We have one specimen of Phytolacca americana, from Lost Horizons. It’s in the front garden near the porch. This plant has a number of alias’, such as: Virginia poke, American nightshade, cancer jalap, coakum, garget, inkberry, pigeon berry, pocan, pokeroot, pokeweed, pokeberry, redweed, scoke, red ink plant and chui xu shang lu (for the Chinese medicine enthusiasts in the crowd). Parts of this plant are poisonous, but we don’t intend to eat any of it. It has a long history of medicinal use and scientists were apparently even looking at it as an anti AIDS drug. One story suggests the name Pokeweed was originally Polkweed, referring to James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, whose supporters reportedly wore the leaves. If you prefer a different story, “Poke” is thought to come from “pocan” or “puccoon,” probably from the Algonquin term for a plant that contains dye. Although the plant is reputed to be poisonous some folks twice boil the young leaves and eat them, and the leaves of this plant have been canned and sold as food in the past.
Here’s Tony Joe White performing Poke Salad Annie.
This showy herbacious perennial can grow up to 10 feet tall in ideal conditions but 6 feet is more usual. It fruits berries that birds enjoy. In some areas such as Southern California, it is considered an invasive weed because it can cause problems with native ecosystems.
- Twanglish Lesson: Poke (featuring Tony Joe White) (real-southern.com)