Phytolacca americana – Pokeweed

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Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a native perennial that is a traditional food of Native Americans and Southerners.
Pokeweed can be found in fields, roadsides, and forest edges. It prefers disturbed soil in partial shade to full sun.
Pokeweed starts to send up shoots in mid-spring. Shoots should only be harvested when they have tender, flexible stems and leaves that point upward. Stems should be unbranched and green. Leaves are hairless and alternately arranged.
Pokeweed shoots start to produce flowers around the same time it starts branching. In the summer, the plant produces long clusters of dark purple fruit. The stalks and stems turn magenta colored. The plant can grow up to 7 feet tall.
Pokeweed berries, roots, and mature plants are all toxic. Raw and unboiled shoots are also toxic.
To harvest pokeweed, slice off the green, unbranched shoots 2-3 inches above soil level and above the pink-tinged base. Boil the shoots for 10 minutes, then taste. If the shoots have any bitterness, then boil again in new water. After boiling, the shoots will have an asparagus texture and a mild taste.
After harvesting the shoots, pokeweed will send out more shoots. Pokeweed also seeds freely so there is little concern for sustainability.
Pokeweed shoots are high in pro-vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.

Written by Amy Demers, founder of the Connecticut Foraging Club. To learn more about foraging in Connecticut, check out our upcoming classes.

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