Pokeweed

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The young shoots of pokeweed make an excellent cooked vegetable. They can be picked when they are up to about 12″ tall (once the leaves fully open, they become slightly toxic). These shoots are often hard to spot, however. They are usually surrounded by tall weeds and grasses.

The best way to find the shoots is to note where you saw the plant last summer, when its bright red stems and deep purple berries made it conspicuous. The dried stalks are also good signposts for pokeweed. They show up well in the late fall and winter and are often still visible in early spring, right before the shoots come up. Using off-season plant stages to aid in foraging is a very useful observational strategy. I call it the return for. It reinforces flower identification and bolsters your familiarity with both wildflowers and collecting edible wild plants you with to harvest. If you jot down where you see something in a conspicuous stage, then you can easily return to the same spot to see it in other stages. Soon you will notice it in new locations at different times of year.

A corollary strategy, which I call targeted observation, is also very helpful. When you are looking for something specific, picture it in your mind as you scan your surroundings while strolling outdoors. A good search image will make its target pop out of the background amazingly well. When you find what you’re looking for (or just spot something new and interesting) take a long hard look at it, really burn the image in your mind. When you move on, it‘s likely that you will quickly spot more of them. Backtrack in your path and you may discover that you’d walked past several without noticing them.

Check the plant list for your current season before you head outdoors. You can set out with a few search images already in mind, making plant identification a lot easier.

Field Guide to the Seasons  tells you what plants and animals are doing throughout the year. To find out how, go to the Book tab on the home page.