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Pokeweed and its Roots and Berries

 
William James
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Location: Northern Italy
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Hi,
[disclaimer: this has nothing to do with using roots or berries, except for making better soil]

I'm currently in the winter and I'm collecting pokeweed seeds. I heard they have a low germinating rate (2% unless you use sulfuric acid then it becomes 90%). So I guess I'll need a lot.

I'd like to use this for two reasons.
A) I need something cheap that can break up my clay soil big-time. I'm also using forage carrots and daikon. But...
B) I also want something to act as a support for my peas or beans. Probably beans, since the pokeweeds would be big enough for scaffolding by the time I put in beans. Not sure if I can get peas up that fast in the spring.

Last year I had a bean plant hanging off a pokeweed plant. This year I want to scale up.

I am a little worried that the roots won't decay fast enough, or (gasp) will stick around until the following year or the year after and the year after and the year after.
I'm also worried that birds will make sure that it goes all around the place, unless I can get out there before them and snap the stems/berries off, which seems a little cruel.

I don't have kids around or animals that could get sick. I don't really plan to eat the plant (at least not now).

I just want deeper soil with big fat roots that will decay and give me humus. Do you think there are any problems with planting it with beans/peas? I guess what I want to know is: can pokeweed be my friend?

thanks,
-w
 
Kota Dubois
Posts: 171
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My pokeweed (phytolacca americana) is a perennial. I am at the northern edge of its range and in a bad year I will lose some. I've noticed that the frozen roots are a fibrous mush in the spring. Just my experience.
 
David Miller
Posts: 279
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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My 2 Cents, you can never get rid of pokeweed. I've tried and tried and all I wind up with is stained clothing from head to toe and a guaranteed resurgence in the spring. Just my experience
 
George Collins
Posts: 88
Location: South Central Mississippi
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I live in South Mississippi and we have bumper crops of poke weed every year. Last year, I harvested some, cooked it up by boiling it three times, and blah, blah, blah. I'm sure you know the story. Knowing that my father grew up in the post-depression era South, I figured he et poke weed on a fairly regular basis. I picked a bunch, cooked it up like a mess o'mustard greens and invited him to come see if I was able to make it as good as "Sister Jule" (a locally famous cook AND my great aunt).

Twent like this:

"Youngblood (my father's nick name but that's a whole other topic), you wanna come over and eat a messa poke sallet?"

"HELL NAW I DON'T WANNA EAT NO DAMN POKE SALLET. HELL, I WAS RAISED ON THAT SHIT!"

"A'ight then."

I thought it tasted purt good. So good in fact that I went out and gathered a second mess, boiled it three times, and cooked it like mustard greens. I was planning on having it for Sunday dinner after church along with a bunch of other stuff. Since I lived at the time right across from the church, after services was over I approached m'pappy and asked, "Youngun (a corruption of my father's nick name), come on over t'the house fer a spell whilst the women talk. I gots sumpthin I wanna get you to sound off on."

He walked over, I tore a hunk of corn bread off'n the pawn, put it in a bowl and spooned a big heaping of pole sallet on top with PLENTY of pot liquor.

I had to choke the old fool out t'pot.

He was like a kid in ice cream.

He likes it so much he started gathering the hell outta ever clump he saw. The poke weed didn't stand a chance that year. It never could get started good for there he was like a goat getting it all. He ate so much that he ran out of poke on our place and started ranging out onto the neighbors places, stopping side the good road, and generally bugging everyone in each of his social circles about their respective poke crops.

And that whole thing about poke having to be eaten when it first sprouts or it's poisonous - well, m'daddy et the stuff all summer long.

And that whole thing about boiling it three times or it's poisonous - well, . . . he didn't do that either. He simply picked it, wilted it down in a little water and a bunch of bacon grease, added water and salt and cooked till tender.

Go figger. I'm guessing he had one of them moments like that food critic dude did in that movie Ratatouille when he toke that first bite of ratatouille.

So summer wanes, the poke dies back and he collected a WHOLE BUNCH of seeds. Then I came along needing a bucket and I happened to find his bucket of poke seeds. Y'all ever seen a bucket full of poke seeds? Not very appetizing. Looked like something that someone ought to throw away. Figgerin I was helpin out, I dumped em, washed the bucket and thought, "Damn, that looked like a bunch of damn poke berries. Dang younguns (what I call my kids when I'm put out), always effin something up." I then used the bucket to slop the hogs.

Fortunately I washed the bucket out before I returned it because pops don't like when someone other than himself uses a bucket without washing it out when done.

Unfortunately, those seeds were to be his seed crop the following year as he was intent on raising poke along side th rest of his greens. More unfortunately still, he asked what happened to his seeds and out of pure innocence of intent, I admitted my guilt as it related to the destruction of his new, old-favorite green.

I toted a good cussin for that one (any many more both before and since).

So he climbed in Ol'Huldie (the name of his farm truck) and scoured South Mississippi looking to replace his seed crop.

Fall faded to winter and then winter became spring and twas time for the earth to awaken with all its glory and there was m'daddy as he has done lo these many years, sloggin through the mud, planting his spring annuals and cussing Boweevil (the name of his plow horse) for doing something "as bone headed as them two sons o'mine!" One particularly long row was reserved for the planting of poke.

Spring came and went, eventually turning into the heat of summer when one day he shows up on my porch with Tadpole (the name of his coon dog) by his side. I spied him through the screen-wire door and noticed he was smiling. I knew then he wanted something.

"Junior! How you doin today?"

I'm thinking, "Yep, he definitely wants something."

I said, "I'm good Youngun. What you got in the pot?

"Want you to look somethin up for me on that 'puter of yourn."

I thought to myself, "I knew it. He does want something."

I replied, "A'ight, what ya got?"

"I want you to find out why not a damn one of them poke seeds I planted come up."

I thought to myself, "After the cussing I toted for pouring that disgusting looking shit out, I ought not to do a DAMN thing for you, you old MFer!"

I said, "Yessir."

So I did a little research and, if I remember rightly, poke will only germinate iffn a bird shits it out. (Since this is in Mississippi it might have t'be a Mocking bird but I aint sure).

He cussed a little when I told him.
 
Dan Wallace
Posts: 41
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Our whole neighborhood is covered with pokeweed. Started with one house, now its the whole block. They're pretty good for chop and drop mulch, hard to kill and deep taproot
Birds spread them which makes sense why they don't germinate without acid. Just feed some berries to your local birds
 
William James
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Posts: 1008
Location: Northern Italy
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The fact that pokeweed is agressive and potentially rampant is slightly secondary. If the root creates soil through successive cuttings, I find that the plant itself is pretty easy to maintain, you just chop and drop.

Well, at least one, two, or even 10 or 20 might be easy to maintain. I could potentially pick seeds before they become bird-food.

I just don't really want a root that doesn't become soil. That's the main reason I'm putting it in.

-w
 
William James
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Posts: 1008
Location: Northern Italy
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I'm really getting the idea that this might be a no-go. A little too risky for me.

A) this looks like a really hard seed to get going. I feel a little weird about using battery acid. I suppose I'll try and get one going anyway without the acid.
B) it's perennial. I'm not sure that the "frozen roots [will become] a fibrous mush" as Kota says (as much as I hope it's true).
C) Controlling seed spread would be pretty tedious and the seeds remain in the seed bank for 40 years.
D) I might be inviting an infestation that I don't want to deal with
E) I saw that it lowers legume and corn yield. I was going to plant beans next to it.

I might do this experiment anyway on a limited basis and see how it goes.

William
 
Eliza Lord
Posts: 13
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Thanks for pointing me to this post, William! I put a link to it at the bottom of my blog post.

http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2012/06/13/how-to-get-excited-about-poke-sallet-native-options-for-permaculture-nutrient-accumulators/

I'll let you know how my experiment goes. I have less neighbor-ethical concerns about the berries reseeding since we all live next to a woodland that is full of the plant. We're all going to get bird-planted seedlings either way. I may put mine in the backyard though -- so people who hate how it looks won't suffer.
 
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