The Beauty of Pokeweed

As the summer winds down and I start to channel my inner squirrel, foraging and storing plants before the coming winter months, I’ve realized it may be time to share more information about all the “weeds” that I love.

Pokeweed is an often misunderstood plant. Here in Tennessee you can find plenty of folks who grew up eating “poke salad,” but far more that only know it as a weed or, even worse, poisonous plant. Yes, pokeweed can make you sick if you prepare it wrong (as can many other foods), but it can also be edible, medicinal, and a fun natural dye.

Pokeweed berries can be used to create a beautiful dye (okay, really it’s a stain, but let’s not get too technical here) that can be a deep red-purple or bright magenta depending on your preparation. It’s one of those tricky plants that needs a mordant or fixative though – something to help the dye stick – or it will quickly fade. Vinegar or acetic acid are often used.

Note: Despite the best preparations, pokeweed dye is more sensitive to light (UV rays) than many natural dyes and will often fade to a reddish brown over time from the brilliant pinks and deep reds it starts out as. Don’t let that stop you from having fun with it! You can create natural watercolor paints, inks, and stains for paper and fiber.

Looking for some ideas to get you started? I found the recipe from A Garden to Dye for on Mother Earth News super approachable. It uses acetic acid, something I like to keep around for different dye projects and canning/preserving food.

Looking for more information about using poke medicinally? Consider adding Darryl Patton’s Mountain Medicine to your library as a resource for natural remedies. The Kindle edition is the value option, but we bought the paperback version for our resource shelf after hearing him speak and joining one of his plant walks. Darryl is an amazing resource – be sure check out his wealth of information at The Southern Herbalist.

Photo by Tara Winstead on

*As an Amazon Associate I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. I am not affiliated with, nor do I make any commission from, The Southern Herbalist… we just recognize how awesome he is!

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