What To Do With Poke Berries

For the “harvest” blog party, being hosted by Darcey Blue at Gaia’s Gifts…

My poke bush (Phytolacca americana) is heavy with ripe fruit, so I’ve been gathering my winter supply. These pink-black berries are great for addressing body aches and rheumatism, stimulating a slugglish thyroid, stimulating the immune system, fighting off the flu, clearing swollen glands in the neck and chest area, helping with weight loss, and probably a ton of other things that I haven’t learned of yet!  The berries have similar properties as the poke root, but I think their medicine is gentler.

Poke berries are one of the best remedies I have ever used for that achy-all-over thing I get sometimes.  As I head into my mid-life metamorphisis, as Susun Weed calls it, with all its fluctuating hormones and inner transformations, my body adjusting to a new way of being, finding its equlibrium, these achy days come and go.  Muscles aches for no apparent reason, an achy joint here and there…  It is worse around the time of menses.

When I get in this state, I will sometimes swallow about three whole, dried, poke berries twice a day for a few days.  From the first day it’s bye-bye aches and pains!  Some may need less or more to get this effect. I started with just one berry a day, and worked up to three, which was a good dose for me.  They can be taken fresh or dried, but personally, I think the dried berries are more effective.

I also use poke berries for tonsilitis and flu and other upper respiratory ailments.  Again, it is one of the most effective herbal remedies I’ve ever used for these conditions, especially when they’ve gotten to a point where things are stuck and you feel like you’ll never be well again.  It gets things moving… fast!  With infections like these, I will usually work up to a bit of a bigger dose (up to 9 berries works for me) and then taper off as I start getting well.

In general, Poke is strong medicine. This is one herbal remedy I save for when things are stuck and going nowhere with some of the more gentle and nourishing approaches.  For my aches and pains most of the time, I will likely use hot Yarrow or Sage tea, or chew on some Angelica root, nice warming, aromatic, and somewhat bitter herbs, all of which can be a great comfort and make me feel brand new.  For colds and flu and sore throats, I prefer hot soups and nourishing herbs and plenty of rest.  But sometimes things get stuck and gentle approaches aren’t helping all that much.  That’s when you may just need a Poke to initiate some movement!!

To dry the berries, just pick a bunch and leave them out somewhere dry and airy in your house until they turn into these cute little scalloped and hardened discs. Then store in a glass jar.

The fresh berries can also be juiced and made into wine or jelly, and the whole berries can be tinctured.  I’ll be trying some of these this year for the first time.

Rebecca Hartman has a wonderful write-up on poke.  She classifies it as one of the alteratives, and mentions it as a traditional Appalachian herbal remedy, also used by Tommie Bass. I am anxious to get myself a copy of Mountain Medicine: The Herbal Remedies of Tommie Bass.  It’s next on my list of herbals to buy!

And here is an article on Poke from Susun Weed

Even if you don’t want to make medicine with them, I encourage you to go take a closer look at your poke berries if you have any.  They really are gorgeous.  The most vibrant shade of magenta stems and a lovely firm and scalloped base on which the plump berries rest.  Each berry has primal white markings all around its center naval, alluding to the ancient wisdom it carries in its belly.

They also make a really beautiful ink.  Many a child, myself included, has used them for body art.  And when I homeschooled my children many years ago we used them extensively in our natural art creations. What fun!

Caution: As I mentioned before in another post, the seeds of poke berry are toxic, but only if they are broken open.  The seeds are very hard, and if swallowed whole, they pass through the system intact and harmless.  Never chew poke berries!   Also, it is important when working with poke to start with very small doses and work up slowly.  Poke is strong medicine and it doesn’t take much.  I have not pushed it this far myself, but I have read that too much can cause nausea and vomitting, and way too much can cause you to feel “spacy”, a narcotic effect, and way, way too much could interfere with vital processes, and even cause death.  Poke should also not be used internally for extended periods of time, according to Susun Weed, because its alkaloids can build up in the kidneys. So be cautious and conservative and do your research if you choose to work with this plant medicinally!


5 Responses to “What To Do With Poke Berries”

  1. plantain on 01 Oct 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Hi tammy,

    Enjoyed reading your experience with poke. It sure did clear my lymph problem right up! I am thoroughly enjoying Tommie’s book! I am glad I bought it. Tommie really shines through. So much better than Trying to Give Ease.

  2. Mon on 02 Oct 2008 at 5:56 am

    Interesting. I had never heard of these before. It looks like it’s an American native.

    So how do you eat them if you don’t chew? *blink* Like a tablet/pill?

  3. tammy on 02 Oct 2008 at 9:50 am

    I’m glad to hear your good review, plantain! I can’t wait to read it.

    Mon — yes, it is american. You do swallow the berries whole like a pill. From what I’ve read it is nearly impossible to open a seed with your teeth anyway, because they are so hard. And if by chance you do open one and eat it, I believe the consequence is vomitting and diarrhea.

  4. Sigrid on 04 Oct 2008 at 3:25 am

    You have finally convinced me. I live in northern Tuscany and I have poke growing all over the place and when it gets big it is difficult to get rid of. I have always hated the plant,(don’t like it aesthetically and don’t like having to get rid of it) but today I will go out and harvest the berries and dry them and/or tincture them fresh and use them for difficult moments. Thank you so much!

  5. tammy on 05 Oct 2008 at 8:04 am

    You’re welcome, Sigrid. It is so very prolific around here, it felt to me a shame to not use it in some way. It seems to beg to be noticed and has much to offer. Enjoy your Tuscan poke! :-)

  6. Wendy on 31 Aug 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks Tammy! Your Poke is ready already? Its still green up here. I will refer to this article again and dry some berries in a few weeks. Great to read on your dosages.

    This may be why Poke is showing up everywhere? These times calling for strong medicine?

    My kidneys are finicky so I’ll definitely nourish them if ever I need a poke this winter.


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