Sunday, August 19, 2012
Does it belong there? And isn't it gorgeous? Just in terms of design, and colour?
The only reason I caught a glimpse of the elusive and stunningly beautiful, emerald-green and scarlet-winged Knysna loerie (now no longer a loerie, sadly, but a turaco), was because of this American weed. The gorgeous bird had been feasting on the invasive berries pathside, above the Storms River mouth on the south coast of South Africa. It flew off as we approached. I nearly peed in my pants. Vince was quite calm about it, kind of like when we saw a leopard panting in the shade within yards of our camp in the Kgalagadi, and he looked and said, Oh, cool.
Cool! Cool? This is not Disneyland, I squeaked, This is real!
The loerie was real, too. I really can't call it a turaco. And that was before I knew that the berries on which it had been feeding belonged to pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, whose young green stems I have been eating for a couple of springs, now.
I am learning that there is a lot of myth and hearsay passed on as fact in 'serious' foraging literature. I have probably been guilty of quoting some of it myself. Time to go back and check. Like boiling milkweed so many times. Silly. I wish we could just get these things into a laboratory and have done with the tall stories.
Don't they look delicious? Hmmmm.
I have found recipes for pokeweed berry jelly, and pie. But no published forager seems to want to write about them. The berries are said to be poisonous, though far less so than the roots, and mature stems and mature leaves. Sam Thayer makes the most sense regarding the stem's edibility, writing that the size of the shoot is not the issue (thank you! ) but the nature of the shoot, in particular, "whether or not the shoot is still a vigorously growing meristem." Which explains why I pick and eat green pokeweed stems up to about 14", which are supple and sappy, and ignore a 7" stem growing nearby, which is rigid and red-stemmed and to be avoided. I saw the stems bundled for sale for the first time at the Union Square farmers market this year.
But the berries. Does anyone have stories about eating the berries - jelly, pie, juice? I'm not about to dive headfirst into them, don't worry, but I am very curious.
Fortunately, I am not a cat.
Update, 2016: I have eaten the ripe berries, subsequently, being careful not to ingest the seeds. The fruit tastes pretty awful, so I have no desire to make a practise of it.