Much has been written about the medicinal value of what some gardeners consider weeds and much has been written, especially of late, about weed—marijuana—as well. Yet, it’s not often that one reads about praising noxious weeds that are invasive and dangerous. Well, that’s about to change this month. Recently our friends Gene and Sheila came over for dinner and Gene brought a plant in a plastic bag for my identification.
What he brought were a few leaves attached to this quite beautiful raceme—an elongated cluster of flowers/seeds—of purple seeds on reddish stems. I’d never seen it before so we spent a few minutes of searching the internet at some plant identification sites I knew and we found pictures exactly matching what Gene brought over: he had a large perennial Pokeweed plant growing in the front planting bed of his house.
The next week I made a trip to Gene and Sheila’s to see this plant and was awed by its beauty. There stood a large semi-succulent herbaceous (non-woody) plant with a central upright stem and many large red-stemmed bracts of leaves with innumerable racemes of the purple seeds drooping down. The plant was still in bloom with small white flowers as its bloom time is July to September. I loved it and knew I needed to learn more about it.
Well, farmers hate Pokeweed because it sickens animals, the plant is highly poisonous in all its parts—especially the roots, there have been reports of children being poisoned by eating the berries (some have even died), and its invasive if not watched. This is a plant I liked? Yes, I still do, but I’ll proceed with extreme caution as I consider it for my garden. My reasons to defend the plant are many, not least of them that Pokeweed had been used medicinally by Native Americans in their folk medicines as a laxative, an anti-itch remedy and to stimulate the heart. European settlers ate “poke sallet,” and it was still being canned in the United States up to the year 2000! All across Europe Pokeweed is still cultivated for eating and for use in folk medicines. Finally, serious research is being conducted for compounds in the plant known to enhance the immune system and for potentially offering anti-cancer effects.
For myself, I simply think the plant has a beauty of its own and is worth growing for that purpose. The berries attract birds which are apparently immune to the toxic effects, I imagine the flowers will attract pollinators and this plant will join others natives I have including Elderberry and Viburnum in my efforts to help the birds, bees and butterflies. If one still needs a reason to rally round Pokeweed, know this about the ink made from poke berry juice. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution with poke berry ink on hemp paper and it’s still legible over two hundred years later. Similarly, letters from the Civil War remain legible and extant and were known to have been written with bird quills dipped in poke berry ink. This weed is worthy of being valued and not eradicated.
If you’re game and happen to know someone with some Pokeweed—I will not reveal further details about my supplier—you might want to try growing it next year. I’m going to direct sow some seeds late this fall, but I’m also going to start some indoors following the directions I found from an area county extension office.
To propagate from seed, collect the purple berries and crush them in water. Allow the seeds to sit in the water for a few days. The good seeds will settle to the bottom. Spread seeds out to dry; store in a cool, dry location. The next part is puzzling, and finding sulfuric acid may be difficult (try a chemistry class), but the directions say to soak pokeweed seeds in sulfuric acid to break dormancy and germination. After soaking seeds for 5 five minutes, wash them under running water. Allow seeds to dry thoroughly before planting. Cover seeds lightly when planting. Seedlings can be transported into the garden after the chance of frost has passed. Set them at least 3 feet apart. I’ll let you know what happens next spring!
Q: In 1955, I received a Pelikan fountain pen as a graduation gift. It is the 400 NN model in a light tortoise case. I understand that some fountain pens have become quite valuable, and I hope the one I have is among them. -- Kenneth, Albuquerque, N.M.
A: I spoke to several pen collectors and they seem to agree that your Pelikan 400 NN is worth about $150.
Q: When I was a young girl, I loved reading the Judy Bolton mystery series. I have a first edition of “The Ghost Parade” by Margaret Sutton, with its original dust jacket. Does it have more value than sentimental? -- Jan, Ramona, Calif.
A: The first edition of this book was published in 1933 and is valued in the $50 to $75 range, depending, of course, on condition. Incidentally, the first 10 titles in the Bolton series, which were published from 1932 to 1937, had four black-and-white illustrations printed on glossy paper. They were the work of Pelagie Doane from originals no doubt done in full color. Doane also was responsible for your book’s cover art.
Q: During the 1970s, I began collecting bobbing heads, mostly NFL team members. I now have several dozen but have no idea of current values. -- Sam, Chesterfield, Mo.
A: One of the better references is “Bobbing Head Dolls: 1960-2000” by Tim Hunter. This illustrated reference features more than 700 dolls from baseball, football, basketball, hockey, TV, advertising, political and cartoon characters. This guide should help you determine how much the dolls in your collection are worth. It is available at Amazon.com.
Q: My mother’s china pattern was “Virginia Rose,” and I would like to find out more about it. I’m thinking of adding to the pieces already in the set. Do you have any suggestions? -- Laura, Rio Rancho, N.M.
A: “Virginia Rose” was introduced by the Homer Laughlin china company in 1929 and continued to be produced well into the 1970s. It was mainly sold in department stores, two of the main sources being Sears and Woolworth’s. I suggest you monitor eBay to track down additional pieces of this pattern.
Write to Larry Cox in care of King Features Weekly Service, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475, or send e-mail to email@example.com. Due to the large volume of mail he receives, Mr. Cox is unable to personally answer all reader questions. Do not send any materials requiring return mail.
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