Beautiful, Useful, Native
The incomparable Betty Decker, one of my life's many teachers from that haven of beauty and wisdom otherwise known as Wayne County, led my family to eat poke for the first time seven years ago. Dad, who was in the last month of his 96 1/2 years, told Betty it was his first time to eat it.
Betty taught us that poke stems and tender leaves are edible and delicious until—and only until—it forms the first flowers. After that, the plant is beautiful and dangerous. And likely medicinal, in the hands of properly knowledgeable herbalists. Every farm kid knows and loves Its lushly purple berries, and knows them to be great for ink and dye, as well as deadly. (Except, perhaps, eaten one a day, dried, by adults suffering from immune disorders.)
One morning last week I walked into beloved Third Street Stuff, itself a flower that blossoms on Lexington's North Limestone corridor, and admired a glorious small, fresh flower arrangement that included some extraordinarily sculptural elements, also known to me as stems of green pokeberries. The brilliant growers at Greenhouse 17, whose CSA delivery spots include Third Street Stuff, had arranged this small masterpiece.
Whoa! What a wake-up, again, to the many beauties and uses of this plant that so often seems like one of the most persistent weeds in our yard and neighborhood.