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Killer Pokeweed

Berries that make good ink but bad eating.
Unfamiliar to most people on this side of the Atlantic, pokeweed is an all too common problem for the farmers of the Eastern States, who regard it as a pest species, especially since it’s mighty effective at poisoning livestock. You would think that this, along with the rather unappetising name, might put people off eating it, but oh no, of course it doesn’t.

The poisons are so strong that the leaves have to be boiled two or three times before they become edible – even then a doctor would tell you to steer clear. A heady cocktail of sapotoxins await the unwary ready to cause a lingering and particularly agonising death.

Pokeweed was most active in weeding out the unlucky and dim-witted in the 19th century, since then the numbers of fatalities have decreased markedly but still do occur on occasion. In 1981, sixteen campers made a mixed leaf salad containing pokeweed leaves whilst on holiday in New Jersey. It suffices to say that they were not happy campers for long.

Pokeweed berries, which are an important food source for some birds, can be used to make ink. It was this ink that was used to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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04 May 2009
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