The berries have been used in the manufacturing of ink and dye.
The plant can grow to a height if 10' (see final paragraph).
The common name, poke, comes from a Native American word "pocan." This was the name for any plant that yielded a red dye.
The plant, native to the Americas, East Asia and New Zealand, goes by many English common names including poke sallet, pokebush, pokeroot, and pokeberry.
Many of us had ancestors who ate the leaves. Hopefully they ate the young leaves. Some of us may have eaten some along with dandelion greens. One can actually purchase canned Poke Salat Greens. These are young leaves.
The roots, berries, seeds and the mature stems and leaves of pokeweed are poisonous. The poisons found in pokeweed are Triterpenoid saponina, an alkaloid phytolaccine, phytolaccin, and histamines. We can also find fatty oil, resin, sugars, antiviral protefin, tannin, lectins, and formic acid. All this makes us salivate and ready to eat poke salet.
It is true that many persons of the past ate polk weed after boiling the leaves and, sometimes the shoots. They would boil it in salt water, rinse it, and then boil it in clear water.The boiling removed many of the toxins but not all of them. Eating "improperly prepared" pokeweed can cause vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, cramps of the abdomen, blurred vision, headaches, dermatitis, dizziness, and weakness. Other more serious conditions can follow. It would be best to eat spinach and not take chances.
Pokeweed roots, "properly treated," have been used for achy joints and muscles, and swelling of the throat, nose and chest and many other health concerns.
Romans loved to sprinkle salt to their greens to enhance the flavor. Latin for salt is "sal." This is where we get the word SALad. Roman soldiers were occasionally payed with salt. Therefore we have our word SALary.
You say that you want more pokeweed trivia to share with others?
The "Constitution of the United States" was written in pokeberry ink. We children learned this from our paternal grandfather who was known in articles about him in Northern Virginia as "the Historian."
Letters written during the American Civil War and other conflicts on our continent were often written with pokeberry ink for it was convenient.
when James Poke was campaigning for president many of his supporters wore a sprig of poke in their lapels.
Poke berries were once used to improve the color of cheap red wine.
There was an old hit song written in 1969 entitled "Polk Salad Annie" written and performed by Tony Joe White. Elvis also recorded the song.
Poke sallet festivals are held annually in Gainesboro, Tennessee; Blanchard, Louisiana (at Shreveport); Harland, Kentucky, and Arab, Alabama.
If this sounds like fun why not take a trip to enjoy a woolyworm festival and watch the woolyworms race to the top of a 3' length of string. Great fun.
Note: Salet is also spelled salat and sallet. It is often spelled salad by sophisticated folks.
Many people love the plant for its beauty late in the season. Many hate it and struggle to uproot the long tap root. Destroy the berries before they go to seed or problems occur the next year.
This is interesting: If birds eat the berries, and the seeds go through the bird's digestive system, the resulting seeds will product very tall plants, up to 10' or more! Other uneaten seeds produce short plants.
The writer just got poison ivy blisters (June 3, 2014). He helped a recent widow across the street clear out considerable brush in the back of her yard. He helped her husband haul dead pokeweek stalks that were over 10’ high to the road to be picked up. We were trying to keep them from growing high and I simply snapped them off at the ground by bending them over. The writer saw the poison ivy and stayed away from it--he thought.