The pokeweeds, also known as poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, inkberry or ombú, comprise the genus Phytolacca, perennial plants native to North America, South America, East Asia and New Zealand. Pokeweed contains phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, which are poisonous to mammals. However, the berries are eaten by birds, which are not affected by the toxin.
Pokeweeds are herbs growing from 1-10 ft. tall. They have single alternate leaves, pointed at the end, with crinkled edges. The stems are often colored pink or red. The flowers are greenish-white, in long clusters at the ends of the stems. They develop into dark purple berries.
Pokeweed can be a troublesome weed of gardens and pastures. The fruits attract birds when ripe, and the birds then sow the seeds.
Young pokeweed leaves can be boiled twice to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after the first boiling. The result is known as poke salit, or Poke salad, and is occasionally available commercially. Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after twice boiling, as traces of the toxin may still remain. When fried in bacon grease, poke salad is no longer poisonous, and many say it tastes very good, "especially with cornbread". For many decades, Poke salad has been a staple of southern U.S. cuisine, despite campaigns by doctors who believed pokeweed remained toxic even after being boiled. The lingering cultural significance of Poke salad can be seen in the recording of the song "Polk Salad Annie" by Tony Joe White, famously covered by Elvis Presley.
Pokeweed is used as a homeopathic remedy to treat many ailments. It can be applied topically or taken internally. Topical treatments have been used for acne and other ailments. Internal treatments include tonsilitis, swollen glands and weight loss.
Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye, which was once used by Native Americans to decorate their horses. The red juice has also been used to symbolize blood, as in the anti-slavery protest of Benjamin Lay.
Pokeweeds are also grown as ornamental plants, mainly for their attractive berries; a number of cultivars have been selected for larger fruit panicles.Pokeweeds are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Giant Leopard Moth.
- Mowing: Effective
- Cultivation: Effective when young
- Mulching (for prevention): Effective
- Pulling: Can be difficult due to the large taproots
- Grazing: Toxic to livestock