The Medicinal Value of Native American Plants: Pokeweed


Tender shoots of poke are beginning to emerge. The time of poke salad is at hand. Only the new green shoots may be harvested in spring. Once the shoots take on a reddish hue that resembles the toxic root, they are too mature to consume safely. The green shoots should be cooked in two changes of water and eaten like asparagus.

Despite poke’s potential toxicity, the medicinal value of the plant was highly valued in times past and used by Indians and colonists, though with much care. A very little bit of the dried root was steeped in several cups of boiling water and the concoction sipped sparingly.
Poke, more than any other plant, was regarded as having the power to dramatically alter the course of an ailment. Death is also a dramatic altering and that could happen if too much was administered. I suppose the healer then made a mental note to use less next time. If self-medicating, the patient didn’t have to worry about next time.
Last summer I found an extremely vigorous pokeberry bush thriving among the buddleia. I actually like poke with its deep purple berries (one of the first inks of the New World) if I don’t think about it reseeding everywhere, which it did. But I respect poke, so much more than simply a weed. New research has shown that the root may be valuable in curing some of our most challenging diseases. Just don’t experiment on your own. Consult an expert.

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