Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

Common names:
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Give a thumbs up Pokeberry
Give a thumbs up Poke Salad
Give a thumbs up American Pokeweed
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Botanical names:
Phytolacca americana Accepted
Phytolacca decandra Synonym

General Plant Information (Edit)
Plant Habit: Herb/Forb
Life cycle: Perennial
Sun Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Partial or Dappled Shade
Water Preferences: Mesic
Soil pH Preferences: Neutral (6.6 – 7.3)
Minimum cold hardiness: Zone 5a -28.9 °C (-20 °F) to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
Maximum recommended zone: Zone 11
Plant Height: 6 to 8 feet, possibly 10 to 12 feet
Plant Spread: 4 to 6 feet
Leaves: Deciduous
Fruit: Showy
Edible to birds
Other: Purplish-black
Flowers: Inconspicuous
Flower Color: Green
Other: greenish-white
Bloom Size: Under 1"
Flower Time: Summer
Late summer or early fall
Underground structures: Taproot
Uses: Cooked greens
Edible Parts: Leaves
Eating Methods: Cooked
Wildlife Attractant: Birds
Resistances: Humidity tolerant
Drought tolerant
Toxicity: Leaves are poisonous
Roots are poisonous
Fruit is poisonous
Other: Young leaves (before blooming) can be boiled and rinsed to remove saponins and oxalates and has been used for food for centuries. Otherwise, all parts are poisonous if eaten raw.
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC)

Conservation status:
Conservation status: Least Concern

ATP Podcast #15: Edible Wild PlantsATP Podcast #15: Edible Wild Plants
April 24, 2013

In this episode, Dave and Trish talk about their favorite wild edible plants, the kinds of plants you might come across as you walk through the woods. Many of the plants on this list are sure to surprise you!

(Full article11 comments)
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Posted by purpleinopp (Opp, AL 🌵🌷⚘🌹🌻 - Zone 8b) on Jul 21, 2016 10:20 AM

Recent hype over pokeweed is growing to mythic proportions. I've never seen one actual news report of someone being poisoned. I tried to find any articles just now and none were about anything but warnings published in newspapers and websites about the horror of having one of these native plants in ones' midst. If one can be found, please share it.

When we go camping in a state park in a nature preserve in FL, there are tons of poison ivy and pokeweed in and around (and above) the campsites. The PI is one of the plants that appear on a sign about various common plants in the park, and in the little info pamphlet they give you so you can handle yourself more appropriately and safely in the park. The sign basically has a more polished version of, "here's what it looks like, it's here because it's native and important source of food for birds so don't touch it if it gives you a rash." There's no mention of pokeweed, growing within reach of hundreds of kids and bearing its berries for months every year. If it were a problem, they would at least put it on the sign.

Poison Control has a calm, reasonable article. http://www.poison.org/articles......
Their statistics also indicate that kids are much more likely to be poisoned by cleaning stuff or medications (click "poison exposure statistics, pokeweed isn't among the things listed):

From a very brief search, one can glean that various honeysuckle berries pose a similar degree of threat. Nobody is worried or warning about kids eating those, and they probably are much more common in the garden/landscape.

Is there a warning like that for Oleander, various Solanums, Daturas, Nandina? It would seem strange to me to put such a warning on this plant, a standard food item for some, on the menu in restaurants, if it's not on the others that have no edibility and/or higher level of danger in regard to ingestion toxicity.

Have you ever seen a can of Oleander greens for sale?

People buy and plant Oleander, a much more toxic entity, in their yard on purpose, but if you have a pokeweed, you will be urged to kill it. Guaranteed, every time the plant is mentioned, somebody will mention how menacingly dangerous it is.

I agree that one needs to follow a recipe if they're going to experiment epicuriously, but there should be some perspective about discussing its toxicity, and/or suitability for any particular gardener/garden setting. There are various "toxins" in many parts of plants widely considered edible/food, and not all parts of every plant are edible. Tomatoes and potatoes come to mind. Tomato and potato leaves aren't considered edible because of the solanine. This is why potatoes must be stored in the dark or they turn green and can then cause indigestion because of the increase in solanine.

If one is in the U.S., P. americana is a native, an important food source for many birds. One article says that pokeweed has long been thought to have medicinal value. "At one time it was employed to cure everything from boils to acne. Today, pokeberry is being researched as a possible treatment for cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, a chemical found in pokeberry juice has been used to successfully treat cancerous tumors in laboratory mice. The chemical is also being tested to determine whether it can protect cells from HIV and AIDS.

Remarkably, the lowly pokeberry may help solve the energy crisis. Researchers at Wake Forest University have discovered that a dye derived from pokeberries doubles the efficiency of fibers used in solar cells to absorb solar energy."

The sprouts pull easily the first year, and it is not difficult to keep mature plants from occurring by pulling or hoeing/scuffling sprouts while young and delicate. Boiling water poured on a mature root will kill it. After watching plant ID forums since they were invented, I've seen that most people who ask for pokeweed ID make the effort to say something about how attractive they think it is. In all my years of gardening in both OH and AL, I've seen pokeweed sprouts in my own garden maybe a total of a dozen times.

There's also the dye thing that's had varying degrees of prevalence throughout history, and something people still like to do. One of my favorite things about this plant is the disproven myth that the Declaration of Independence was written in pokeberry ink. No less charming even if not true, because it could have been.

I was thrilled to get a scroungy little sprout in our front yard last year. It was a puny thing and I guess it died because it's not back. If anyone is looking for a rationalization to keep a pokeweed plant that grabbed their attention enough to try to ID it, there are plenty.

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Posted by RadlyRootbound (East-Central Mississippi - Zone 8a) on Jun 28, 2018 4:18 AM

Poke Salad is not a plant to be frightened of any more than any other average plant. It is not toxic in the way that Poison Ivy is, in that you can be affected just by brushing up against it. To be affected by its toxicity, one must ingest it, and even this toxicity can be mitigated with proper preparation and cooking of the leaves. The colorful berries should not be ingested under any circumstances, and all children should be sternly instructed to never eat any berry without first checking with an adult to see whether it's all right to eat, anyway. If you are afraid your child will eat nearby poke berries, then poke berries aren't your biggest problem and I would suggest you monitor your very young child more closely or discipline your older child more sternly. There are ingestible hazards everywhere, so focusing your paranoia on Poke Salad will only distract your attention from other potential dangers, like that paperclip or button battery you left on the desk or table, which can be more deadly than a few poke berries.

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Posted by Sharon (Calvert City, KY - Zone 7a) on Oct 6, 2011 9:33 PM

Pokeweed is native to North America and was used medicinally by Native Americans. It is considered toxic when raw. Herbalists continue to use this plant. The root is used in the treatment of diseases related to a compromised immune system; it has potential as an anti-AIDS drug. In the scientific field, new research has revealed that a possible cure for Childhood Leukemia called (B43-PAP) is found in the common Pokeweed.

This is in no way a plant to be used as a home remedy, but in the same way that foxglove provides digitalis, perhaps in time pokeweed could provide a much needed cure for what now is considered to be a fatal disease.

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Posted by SongofJoy (Clarksville, TN - Zone 6b) on Dec 31, 2012 3:50 AM

Poke salad (salat, salet, sallet) has been a staple of Southern cuisine for decades. The leaves are cooked in several changes of water and are a specialty green below the Mason-Dixon line where some supermarkets have carried canned poke salet (such as Allen's Organic Poke Salet Greens). It is always cooked and rinsed at least two to three times to remove the harmful components. All parts of the plant are toxic unless properly prepared and the roots are especially toxic. Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after three rinsings since traces of the toxin may still remain. It should never be eaten uncooked.

The plant was featured in an early '70s song by Elvis Presley titled "Poke Salad Annie."

Some pokeweeds are grown as ornamental plants, mainly for their attractive berries. Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye but should be handled with extreme caution. The berries are also eaten by some birds such as the Cedar Waxwing.

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Posted by jmorth (central Illinois) on Oct 30, 2011 11:45 AM

Native wild plant that likes disturbed soil in woods, fields, farm lots, and around dwellings. Self seeds. Also called pokeberry and poke salad. Popular rock n roll song by Credence Clearwater in the 70's called 'Pokesalad Annie' alludes to the plant.
Poke salad is prepared with leaves from young plants.
Purple juice (stains) has been used to color foods such as frostings, candies, and beverages; also as a dye (red) and an ink.
Berries are eaten by birds. Some comments say birds act drunk after consuming.

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Posted by Marilyn (Northern KY - Zone 6a) on Dec 19, 2011 1:02 AM

Almost scary to have this poisonous plant (lots of Pokeweed plants) growing alongside the length of our property and on our our property.

The birds love them when they are the ripened blackish color. Sometimes I'll hear and/or see Catbirds, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Brown Thrashers, Robins and other fruit loving birds in the patches of the Pokeweed plants.

A neighbor who lives across from me has a young 22-month-old boy, and I told her this summer about this plant as she has plants growing along the length of her property too. I told her she should get rid of the plants, so her little boy doesn't pick the berries and eat them.

I think the whole plant (and all parts of it) is poisonous and I treat it that way.

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Posted by eclayne (Pioneer Valley south, MA, USA - Zone 6a) on Sep 6, 2013 8:26 PM

Personally I find the plant attractive, whether in berry or not. Its tendency to pop up everywhere means I yank it where I find it. There's plenty of other food for the birds, so they have to make do. The Flora of North America provides a brief description of the toxins and effects associated with P. americana.

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Posted by Newyorkrita (North Shore, Long Island, NY ) on Sep 7, 2013 6:19 PM

I feel this plant has no ornamental garden value. Most of us do classify it as a weed, but the ripe berries are a much preferred food source of fruit eating songbirds, such as mockingbirds.

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Discussion Threads about this plant
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Florida Plant ID by Suigrey Jan 2, 2019 1:28 PM 15
Please help me ID this plant by lala01 Aug 4, 2018 3:08 PM 9
Looking for answer by Kimber82 Aug 1, 2018 11:16 AM 2
Started from seed by AllynnW Jul 23, 2018 3:50 PM 5
Weed? by Tdoubleu Jul 14, 2018 9:39 PM 3
can someone please id this large fast growing weed? by idreos Jul 12, 2018 12:11 PM 2
Large Plant need ID by MBJ8714 Jul 12, 2018 6:23 AM 3
Plant ID - Wild Growing by Verac Jul 10, 2018 9:19 AM 4
trying to identify this by Lbb47 Jun 29, 2018 9:37 AM 3
what is this plant? by Pem1137 Jun 21, 2018 4:09 PM 3

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