This native of northeastern North America loves weedy, disturbed areas in fields, fencerows, clearings, waste places, roadsides, even natural forest clearings. This large herb has become increasingly more and more invasive, spreading its territory quickly. Here on the eastern seaboard you can almost not go anywhere without seeing it along the road or railroad tracks!
Europe was introduced to pokeweed after the Native Americans had first introduced it to the early colonists. The local peoples here on the east coast at that time used the poke for food, medicine, and dye. Even with the knowledge of the toxicity of this plant this was a popular plant. If the root is not consumed or the seeds cracked and eaten then you can avoid the poisons. But should you experience symptoms of poisoning the signs will be gastrointestinal irritation (colic, diarrhea which may be bloody). Rarely: anemia, possibly death.
In the spring the early shoots work as spring greens that are high in Vitamin C. In the 1960’s a song was written and sung about Poke Salad, which is what the boiled greens are called. This is a traditional rural dish in the southern US.
In traditional use the berries were used in the folk medicine of the Native Americans throughout its range of growth. It has been used in the treatment of syphilis, diphtheria, conjunctivitis, cancer, adenitis and emesis or as a purgative. Due to its toxicity it is considered a Heroic, toxic class herb and therefore should only be administered by someone with the proper training. Great caution should be exerted with its use!
The berries formed a crimson colored ink which could be used in writing, there are some records of it being used in writing of book of Magic (Grimoires) for it conveyed magic through the ink. In magic use Pokeweed was carried to help with courage.