, most animals avoid eating it unless little else is available, or if it is in contaminated hay. Horses, sheep and cattle have been poisoned by eating fresh leaves or green fodder, and pigs have been poisoned by eating the roots. Children are most frequently poisoned by eating raw berries. ...

And it goes on from there. The description even suggests that the plant promotes mutation and possibly cancer. Yikes. Glad I didn't grab those berries and take a bite.

Even though it's poisonous, pokeweed isn't without some interesting uses. First off, if you're exceedingly careful, you can eat it. But for practical uses, skip the eating and use it for something more novel: to make ink. Now there's a fun little project to try.

Another use, this one in the spirit of Eating Aliens is to use the berries to enhance solar panels. Not something I'll be trying, but a clever use none the less.

Learn more about Pokeweed here.


  1. Anonymous2:54 PM

    Glad you didn't snack on those

  2. Anonymous8:19 PM

    Thanks for the post and great pics. I have this in my backyard and also thought about eating some of the berries. I did some research and your post along with some others helped me learn about the poke weed.

  3. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I've seen this plant located at Stirling Stn, Perth.

  4. I've red people boiling the stall 2 to 3 times and dumping the water each time them eating the stalks. afraid to do this myself.

  5. My goats eat poke salad all the time with no ill effects. The cardinals eat the berries from the bush outside my bedroom window. Poke salad is commonly eaten in the South, but with certain precautions: Pick only the young, tender leaves in the spring. Boil in 2-3 changes of water, and then cook in the skillet with scrambled eggs or add to a pot of greens. Stems must be peeled of all the purple parts, then diced up and fried like okra.