Pokeweed in Your Garden

Pokeweed Graphic

Pokeweed, pokeberry, poke or pigeonberry (Phytolocca americana) is a hardy, native perennial herb that was used by American Indians as a salve and a cure for rheumatism. However, today, Americans know it as a weed growing wild in pastures and gardens and along fencerows and roadsides.

The roots, berries and older stem parts of pokeweed are poisonous, but the young tender leaves are edible, says Mary Beth Musgrove, a horticulturist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. The leaves are best when harvested at 5 to 6 inches long. Cut young pokeweed shoots in the spring the same way you harvest asparagus. Be careful not to cut any part of the poisonous root or older stem. Boiling the green leaves will remove some of the bitterness.

If you enjoy poke salad, plant some pokeweed in your home garden, says Musgrove. Pokeweed roots can be transplanted in late winter or can be grown from seed planted in early spring. Pokeweed blooms from July to September.

To propagate from seed, collect the purple berries and crush them in water. Allow the seeds to sit in the water for a few days. The good seeds will settle to the bottom. Spread seeds out to dry; store in a cool, dry location.

Soak pokeweed seeds in sulfuric acid to break dormancy and germination. After soaking seeds for 5 minutes, wash them under running water. Allow seeds to dry thoroughly before planting. Cover seeds lightly when planting. Seedlings can be transported into the garden after the chance of frost has passed. Set them at least 3 feet apart.

SOURCE: Mary Beth Musgrove, Extension Horticulturist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System