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Poke Salad Facts and Folklore
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 them living healthier and longer lives...
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.Young pokeweed shoots contain low levels of toxins and were used by Native Americans and European settlers as food.
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. No controlled clinical studies have been done to support these claims.
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.
In 2016 a woman named Shabari Bird wrote an article that claims she was diagnosed in 1973 with cancer and she was cured of cancer after she added poke salad root along with several vegetables from her garden to make juice. It made her violently ill but she says she eventually felt better.
Cherokee Indians were reported to use the berries and roots to make poultices and salves to treat tumors, arthritis, yeast infections, ringworm,, cancers, and scabies. And eating the cooked leaves, is a pathway to good health. The cooked leaves can be frozen for a later meal. Canned poke salad is sold in some markets
Poke salad seeds can be ordered online from the following companies:
If you have never picked poke salad, take someone with you who is familiar with the plant. They will show you how to pick it and tell how to prepare it. The best time to pick the greens is when the leaves are small and the plant is 5" to 9" tall. Leaves are ready to be picked about mid-spring depending on which area of the country you reside. For those gardeners who want to order the seeds, there are many online venues
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 before this article . 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. A friend's husband says he eats a few frozen pokeweed berries weekly to keep his arthritis at bay.
Chopra, R. N., Nayar, S. L., and Chopra, I. C., Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, 1986
GOKTEPE, B. Milford, and M. Ahmedna. North Carolina A&T
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. Always check with a trained herbalist if you think you want to treat any of the health issues mentioned in this article.