Penn State is looking for farmers with pokeweed


HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania farmers who have a problem with pokeweed in their fields are invited to participate in a research project aimed at controlling this weed.

Penn State weed specialists are looking to the state’s farmers for fields that could serve as additional research locations for their study into the management of pokeweed. The study is currently being conducted at Penn State’s Research Farm near State College.

Growing problem

Pokeweed is an increasing problem in Pennsylvania fields and can be a tough weed to control due to its perennial life cycle and ability to regrow from a large, persistent taproot, says Penn State Weed Specialist Kelly Patches.

Pokeweed populations seem to be on the rise in recent years in Pennsylvania field crops, says Patches.

“There may be several reasons for this including the increase in reduced- and no-till production practices. The main goal of our research is to learn more about the biology of pokeweed and how it behaves so we can better time control tactics.”

Study participation

Patches and Dr. Bill Curran are investigating more efficient pokeweed management strategies through a research project supported through the soybean checkoff by the Pennsylvania Soybean Board.

Growers who have a problem with pokeweed on their farm and who are willing to work with the researchers in this important study are encouraged to contact Kelly Patches at

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  1. We eat it down this way. Take the early leaves when it is small, boil them briefly and pour off the water. Slice the greens into strips and pan fry with a little bacon grease, onion & seasonings. Delicious. Top with some tasty vinegar to dress it like Turnip Greens & enjoy. Full of minerals. Great in the spring before anything else is ready in the garden.

  2. Warning! These plants can be extremely toxic. As reported, parts from very young early growth except roots are cooked and consumed by some people but please read the following from:
    “Poisonous Plants of Pennsylvania”
    Commonwealth of PA – Department of Agriculture

    POISONOUS PARTS: All parts, but primarily the roots, are considered poisonous. Small quantities (more than 10) of raw berries can result in serious poisoning of adults. Fatalities in young children can result from the consumption of a few raw berries.

    SYMPTOMS: The more common symptoms are gastrointestinal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions in severe cases. Perspiration, prostration, weakened respiration and pulse, salivation, and visual disturbance are possible symptoms. Death may result. Humans experience an immediate burning sensation in the mouth upon consumption. Postmortem: gross lesions: mild to severe gastroenteritis; congestion of internal organs; histological lesions: stomach ulcerations with hemorrhage.

    POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The physiologically active principles have been identified. Suspected compounds include saponin, together with lesser amounts of the alkaloid phytolaccin.

    CONFUSED TAXA: Few plants are confused with pokeweed. The infructescence may superficially resemble that of chokecherry or wild cherry (see Prunus), but Prunus is an arborescent plant with woody bark, whereas Phytolacca is herbaceous.

    SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Any class could be affected; however, the plant stem, leaves. and berries are unpalatable and therefore are not usually ingested. Pigs may become ill from routing and eating the roots. Humans may be affected if they eat the berries, stems, or roots.

    TREATMENT:(11a)(b); (26); peripheral plasmacytosis with potential immunosuppressive properties.

    OF INTEREST: Cooked, young, tender leaves and stems are eaten by some people as a pot-herb. These young greens are the “poke salad” of Southern fame. They contain low concentrations of phytolacca toxin which is destroyed by proper cooking. Cooked berries are edible and occasionally used in pies, Phytolacca americana contains mitogens, compounds that can be absorbed through skin abrasions, causing blood abnormalities. Sensitive individuals should handle pokeweed with gloves. Root preparations have been used as a folk-medicinal, a practice than can be dangerous.


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