Poke Berry Jelly

1351361841Below our home, out back, behind the old barns, that are falling down plank by plank, from the drilling of the wood bees, there is a pokeweed forest growing. An old cedar came down two winters ago, and it seems all these dormant poke seeds finally saw the light to germinate. Poke, Phytolacca americana, Shang lu, is a striking and irresistable plant. Alluring as it matures and streaks purple into its stems, clusters of creamy blossoms,  and then the berries, staining fingers vibrant pink, deep purple with fuschia stems. How can anyone resist this toxic plant? Its beauty has probably been the reason people have persisted in discovering its uses as food and medicine.

This is the end of October, and I have just harvested the last of the berries, leaving many for the bears and the birds. Poke has been used as medicine, food and dye around the world for hundreds of years. In the Apppalachia, they make poke greens “sallat,” (pick shoots before they have purple/red streaks appear, at about 6″ tall), poke berry jelly, poke root oil, and pokeberry water. The root, in TCM is called Shang lu, and is  bitter, cold to neutral, downward directing, toxic, to be used with great caution. It enters the Bladder, Kidney, Large Intestine, Spleen, (and Lung). It is used to treat edema, in the upper, middle, and lower burners, with its action of strongly unblocking the water gates and promoting movement of catabolic wastes.
In large doses poke root may cause diarrhea, vomiting, and in larger doses it may cause respiratory failure and death.

Poke is also used as a lymph cleanser and mover for glandular inflammations, such as mononucleosis, mastitis, swollen glands in the armpit,throat and neck; and for dissolving cysts in the ovaries or fatty tumors elsewhere in the body. Internally taken as a tincture one may use 1-10 drops 1-3x/day.  It may also be made into an oil and used topically over affected areas.

The berries may be used similarly, in a tincture, a jelly or pokeberry water to stave off rheumatism, aid in recovery from the flu, and to support healthy immune functioning. Pokeberry may be used similarly to or in combination with red root and cleavers.  Its a good time of year to make this medicine, for we are headed into winter, where the cold and our slightly more sedentary lifestyle and richer foods, can cause things to move slower and accumulate in our lymph and glandular system. You will also have it in the spring when you may be ready to cleanse the winter accumulations. This year I made a delicious jelly and a tincture of the berries. I am waiting a bit longer to harvest the root to make a root oil and tincture.
The seeds within the juicy pink berries are toxic, but the fruit is not. Here are a few recipes where can you avoid the seeds, and utilize fruit only.

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POKEBERRY JELLY
3 cups ripe poke berries
3 cups water
1 Tbsp grass fed gelatin
1 cup sugar, or raw honey (if you use
raw honey add at the end)
Bring to boil and simmer 20 mins.
Gently crush the berries in the pot
with a potato masher.
Strain the seeds out.
Pour into jars.
Eat a little per day as needed.POKEBERRY WATER
Place 10 or so berries in a quart of water, and leave overnight. Strain the next morning, and drink 1/2 cup everyday for four days to prevent rheumatisms, and promote immune-recovery and strength.
Another way to use the berries medicinally is in the treatment/prevention of arthritis and other inflammations is to SWALLOW WHOLE one berry per day for seven days, adding one berry each day until you are up to seven berries in seven days. Then tapering down one berry per day from seven, six, five etc to one berry daily.
The word toxic can be a strong deterrent to medicine, but it is important for us to know how to use this prolific plant safely. And truly, all plants are to be used with caution, for they can create a unique, possibly adverse dynamic within each person’s bio-region! Always start with the smallest doses, and observe your body.  If rashes appear, or abdominal discomfort occurs, discontinue use.
Thanks to the many before us who figured out the diverse poke uses. May this article promote aware, wise and cautious use of what we have availlable, outside our back doors.

18 thoughts on “Poke Berry Jelly

  • September 9, 2013 at 1:49 am
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    I am trying the berries for a sudden onset of arthritis. Came to me so fast, I’m afraid it’s rheumatoid. I am on day 3, 3 berries a day, and my hands felt better this morning than they have in weeks. You mentioned making a tincture of berries. What ratio do you use? I couldn’t find 100 proof pure grain alcohol, just 180 proof. I didn’t know if I should water down, so I bought 100 proof vodka. Will this work okay? I am so happy to”discover” all the healing properties of this beautiful plant. My grandparents were from mountains of Kentucky and ate poke boiled then fried. And my grandmother would peel and slice the stems, roll in cornmeal and fry like okra. They had heard of neighbors making pokeberry jelly, but were afraid to try that, so I was raised to believe they were poison. I am just learning about some basic medicinal plants in our area, and I am going slowly, being very cautious. Thank you for your information!

    Reply
    • September 12, 2013 at 2:40 am
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      So Sorry Susan for the delayed reply! Just getting my barrings navigating my site!
      How did you do the whole seven days of poke berries?
      A tincture can be made the home/folk way with filling your jar with fresh berries and covering them with alcohol.
      Vodka makes a nice tincture, at 80 proof or 100 proof. Hope this helps!
      Please keep me posted. And I would love your family poke salat recipes!

      Reply
      • August 28, 2016 at 10:51 am
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        Hi, can you advise how to use the tincture for arthritis? How much, how often? Might gin work OK?

        Reply
  • October 17, 2014 at 3:57 am
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    Hi – Thanks for the article. Our forest is full of Poke’s and was so hoping I could utilize this plant. Just the fact it has such rich colour I see many dye uses. Such a rich beautiful colour. I will be experimenting with making tinctures and food products from this plant. – From Southern Ontario Canada – 😀

    Reply
    • October 26, 2014 at 4:32 pm
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      A dear knitter friend make a dye for her yarn. It is in season here now. Just remember the seeds are the poisonous part! Would love you to share what you end up making!

      Reply
  • August 1, 2015 at 9:18 am
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    Hi there, thank you very much for the information and your recipes and I’m so I ran into your website. I live in New York City and had these plants growing in my back yard for years and didn’t know what to do with them till recently. Every so often I would taste a berry and to my surprise, they were pretty good and yummy. I’m going to take a crack at all the above recipes and eventually make the essential oil as well. I will be using a commercial bought 192 proof grain alcohol, which is, 96% alcohol content by volume. My question to you is, what would be a sufficient amount of pokeberry soaking time before being able to enjoy this most wonderful tincture / cordial. Also, would the alcohol be able to extract the toxins from the seeds at any giving time.

    Thank you very in advance & keep up the good work…Don

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    • March 13, 2016 at 10:45 am
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      When you macerate the poke berries, meaning soak in alcohol, do not break the berries, leave them whole. If you notice the seeds they have a pretty hard outer skin, that is difficult to penetrate. But to be safe soak em whole. Thanks for your inquiry!

      Reply
  • August 9, 2015 at 9:04 am
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    I have arthritis, thinking of trying this when the ripen here,thanks for the great article! !

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    • March 13, 2016 at 10:43 am
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      Let us know how it goes! And remember not to chew the berries. Just swallow. And this is at your own risk! Thanks for your comments

      Reply
  • September 1, 2015 at 12:14 pm
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    My question is in regards to the jelly… At the end of your recipe, it says “eat a little per day as needed” what would the serving size be for the jelly per day? Is it safe to eat every day? Does it work for medicinal purposes? Thank you.

    Reply
    • March 13, 2016 at 10:42 am
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      Yes, it can work medicinally, but of course you have the sugar. Sugar in many healing ways is a vehicle to carry medicine. I would say a teaspoon per day would be sufficient. Thanks for your inquiry!

      Reply
  • September 24, 2015 at 6:33 am
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    This plant is very dangerous and can kill children with as little as one berry. I cannot believe that people would recommend or use this medically! If you want to gamble with your lives then go ahead and risk it but you never know how much of any chemical is in a plant part and you can easilly poison yourself and others, even children and animals without realizing it, and it may takes days or more to see the result!
    In safe mature hands maybe you can make a medicine yes but I am no doctor and I just know how dangerous this plant is!

    Reply
    • March 13, 2016 at 10:40 am
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      Hello Jason, Thank you for you comment.
      I strongly encourage cautious use of any plant, and proper id first and foremost. And I am certainly not suggesting this is safe for children. There are many sources that speak of the toxins, yes, and if one were to eat the fresh spring tender leaves, it is suggested to do several boilings. The peoples of the south have used this plant in many ways for generations. And in terms of the berries, it is recommended to swallow them, for the toxins are in the seeds, which cannot be digested by our guts, and come out whole. Here is an article http://www.herbalrootszine.com/articles/elderberry-vs-pokeberry. And there are many. Birds eat these regularly and are the main seed distributor, for they are undigested and dropped to germinate elsewhere. Thank you again for bringing up the important aspect of being safe with plants.

      Reply
    • September 4, 2016 at 1:35 pm
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      I was just wondering if you had personal stories of the dangers,
      or just “heard” of the dangers.

      Could you explain “how you know”?

      I tried it for the first time this year with no ill effects,
      and just read that some just fry it with eggs or make
      a hot dressing on raw leaves, with no ill effects.

      It seems that personal stories are more along the line of:
      “It gave me the trots.” Ha!

      Reply
  • June 7, 2016 at 11:09 am
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    i have a poke berry plant growing in my veggie garden of all places! i thought i had pulled it out last fall, but it’s back… after reading again of the benefits, i have decided to let it be. when you say to eat a berry, is it when they are purple or still green (or does it matter)?
    thank you!

    Reply
  • August 22, 2016 at 11:28 am
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    Hi!
    My mom is 82 years old and suffers from arthritis. Someone told me that if I could find some polk berry wine and use it for medicinal purposes that it would help. I can’t find the recipe or the wine. Will the water work just as well?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • August 28, 2016 at 4:20 pm
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    Hello,

    For the “tincture” how long to soak in alcohol before drinking?? Also, is the tincture also medicinal? ~;-)

    Reply

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