Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poke Salat

We've been having a typical Spring in the Ozarks, cool and rainy with just a few nice days a week sprinkled in to give you "Spring Fever!" The kind of weather that makes you want to get outside for a nice walk. If you take that stroll in the countryside, you might just see some Dogwood blooms....

Or a Redbud tree showing off!

But if you venture a little farther into the woods, you will find even more treasures!

Every Spring my parents would excitedly plan a trip to the April woods in search for what Daddy called "Indian pokeweed." He had been taught by Grandma Risley, who was half Cherokee of it's medicinal qualities. The shoots are pale green and succulent, often near a fencerow or where there used to be an old homeplace. The Indian poke comes when the morels are growing, when the violets are in bloom and Mayapples are coming up. All through the summer the plants grow tall until June when small greenish white flowers appear, followed by small flat green buttons of berries. The summer days soon make the berries fat, large as a pea and they turn dark purple, almost black. Poisonous to humans, the birds love the berries and eat their fill, only to "broadcast" the seeds later across the fields for next summer! Viewed as a weed by many,Southerners have long recognized its value as a green vegetable!

The Allen Canning Company of Siloam Springs, Arkansas once canned and sold poke, but abandoned it in the spring of 2000. They just couldn’t find enough people to harvest it in quantities to make it worth the bother.

Anti-AIDS drug? In recent times, poke has been found helpful in the treatment of diseases related to a compromised immune system. Even more amazing, new research has revealed that it contains a possible cure for Pediatric Leukemia. The Pokeweed Antiviral Protein, properly administered, kills leukemia cells! In one study, 15 out of 18 participating children attained remission. Studies continue.

Poke Trivia
Poke comes from the Algonquian Indian word "pakon" or "puccoon," referring to a dye plant used for staining.
Poke is sometimes spelled polk. The leaves were reportedly worn by enthusiastic supporters during the campaign of James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States.
Poke contains vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.
Poke contains steroids that resemble cortisone, making it a helpful treatment for skin conditions like psoriases, acne, and fungal infections.
The song Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White was later covered by Elvis Presley.
During the War Between the States, soldiers fashioned quills from feathers and used ripe pokeberry juice for ink. Some of these letters can be found in museums today, as legible as they were on the day Sherman burned Atlanta.

I'm including a recipe for Poke Salat (Salad), a springtime dish served in the Ozarks. My parents knew just where the plants grew on the farm and would gather up a "mess" to have with fried fish. There are warnings to take into account if you are going to cook the greens fresh. Consumed raw, poke salad will make you sick as a dog. The stuff that makes you sick is concentrated in the root, stems, and the veins of larger leaves. Mom would only pick the small leaves from a plant no more than knee high. So how does it taste? Some people compare it to asparagus. It's more like spinach I think, but it's a "acquired taste"

Traditional Southern Recipe
· Begin with a “mess” of poke salad: enough leaves to fill a plastic grocery bag.
· Wash and rinse the leaves.
· Add to cook pot and bring to boil. As soon as it’s boiling, drain and refill with water. Do this two more times.
· After boiling and draining three times, squeeze out the excess water.
· Add bacon grease to a skillet on medium heat. Saute in pan just to heat through.
· Salt to taste.
· Optional: cook with a half cup of chopped onions and bacon or country ham.


  1. I grew up on poke--my grandma always fixed hers with eggs scrambled in it--and tried my first hand at fixing it last year. We all survived! I was so afraid of poisoning everyone that I think I think I even boiled it a fourth time!

  2. We grew up eating poke and I do think it is an aquired taste..and the info was very helpful and interresting...I cook mine as you said then I squeeze out the water and add eggs,flour,chopped onions,pieces of bacon and salt and pepper and make patties and brown in some bacon drippings..thanks for the great post...

    1. Oh, that sounds soooo good! may I use your version of poke salat this spring? I never thought to make patties . I've fried the stalks like okra. They are tasty . Thank you for sharing how you enjoy poke salat.

  3. A fantastic post! I've never heard of poke but have seen it. It is very distinct in appearance. Thanks for the info...I love learning new things!!!

  4. What an unusual and very neat plant! Amazing how many uses for it too! There is so much we don't know about all that God has created! Come say hi :D

  5. The Poke Trivia's fruits look amazing! I haven't seen one of this before. Should cook properly lol! Enjoy.
    Cheers, Kristy

  6. Your pictures are so beautiful...
    I have eaten any Poke in years but I like it...we usually had eggs in it!
    Great Post...Very Interesting!

  7. Okay never heard of poke - but it is good to learn about it! That is one reason I love blogging.


  8. Well what do you know...that's the mystery plant that we found growing at the edge of the lilacs last year! We had no idea what it was...we'd never seen anything like it before. The plant bent over with all the 'berries' growing on it...I'll have to show this to my 'farmboy' tomorrow! Thank you for posting this and solving a mystery for us Joycee. Have a wonderful Friday....Maura:)

  9. Hello Joycee been a long time But I see you still have a very interesting blog. aw those polk berries I've stained many a dress with them in my childhood days.
    Glad you are still here.
    Elsie <><

  10. Everyone else commented on the poke berries, but I'm in love with the dogwoods and redbuds. Those are typical California mountain flora, as well, and the dogwoods are just starting to bloom in Yosemite Valley. I have a redbud in my backyard at the house I just moved into. I *LOVE* spring colors.

  11. We have lots of it growing in the woods around our house. I found out what it was last year, but heard it was poisonous, so steered clear! I read your post with interest today!

  12. Joycee -- it's been a while! This post on the Poke Salat brought back memories. My mother would do this whenever she could get some when I was a child. We kids would not eat it, of course. I'll bet yours is dee-lish!


  13. When I was little, my family would go out and look for Poke Salat, which usually involved riding around the area looking at all the pasture fences. My mother always had her trusty kitchen knife and a couple of large paper bags. She would cut the leaves from plants that were knee high (I was told that as the plant gets larger, 3 to 4 feet tall, it was poisonous.) I haven't had any Poke Salat in decades. It's April 3rd, so, I think I will have to go and get some.
    Thanks for the memories,

  14. When I lived in Tennessee, my mother-in-law would fix a mess for me each year, the years she did this for me, I never got so much as a sniffle during the winter, but if I missed a year of poke salat, I'd catch colds, have sore throats and sometimes the flu. My chickens would seek out the plant and push it over and clean the stalk of leaves and berries. The only side affect was they'd stop laying for a couple of months. The next year I clipped off all the plants at the ground and they laid all summer. My father-in-law said as a boy he knew an old German man that lived down the road that would eat 5 ripe berries every year to help ease his arthritis. I don't know if the man spat the seeds out or what, but he lived up into his late 90's or more. Thanks for keeping poke salat knowledge alive and well.

  15. My mother and daddy would go hunt poke salat ss soon as the pinkish shoots "poked" out of the ground in spring . Mother would boil them twice then fry them in bacon grease and add an egg scrambled into the greens. We add pepper vinegar...banana pepper . Just enough to taste. Add Southern corn bread and a glass of ice cold milk and I have a wonderful meal


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