Friday, September 10, 2010

Folklife Friday: Polkberries

They are ripe now.

The plump, purple berries that insure Phytolacca Americana will continue to grow as long as the Earth spins are ripe. I wrote about the young plants here: Folklife Fridays: Poke Salet.

As children, we would have been excited that our paint was ready and the search for long idle brushes would be on. After a few hours of painting, our monochromatic masterpieces would emerge, the same color as our hands and whatever we were wearing.

In the long gone days when cotton was 'king', we would have boldly splayed our names across the top of our pick sacks to stop any confusion about which was whose. By season's end, the names would be faded, but by that time, everyone knew their pick sacks by the way that fit around our neck and shoulders, our own being the only one that had molded to the shape of our bodies in an almost comfortable way.

Local country wisdom says that anything animals eat is safe for humans, wisdom born of days when our fathers lived off the land and gathered fall's bounty. This is not true for pokeberries. The purple berries contain phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, both toxic to humans. The berries are prized by birds, which can be proven by the magenta droppings on your car's windshield that have been mostly white all summer. The berries don't harm birds because the seeds pass through their digestive systems intact.

A friend swears by a home remedy for arthritis using pokeberries. He puts ripe berries in a quart jar and covers them with gin. After a few weeks, he eats five berries a day. He says it brings temporary relief with no side effects. I am NOT recommending this; you're on your own if you try it.

Another friend recalls her mother using the juice of pokeberries as a remedy for poison oak. She says she stayed red most of the summers in her youth.

Civil war soldiers used the 'ink' from the berries to write letters home. The letters that have been preserved appear to be written in brown ink.

Pokeberries can be found easily in most areas; just look along roadsides and the edges of fields and pastures. Keep your eyes open as you go out and about this weekend.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:12