Poke : Pokeweed : Poke Salet : Survival Wild Edible

It’s interesting to me how a plant can be edible and poisonous at the same time. Pokeweed is one of those wild plants.  Normally, I stay away from wild edibles that have a poisonous element but Poke is one of those rare exceptions.  It’s just too dang good.

Poke is normally an early riser – popping up in early Spring.  I’ve been finding tons of new plants lately, though.  Before we get into this post very far I need to tell you a few important facts about Poke:

  1. The ROOTS are ALWAYS poisonous.
  2. The BERRIES are ALWAYS poisonous.
  3. The Mature Leaves, Stems and Stalk are ALWAYS poisonous.

So what is considered MATURE?  My rule of thumb is that any plant over 18″ tall is mature OR if the plant has any hint of purple turning in the main stalk OR if the berry clusters have started to form.  I know this seems like a lot of rules but POKE is worth it.  I consider the poke in the photo below a NO GO.

Poke is prepared like any potherb – like spinach for example.  Just boil a pot full of leaves in a few inches of water and then salt and season to taste.  I’ve read in multiple field guides (including my favorite field guide – Peterson’s Guide to Wild Edibles for Eastern/Central North America) that it needs to be boiled in multiple changes of water but I’ve never done that and haven’t found it necessary.

Poke is a large leafy plant.  The veins on the underside of the leaves are very noticeable and I use these to help identify the plant.

It can get to be 8+ feet tall.  Here is a photo of a mature poke plant and also poke berries that haven’t turned purple yet.  Everything about the plant in this stage is poisonous.

My new favorite way of eating POKE is with scrambled eggs.  It is very easy to prepare and the POKE gives a really unique flavor to the dish.  Until poke is out of season I’ll probably eat this dish 2-3 times per week.  To make it I start by melting down some POKE leaves in a skillet with a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

After the leaves are nice and wilted I add in the eggs.

Finally, salt and pepper to taste and you’re good to go.  Poke and Eggs fit for a king.

If you came across a bird’s nest in the wild this dish could theoretically be made in a primitive survival situation using a flat rock.

So how about you?  Do you eat Pokeweed?  If so, what’s your favorite way to prepare it?

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN,

Creek

Comments

  1. Corey says:

    Man, this is one of those edibles that is all over the place down here! I even have it growing in my yard, and I eye it skeptically every time I cut the grass, pondering whether it’s “worth the risk” in learning the rules for eating it. Like you said, Creek, the hint of it being poisonous has been enough to drive me away from it, especially as an amateur forager. I’m going to jot your safety guidelines out and give it a try this weekend. Hopefully, you’ll hear from me again!

  2. Chelli says:

    Hi, Creek;
    Just found your site. Very interesting and chock full of helpful stuff! Anyway, my whole family is from the Ozarks, and one of our favorite ways to fix poke is to fry it. Mom would spend the whole day, first thing in the spring when poke was up, picking a whole grocery bag full, take it home and fix it two ways. First, though, she never picked it over 12 inches tall. She’d take a wooden ruler with her to make sure it wasn’t too tall before picking it. Then, she’d soak the poke in cold, salted water for a little while, then strip all the leaves off for the poke greens (these went into a stew pot) then the stalks she’d slice into thin strips about 4 to 6 inches long (or go crossways if the stalk is thick enough) then mix up the same type of flour mixture that she made for frying okra, dredge the poke stalk pieces in 1 egg beaten with a small amount of milk and then into the flour mixture, and fry in hot oil until browned and crispy. This was good but I preferred fried green tomatoes or fried cabbage.
    The greens, though, were excellent. She’d mix several kinds of greens with the poke (dock, dandelion greens, turnip and beet greens, sheep sorrel, lamb’s quarter, whatever she could find that was edible when picking the poke) cook it all down in water until mostly done, then drain out the water and add cooked, crumbled bacon, chopped onion that was cooked in the bacon grease, sometimes sliced radishes she cooked with the onion, and whatever spices she wanted at the time (lemon pepper seasoning I remember most, but other stuff was used too) then heat it over med low heat until cooked through and slick with the bacon grease. We’d eat it with fresh, homemade whole wheat bread and butter for supper. Delicious!
    If you decide to give fried poke a try, let us know how it turned out, ok? I already have daffodils coming up in my yard and it’s only the first of February so poke shouldn’t be too far away, now.

  3. heather says:

    when i was a little girl i remember eating the berries of the poke plant, they tasted gross so i spit them out and never did that again. i am still here so i guess it is only if the body digest it, does it cause death or organ damage?

  4. James Clark says:

    I have poke weed growing behind my shed and enjoy the young leafy greens by heating a large skillet, adding the leaves (stripped of the center vein) along with a few tablespoons of chicken stock, cover and cook until tender. A drop or two of vinegar and I am ready to enjoy. Of course bacon makes everything better! LOL