In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
October, 2009
Regional Report

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Pokeweed: The young short shoots are edible when boiled. The root, stem, berries, and leaves are highly poisonous.

Is It Lunch?

Mary dug deep, about 2 feet, to unearth the seven-pound pokeweed root. We'd been breaking the top off for years while weeding, so it was a hefty 4 or 5 inches around. Mary is tenacious. She grabbed the shovel and chipped away at the soil until, like a proud athlete with a trophy, she held up the huge root mass for us to admire.

"Can we eat it?" yelled Angela, from behind a tangle of cherry tomatoes -- volunteers in the rose garden. She's always hungry and this was pre-lunch.

Earlier Angela had been pulling out sunny yellow Jerusalem artichoke plants from a 6-foot patch gone weedy. Plump sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus) tubers ARE edible. Scrubbed of soil and sliced, in autumn these raw tubers are crunchy, sweet, and nutty. Nutritious too -- 650 mg. potassium per cup, high in iron, with 10 to 12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus, and copper.

Beware the raw pokeweed root. Though it resembles horseradish, the root as well as seeds, mature stem, berries, and leaves are quite poisonous in the raw. Consumption can cause vomiting and worse. Some parts have medicinal use but DO NOT ingest without the guidance of an expert.

What about "poke salad, Annie?" Poke salad, prepared with bacon and onions, is a Southern dish. In spring, the young, 6-inch shoots are enjoyed like asparagus, a cooked green, or as a pickle. Basic preparation involves boiling the shoots for 20 to 30 minutes,
changing the water and boiling again. There are lots of recipes for dressing up the greens.

One Person's Weed is Another's Medicine
Week after week in garden after garden through season after season, we pull out pennywort, aka dollarweed (Hydrocotyle spp). Imagine my surprise at spying a beverage can decorated with scalloped leaves and labeled Pennywort Drink -- Bebida de Pennywort -- with 4% RDA iron, 2% calcium. It was in the cooler of an oriental grocery store. Of course, I'm bringing the drink to work so we can all have a taste.

In our landscapes, pennywort is a persistent, annoying pest. It's a summer perennial weed spread by seeds and rhizomes. It sprawls and creeps on land, wetlands, and in water along the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida and west to Minnesota, Texas, Utah, Arizona, California.

In Indian and Oriental medicine, the herb pennywort (Centella asiatica, Hydrocotyle asiatica) is known as gotu kola. Gotu kola has been used in Indias Ayurvedic tradition for thousands of years and is noted in ancient Chinese herbals as a miracle elixir. An Internet check lists it as brain food and a remedy for just about any illness, especially skin disorders.

Will we three gardeners be smarter and rejuvenated after a sip or three?

Last of the Season's Gifts
One last honey-sweet, soft pink bloom from my 'Mary Rose' sits in a vase close enough to sniff while typing. Fortunately, the plant grows nicely in a large pot for two or three years. Then it's best moved to a sunny spot in rich, garden humus.


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