Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today I am going to tell you about a plant that is POISONOUS to all mammals, including cows, horses, dogs, and humans.  It is called pokeweed, and it grows in lots of places all around the world, including in people's back yards.  The fancy, scientific name for pokeweed is Phytolacca.  But people who aren't scientists have a whole bunch of other names for it, such as poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, polk sallet, inkberry, or ombú.  That last name is what they call pokeweed in Argentina, where it grows really big, like a tree.

But even here in America, pokeweed can get very, very tall, like 10 feet or even more, which is taller than most basketball players.  Pokeweed has flowers that are sort of white, and after it blooms, it has purple berries.  Birds like to eat the berries, and they don't get sick because the berries are not poisonous to birds.  After the birds eat the berries, they fly off somewhere and poop out the seeds, and that's how you might end up with pokeweed growing in your yard.

Some people eat pokeweed, even though it is POISONOUS.  A lot of these people live in the south part of the country.  They pick the pokeweed in the spring, when it is very young, and then they boil it three times.  This is supposed to make the pokeweed not be poisonous anymore, but some doctors think that it is still bad for you to eat it.  Some people have even died after eating pokeweed, so I recommend that you find something else to eat, like maybe spinach.

Pokeweed can be used to help cure people if they are sick.  You can use it on the outside of your body, like for acne or for a rash.  Or you can use it inside your body for things like tonsilitis or arthritis.  But if you don't know what you are doing, you should not use pokeweed as a medicine because, like I said before, it is POISONOUS!

You may be wondering where pokeweed got its name.  I thought maybe it had something to do with poking something or somebody, but I was wrong.  It turns out that the name comes from the word poughkone, which was what the Algonquians called the plant.  Lots of American Indian tribes used pokeweed as a medicine, and they also made red ink out of it, which they used to decorate their horses.  

White people made ink out of pokeberry juice, too, which is why they sometimes called the plant inkberry.  Did you know that the Declaration of Independence was written with fermented pokeberry juice?  I learned this interesting fact while I was doing my in-depth research on Wikipedia.  Also I found out that a lot of soldiers during the Civil War used pokeberry ink to write letters home.

So anyway, I guess that's about all I have to say about pokeweed, except I will mention that there was a song written about it called "Poke Salad Annie."  The man who wrote this song was named Tony Joe White.  And Elvis Presley also sang this song.  It's about a woman who was meaner than an alligator, and every day she picked pokeweed and ate it.  Or something like that.

But my main advice about pokeweed is DON'T EAT IT!  But if you want to make ink out of it, that's okay.  


  1. Hello. Just a quick note to say that I was finally able to make it up the 13 steps from my living room to the computer room. Enjoyed today's column, but haven't read the others...but plan to do so when I'm NOT so darn tired of climbing the steps. Take care, tell your mom hello.
    Love, AP

  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I am so glad you were able to make your new hip go up the stairs to your computer! I was worried about you, but now I know that you are getting better. We also have 13 steps to go up to get to our computer. When I had my knee surgery, I couldn't go up the steps, so Mom had to carry me. Maybe your mom can carry you upstairs, too!
    Bye now!