"pokeweed; a strong-growing branching weed of eastern North America used in medicine and dyeing," colonial American English, from native words, possibly a confusion of similar-sounding Native American plant names; from 1630s in English as "tobacco plant," short for uppowoc (1580s), from Algonquian (Virginia) *uppowoc. Later (1708) the word is used in the sense "pokeweed," as a shortened form of puccoon, from Algonquian (Virginia) *puccoon, name of a plant used for dyeing. Native roots for "smoke" and "stain" have been proposed as the origin or origins.
"long, narrow projecting strip; something resembling the handle of a pan," 1851, from pan (n.) + handle (n.). Especially in geography, originally American English, in reference to a long, narrow strip projecting from a state or territory interposed between two other states or territories: from 1856, in reference to the spike of Virginia (now West Virginia) between Ohio and Pennsylvania. Florida, Texas, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Alaska also have them.
Meaning "an act of begging" is attested from 1849, perhaps from notion of an arm stuck out like a panhandle, or of one who handles a (beggar's) pan.