Poke Salad Facts and Folklore

poke salad


Spring has arrived and lunch is served. Spring is the time when a lot of folks enjoy picking and eating poke salad. Some people say don’t eat any part of this plant as it is poisonous to humans and animals. Others look forward to eating foods that are considered a spring tonic that will keep you living healthier and longer.

Pokeweed is a perennial herb that is native to North America, South America, East Asia, and New Zealand. It was introduced to European settlers by Native American Indians. Now you can find pokeweed cultivated in Europe and throughout the world.

This plant grows from 1 ft.-10 ft. tall. All parts of the plant are poisonous to cattle, horses, swine, and humans if eaten raw; the roots being the most poisonous. Swine are able to pull up the roots (even though they grow deep) and eat that part of the plant but it usually kills them. The pokeweed plant contains several toxins as well as histamines.

Birds eat the berries and because the berries are swallowed whole the birds aren’t harmed. Then when the birds do what comes naturally to them, new plants will spring up in the meadows and fields.

There are many uses for the pokeweed plant such as the juice from the berries are used in crimson dyes and in the earlier days of America, ink was made from the berry juice. People who work with natural fibers now will use pokeweed berry juice to dye the fabrics they create. The food industry still uses the pokeweed berries to make red food coloring.

The berries and dried roots are used in herbal remedies even today. Research shows that pokeweed contains compounds that seem to enhance the immune system. Young pokeweed shoots contain low levels of toxins and were used by Native Americans and European settlers as food.

 Research has shown that the pokeweed has anti-cancer properties in animal studies. More research needs to done on humans to see if the same results will prove to be a positive step in cancer treatment. Pokeweed has an antiviral protein (PAP) that is believed when used in certain formulas may be useful against cancer cells that depend upon hormones for their growth; such as the cells from breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.

There are many claims that supplements made from the pokeweed and taken internally will help treat rheumatoid arthritis, joint inflammation, breast abscesses, and a host of other conditions.

If you have never picked poke salad, take someone who is familiar with the plant. They will also tell you how to pick and prepare it.

Most people will wash the leaves, put in boiling water for 5 min., then pour off the water, and repeat this 2 or 3 times. After the last boiling they will squeeze excess water from the leaves. Pour a little oil in the  skillet, put the poke salad in the hot oil, then add eggs as many as you like, salt, and pepper to taste.

If you’ve never eaten poke salad, always taste cautiously to make sure there is no allergy. Probably less than 1% of the world would be allergic to pokeweed and it would only be important if you were in that group.

I had never eaten poke salad until yesterday. I cooked it following directions listed above. I cautiously tasted and waited a few minutes to make sure there was no reaction. I had no adverse reaction so I ate and enjoyed the poke salad. I’m just sorry that I waited so long to try it but I guess I’m not adventurous in the food department.

Almost everyone I know who has eaten poke salad for years, have lived relatively healthy lives well into their 80’s and 90’s.


Remember Pokeweed is an herb and many conventional medicines are made from different herb combinations.

Pokeweed should not be used by anyone who is taking anti-depressants, disulfiram (Antabuse), oral contraceptives, or fertility drugs. It may also interfere with other medications and other herbs so check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Women who are pregnant or breast feeding should not use pokeweed. This plant may cause menstrual cycle irregularities and may stimulate contractions of the uterus.

Do not rely on using pokeweed alone in the treatment of cancer because if you delay using conventional cancer treatment, it may cause serious health consequences.



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Comments 6 comments

Latoya Scott profile image

Latoya Scott 3 years ago from Columbia

I'm so glad to hear that you like Poke Salad. My granny used to cook it for us when we were younger - my mother and I love it! Unfortunately, she passed away and I have never been able to know which plant to pick. It's been years since I've last had some and I don't trust anyone else to teach me to pick and clean them properly. I'll always have the memory of it's great taste tucked away.

anidae profile image

anidae 3 years ago from Tennessee Author

I am glad this hub brought to you a nice memory of your granny and thank you for your comments on the poke salad. I see poke salad plants growing wild in yards and farmlands but like you I was afraid of choosing the wrong plant. Preparation is everything I am told. Maybe sometime you will encounter someone who can show you the correct plant---this is what I did. It does taste good. Even Dolly Pardon likes poke salad.

carolyn 2 years ago

love it cooking it right now

Janice 2 years ago

I have been eating poke for 50 years, stalks and leaves. My dad taught me to cook the leaves as you would any greens and how to roll the stalks in flour and season with salt and pepper, then fry in oil. Good eats and never any problems.

Linda Goad 21 months ago

I love poke salad. After it is cooked until tender, I fry it like one would fry potatoes and add vinegar (as to taste)..I can truly say it is the best tasting green I have ever tasted and I love greens of all kinds. I pair it with scalding water cornbread (another great grandmother "delicacy") and I then have the best "vittles" around.....yum, yum.

EMP 6 months ago

i have eaten many plants raw. we use them as natural laxatives. they taste like peppered spinach leaves if you don't cook them. they will cause diarrhea. but that i have found that's the worst that will happen.

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