Sunday, September 4, 2016


A couple weeks ago I noticed several shaggy looking plants had grown within the underbrush of our back yard.  What particularly attracted my attention was the scattering of purple berries hanging from them.  I wondered if they were edible and could be used to make jelly.  So I googled them.  I'm glad I did- turns out that the plants are Pokeberry, aka pokeweed and in its raw form can make us humans very sick.  

Pokeberry is a perennial herb that generally grows from 4 to 12 feet tall and is a host for the stunning giant leopard moth (I'd love to see one- they're quite beautiful).  Ruby-throated hummingbirds are attracted to the plant's tiny greenish white blossoms.  During August and September when the berries start ripening, many year-round resident birds may be seen dining on them.  Northern mockingbirds, brown thrashers, eastern bluebirds, American crows, cardinals, starlings, mourning doves and red-bellied woodpeckers are attracted to the purple berries. In preparation for and during their fall migration, birds that nest in our backyards and elsewhere in North America will also gobble up pokeberries to help fuel the hazardous journey to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The list of migrants include the gray catbird, eastern kingbird, wood thrush, Swainson’s thrush, veery, summer tanager and hooded warbler.  Eating pokeberries can pose a risk for birds, particularly late in the year. It seems that pokeberries will sometimes ferment, intoxicating birds that eat them.

I had no idea that this plant is actually a part of age-old traditions in many areas of North America. Some places have annual "Poke Salad" Festivals that serve up recipes featuring the plant (in cooked form, of course).   It is said the taste is similar to asparagus.  I don't like asparagus so I doubt I'll ever dine on pokeweed.  

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 if it can protect cells from HIV and AIDS.  Wouldn't that be wonderful?!

It will be interesting to follow up on the research being done on this plant.  

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I have a bit of pokeberry growing in my yard. I found that the birds love the berries in the fall. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!