Friday, August 10, 2012


I thought about this nuisance plant, Pokeweed, yesterday during my daily walk. It grows abundantly along the edge of our property and seeing it made me wonder if it is familiar to others living elsewhere as it is to those of us forced to constantly remove it from our flowerbeds.

Known as pokeweed or similar names such as pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot or poke sallet, this plant, native to the American continent, grows abundantly throughout the region.

The berries, eaten by birds, are said to be poisonous. Apparently the birds are not affected by the toxin because the small seeds with very hard outer shells remain intact in their digestive system and are eliminated whole.

A few trivia facts about pokeweed:

Pokeberries were valued by native American healers as a blood purifier, fever reducer, and pain killer. Apparently, they were knowledgeable about the inner poisonous inner seed of the berries!

There is current herbal medicine based on the plant, but it is highly dangerous to take it except from a specialized practitioner.

For many decades, poke salad ('poke salat') was a staple of cuisine in the southern states of the U.S. The leaves were cooked and rinsed at least twice to remove the harmful component, as all parts of the plant, including the leaves, are toxic unless properly prepared.

Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye, which was once used by Native Americans to decorate their horses.

The Constitution of the United States was written using in ink made from pokeberries. 

Many letters written home during the American Civil War were written in pokeberry ink; the writing in these surviving letters appears brown.

Pokeberries were used to write an individual's name on the sack he used to hand-pick cotton from the fields in earlier days before machines were used to harvest cotton. 


Young fruit

Ripe fruit



Unopened flower buds
Here are the lyrics to a silly little song, Polk Salad Annie,  written and performed by Tony Joe White. It also was recorded by Elvis Presley (and others). 

  • [spoken]
    If some of ya'll never been down South too much...
    I'm gonna tell you a little bit about this,
    So that you'll understand what I'm talking about
    Down there we have a plant
    That grows out in the woods and the fields,
    Looks somethin' like a turnip green.
    Everybody calls it Poke salad. Poke salad.
    Used to know a girl that lived down there and
    she'd go out in the evenings and pick a mess of it...
    Carry it home and cook it for supper,
    'Cause that's about all they had to eat,
    But they did all right.

    Down in Louisiana
    Where the alligators grow so mean
    There lived a girl that I swear to the world
    Made the alligators look tame

    Poke salad Annie, poke salad Annie
    Everybody said it was a shame
    Cause her mama was working on the chain-gang
    (A mean, vicious woman)

    Everyday 'fore supper time
    She'd go down by the truck patch
    And pick her a mess o' polk salad
    And carry it home in a tote sack

    Poke salad Annie, 'gators got you granny
    Everybody said it was a shame
    'Cause her mama was aworkin' on the chain-gang
    (a wretched, spiteful, straight-razor totin' woman,
    Lord have mercy. Pick a mess of it)

    Her daddy was lazy and no count
    Claimed he had a bad back
    All her brothers were fit for
    Was stealin' watermelons out of my truck patch

    Poke salad Annie, the gators got your granny
    Everybody said it was a shame
    Cause her mama was a working' on the chain gang
    (Sock a little polk salad to me, you know I need a mess of it)


  1. Hello Sanda

    Thank you for a fascinating and interesting post. I have learned about pokeweed. It always amazes me that our forefathers had to learn so much and no doubt the hard way too

    Have a glorious weekend


  2. How well I remember writing on the cotton sacks and on the barn doors with polk salad berries. Pretty color! Now that I am a gardener, I sometimes see it standing 5 feet tall up against a beautiful hydrangea before I realize it's there. Lucky for me, one good thing about these rocks where I live, you don't see it very often - soil to poor to grow the plant. A true southern thing to eat it but I could never stand it!!!

  3. what a wonderfully nostalgic post :-) I'm spending my days in predominantly urban environments and while I am a city girl I'm beginning to miss the sight, sounds but most of all the smell of the woods and the fields in the summer.

  4. What an interesting history behind the plant. Wondering if the horses reacted to the ink in any way.. The berries and the stem really look poisonous - shivers!
    I have never heard the song.

  5. Helen, I am glad you found the post interesting, I am sure you are correct; oftentimes they learned by trial and error, and perhaps with a less than perfect outcome!

    Edith, yes and we would have that stain on our hands for days! Like you, I never liked poke salad. And how gross was it when they mixed in chopped boiled eggs!

    Anna, perhaps you know Pokeweed yourself? I understanding that you might begin to miss the sights and sounds of nature if you're away from it too long. Perhaps soon you can have a weekend in the woods and fields!

    Mette, gosh I don't know, but wouldn't think it would harm the horses but not sure about that. Believe me, you haven't missed anything by not hearing the song, although it was always fun to watch Elvis Presley perform it in concert. If you're interested, I imagine you could pull a video up on YouTube and hear/see it!

  6. I have always wondered what the Poke plant looked like - only because of that catchy song. Thanks!

    1. Who could forget Elvis On stage in that white suit doing the song?

  7. What a beautiful looking plant,sadly like some people what looks good on the surface is deadly inside.Ida


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...