Poke berries. Toxic or not?
Now that spring is around the corner I wanted to re-post this list for new foragers thinking about heading back into the field.
Below is a toxic plant list for Northwest Arkansas. I’ve linked each plant to an article with more information. The list is short, but I hope to update annually or as often as possible. If you know of any that should be included or see a plant that should be taken off the list, please email: maturehealth at yahoo dot com or leave a comment in the comments area.
Aconite – This is part of the monkshood/wolfbane family. Highly toxic.
Buttercups/Ranunculus - Harvey’s and Hairy Buttercups are prevalent in the Ozarks. Look along any trail in the spring and summer…
Datura stramonium – Jimson weed, loco weed
Phytolacca americana – Pokeberry, Poke berry
Article at MatureHealth
Note: Though the pokeberry can be highly toxic, there have been some reports of people eating the berry with no ill effects. The plant also has medicinal properties that are mentioned in the article (in link) but medicinal use by those who don’t know how to use the plant have also resulted in poisoning.
Solanum americanum – American Nightshade
Article at MatureHealth
Solanum carolinense – Horse Nettle
Article at MatureHealth
Taxus —- – Varied species of Yew
Toxicodendron radicans = Rhus radicans – Poison Ivy
Another article at Wikipedia
Toxicodendron vernix – Poison Sumac
Cornell University’s site on substances toxic to livestock and other animals.
Toxic Plant list from the University of Arkansas rated by category. The categories range from 1-4; one being the most toxic and four being non-toxic to humans.
With all the excitement about mushroom hunting (this is the season!), everyone going out on a foray should pay attention to all the warnings about poisonous look-alikes.
Here’s an article published last year at SF Chronicle about a whole family consuming death caps.
I learned just recently that milk thistle is regularly used to treat Amanita poisoning in Europe, but has not been approved by the FDA to use in this country. Nice to see a reference in which the medical community actually makes use of the knowledge available.
So far this year, I haven’t seen one poisoning in Arkansas…
Solanum Americanum, or the American Nightshade is beginning to fruit in the area.
This specimen has only shown its fruit within the past week. The berries are black with several seeds inside.
Do not eat green berries. Though some references say it has been used for medicinal purposes, parts of this plant are toxic.
Green Deane of Eat the Weeds, kindly took the time to do some additional research. Here’s what he found:
On page 30 of her book “Plants Poisonous to People” ISBN 0-87024-336-5, [Julia S. Morton] writes (about Solanum americanum Mill.) “TOXICITY: Ripe fruit are widely eaten raw or cooked. Young shoots and leaves are cooked and eaten like spinach, but cooking water should be discarded.” She goes on to say the plant also can accumulate nitrates. Thirty-five grams of unripe fruit killed a rabbit. Two pounds of ripe fruit did not bother sheep. In 129 years she found three references to illness caused by the unripe berries, all related to children. One in 1866 died, the other two, 1966 and 1978, recovered.
In her book “Wild Plants for Survival In South Florida” ISBN 0-916224-77-5 on page 61 she states “green fruit contains solanine and are toxic; ripe fruit subacid, edible raw (M) or cooked. An improved form is cultivated as the “garden huckleberry” or “wonderberry.” Young leaves and stems cooked as greens.”
You can also read the wikipedia article on the plant.
And read the article at Missouriplants.com
Pokeberry or Phytolacca americana grows in nearly any available spot of disturbed land in Arkansas. You will see it sprouting in fields, along hedges and near any pasture border. And when ripe those plump, nearly black berries look oh so sweet.
Don’t dare eat them though. Though the plant does have some medicinal properties, only a skilled practitioner should use this plant.
Historically, the plant has been used for Poke Salet, which is the green leaf boiled several times and mixed with other ingredients. According to some accounts, the leaf must be prepared this way or it will poison any who ingest it.
In Lowell, there are more pokeberry bushes than we know what to do with, though I know what I’d like to do with them–no I don’t do the Salet.
I have to admit the bush is beautiful while the berries are fully ripe, but to be honest the asthetic doesn’t ease my mind when children stop to look at those plump, black pearls.
So I think this year, the poke is going the way of the dead branches we just cut from the apple tree. Perhaps a public burning. That’s an idea.
While wandering around Lowell, I found a few wild tomatoes. I wanted to wait on sampling until after I conducted a little research.
Solanum carolinense is also known as a wild tomato and horse nettle.
There are conflicting reports on this plant, though most say the whole plant is toxic. According to Medicinal Herbs, by Foster and Duke the plant is used by herbalists to treat epilepsy and other ailments.
There are toxic constituents found in all parts of the plant and there have been cases of animal and children dying from ingestion; however, the berries are less toxic than other parts of the plant and when cooked, toxic constituents break down.
Some information exists showing an infusion of the leaf was used to treat worms, as a dermatological aid and the leaves were crushed with sweet milk to kill flies.
The plant is useful for those who know how to use it, but toxic to those who don’t. Never ingest any part of this plant unless you know what you are doing.
For better identification please visit Kirk Jordan’s site, ID Arkansas and take a look at the photos of the plant there.
Some links for further information:
Link Basic info from 2Bnthewild.com
Link Horse nettle in different stages of developement.
Link Short article at Wikipedia