Images: (1) Commercially produced/sold poke salet, (2) Giant Leopard Moth, and (3) the red stemmed pokeweed Phytolacca americana. AKA poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, polk salat, polk sallet, inkberry or ombu'. (Moth & canned food pictures from Dave's Gardens)
Like many plants with some parts poisonous, poke is a beautiful looking plant. Considered a perennial herb, the plant is native in Illinois.
Growing to 10 ft., the leaves are pointed, flowers are greenish-white and berries mature to dark purple.
The seeds, roots and raw leaves contain phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin which is toxic to mammals (humans,horses, swine, & cattle.)
Some sources say the berries are not toxic if cooked. Examples exist where poke was used as a dye for red wine, brown ink, and brown colored clothing. The United States Declaration of Independence was written in fermented pokeberry juice.
Young leaves (prior to acquiring a red color) may be boiled three times (discard water each time) to make "poke salad". Some sources advise that even after boiling, traces of the toxin remain. It may be purchased commercially. As with all plants containing toxins, eat only after investigating and at your own risk. If it isn't prepared properly, it can be dangerous and possibly deadly - especially to children.
Occasionally, used for landscaping. I would caution gardeners the berries could be tempting to children. Also, birds eat the berries. It is not toxic to birds because the seed passes through them intact. Providing this food source to birds will insure poke growing randomly in beds and fields.
For generations, poke has been used for a food source in the southern states. It was used as a Native American Indian and folk remedy for many ailments. Researchers are currently investigating phytolacca's use in treating AIDS and cancer.
Pokeweeds are used as host plants for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Giant Leopard Moth.