Poke is forming its deeply purple berries now. Even in this dry hot summer the amazing Pokeweed has grown to gigantic proportions. It's hard to stop this determined plant from flourishing. In spring I pulled roots that had taken hold in a small flower garden and tucked them into a crack of earth near a pile of rocky rubble at the edge of the backyard. They are a bit stunted, but they survived and are flowering.
Perhaps this year I will make some Pokeberry ink for magickal workings. It could not be simpler as it is simply the juice of the crushed berries mixed with a little vinegar. This was a common way to make ink during colonial times.
Here is some more information on this wonderful and very useful plant:
Also called: Poke Root, Polk Sallet, pokeberry, poke, inkberry, pigeonberry American nightshade. coakun, pocan bush, scoke, garget, and poke salad. The Japanese call it America Yamagobou.
Habit and Habitat: A large, smooth, branching herb from a large, perennial rootstock, and with green, red, or purple stems; leaves alternate and simple; flowers white, on a long stem, 3-5 feet tall. The fruit is a dark purple berry growing on a spike. It grows throughout Eastern North America. Pokeweed blooms in the warm weather from July to September. It is prolific on our roadsides. Pokeweed grows in rich pastures, waste places, gardens, open places in woodlands, and along fence rows. It grows on deep, rich, gravelly soils, limestone, and sandy soils. Poke is a perennial herb, reproducing by seeds or from a very large poisonous taproot.
History and Folklore: Poke is well known among country folk in the south as a tasty cooked green. “Poke sallet” is an old term for the cooked greens, which are prepared from tender young shoots gathered in early spring before the stalks take on their reddish purple hue, and boiled at least twice, discarding the first water to rid the leaves of any possible poison. The prepared greens are seasoned with salt and bacon drippings. This is a popular dish in the rural South. The root, older leaves and possibly the berries can be toxic.
Native Americans introduced this plant to European settlers who enjoyed it so much that seeds soon were being cultivated back in Europe. In addition to eating the young shoots and leaves, Native Americans and early American settlers made a crimson dye from the berry juice. Settlers took this juice and made ink from it as well.
The berries, which ripen in the Fall, are a favorite food of migrating songbirds, especially robins, towhees, mockingbirds, mourning doves, catbirds, and bluebirds. The birds are no doubt responsible for spreading the plant. Its habit of growing along fence rows is probably a result of birds alighting on the fence and taking that opportunity to relieve themselves.
The roots, berries, seeds, and mature stems and leaves of pokeweed are all poisonous. The root is the most concentrated form of the toxins. Berries are often eaten in small amounts (one per day) by adults to cleanse the blood and build the immune system. Children are often tempted by the berries but should be warned not to ingest them.
When trying to clear an area of Poke by pulling up the roots it would be wise to wear gloves to protect your skin from absorbing the toxins. All parts of the plant may contain some toxins and Foster & Duke warn that the juice can cause dermatitis and damage chromosomes. Death has followed an overdose (one-half ounce) of the berries or root, preceded by excessive vomiting and purging drowsiness, prickling and tingling over the whole body; vertigo, dimness of vision, cold skin, feeble pulse, great prostration, convulsions and coma.
Medicinal Uses and Constituents: Phytolaccic acid, phytolaccine, calcium malate, resin, starch, wax, gum, tannin, mucilage. Various parts of the plant have been used since pre-Colombian times to treat many conditions. It seems the berry juice has been used for pimples and boils, in some cases taken internally in other cases applied to the skin. It is often combined with Echinacea. It has also been taken for joint pain and applied to sore breasts. Leaf concoctions have been used as an expectorant, emetic and cathartic. Phytolacca is used when the lymph glands are hard and enlarged,
In small doses the plant is used as an alterative. In large doses it is cathartic emetic, and narcotic. Poke acts as a gastro-intestinal irritant, producing vomiting, purging, dizziness, drowsiness, feeble pulse, general prostration, cool and sometimes clammy skin and even convulsions, coma and death. Generally a tingling or prickling sensation is felt over the whole body.
Phytolacca has a specific influence on the glandular structures, increasing waste and improving nutrition. A good remedy in inflammation of the glandular system, especially of the lymphatic glands. In rheumatism in which the white fibers are involved it may be used to advantage. Irritants in the blood, the result of deficient catabolism, producing pains of rheumatic nature will be corrected by the use of phytolacca. It will relieve irritation, inflammation and ulceration -of the mucous membrane in any part of the body. Our best remedy in mastitis and to resolve breast abscesses, in these cases we combine it to advantage with echinacea. We think of it in stomatitis, tonsillitis, sore nipples, pain in the breasts with fullness, and inflammation. It is also used in cases of diphtheria, spasmodic croup, sore mouth of the nursing child, canker, boils, syphilis and skin disease. Phytolacca is indicated in affections of the lymphatic glands, especially where they are hard and swollen. It is directly indicated in irritation, inflammation and ulceration of mucous membranes in rheumatic persons, scabies, psoriasis, eczema, and all skin diseases, especially chronic ones. It is often used both internally and externally to affect a cure.
The eclectic physicians used a combination of phytolacca and echinacea in the treatment of any form of albuminuria in order to restore the kidneys to normal function.
Its action in relieving irritation, inflammation and ulceration of mucous membranes in all parts of the body—throat, larynx, lungs, stomach, bowels and rectum—suggests it as a remedy for inflammation of the lining membrane of the heart; and the eclectic physcians are reported to have cured cases of this kind with phytolacca.
Flower Essence: This essence is useful in transforming experience and intellectual knowledge into the intrinsic gut level emotional knowledge of the person. It is for “psychological breakthrough”. It will cleanse old trauma and toxic thoughts from the system and help the person put them into perspective, understand, and deal with them once and for all. It works on both ends of the spectrum: bringing to conscious understanding the issue which the person may have been suppressing or ignoring so that they are finally able to deal with it, and also taking issues of long standing which have been continually and consciously bothering the person and bringing these issues to some kind of resolution. This is a very powerful essence and it is well advised to combine it with essences that will support the transformational experience, or to use it in combination with other supportive therapies such as psychological counseling or Shamanic Reiki. It is an important piece of healing, but it is not the entire piece.
There will be some gentle expression of the physical properties of the herb without the physical toxicity. Look for people in some kind of psychological turmoil who are also expressing physical manifestations of this problem, especially if they are skin or blood related, including some cancers (example: breast cancer which may have had its genesis in over-nurturing of others while under-nurturing self) .
Astrological Considerations: Use during Pluto transits, during a Saturn or Chiron return.