Some of our fruit here on the homestead has been acting wonky. The apple trees were re-blossoming at the end of September:
You can see some purple berries in the basket of things I harvested yesterday. Those are pokeweed berries.
Pokeweed: A Plant With a Long and Useful History
Since our daughter has gotten older and more independent, I've indulged myself in some of my old pre-baby hobbies like foraging and herbalism. While the internet will tell you that pokeweed is toxic and poisonous (and it is, somewhat) this fascinating book, acquired at a library sale for $0.10, states that pokeweed has several uses. Many a Civil War letter was written with the pokeweed berry juice, and the roots were commonly used medicinally. One of my favorite stops at Greenfield Village is Dr. Howard's office; a common country doctor's office from the 1850's. In the building you can see many of the roots and herbs that doctors would commonly use; things modern herbalists don't—like skunk cabbage and pokeweed.
Reading the history of my own area during the pioneer days has been particularly enlightening. One local doctor was not trained at medical school, but was well-liked by his patients, and—as the history book states—"did good for a lot of people." However, the other doctors disdained him and his lack of education. One day he broke his leg. None of his peers were willing to set the leg because they thought he was too far gone and would probably die anyway. The poor guy ended up setting the leg himself and made a full recovery!
But back to pokeweed; the most fascinating thing I've learned is that people used to grow it in their basements. In the fall they would dig up some roots and put them in a container of garden soil in their basement. The plant would start to grow and sprout a few months later, and produce an asparagus-like shoot. The shoots would be harvested at 6-8" tall and then cooked and eaten like asparagus. According to my research, you can also do this with dandelion plants. I'm going to try it this winter to see how it works!
In a different herbal I'm reading, the author recommends to plant pokeweed seeds every year, rather than only foraging them, in order to harvest roots the next season. So when I saw some beautiful berries the other day, I decided to pick them for seeds. Hey, you never know when you might need some natural narcotics!
Til next time,