Here is some information about pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) that was recently posted by the Kansas State University Extension Horticulture Division. These plants are becoming increasingly apparent at this time of year in gardens and along roadsides. Some of you may remember when this plant received a fair amount of airtime when Elvis Presley recorded a song about it. You may recall the line “…”poke salad Annie, gator got your granny…” You can even see him perform it on YouTube.
A number of people have asked the name of the weed with the large leaves and purple-black berries that hang in a cluster. This perennial is known as pokeweed. All parts of this plant are poisonous, especially the roots. Signs of poisoning include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, drowsiness and difficulty in breathing. One of the toxins found in pokeweed is the protein lectin, which can cause abnormalities in white blood cells.
Surprisingly, young leafy springtime shoots are sometimes eaten after thorough cooking. Though cooking eliminates most of the toxins, there is still a danger of being poisoned from handling and preparing the shoots as well as ingesting improperly cooked plants.Berries can be attractive to children. Cut down and discard pokeweed that might come into contact with kids. This plant is a perennial. You may want to spray it with a herbicide next year before it is large enough to be attractive to children.