October 13, 2008
As the leaves around here change to red, orange and yellow in the fall, one plant sticks out by producing dark purple berries. It's pokeweed!
I really like pokeweed because it's sort of ugly, very distinctive, and one of the handful of wild plants I can easily identify.
According to Just Weeds by Pamela Jones, pokeweed berries were used by American Indians on the East Coast to dye woven baskets. Later, the English settlers in this area used them to make ink. According to Wikipedia, the Declaration of Independence was written with fermented pokeberry juice. Other people share my appreciation for this plant. Down on the Cape, I've seen yards with enormous pokeweed bushes grown for decoration.
A few years ago, I went on an urban nature walk led by a wild foods specialist. He told us that young pokeweed shoots (which appear in the spring) can be eaten like asparagus. However, if you harvest them too late they are toxic, and the mature plant and its berries are poisonous if ingested. I would advise you against even trying to eat this plant - asparagus is available in the supermarket all year round, and it's not poisonous!