Ripe for picking young poke weed. Photo by Green Deane

Can Be Deadly But Oh So Delicious: Poke weed

Poke weed will challenge your commitment to foraging.

It is not the most commonly eaten food from a poisonous source. Tapioca or cashews would probably take that prize. But poke weed’s in the running. If prepared incorrectly or carelessly it can make you quite ill, or worse, put a ‘k’ in front of ill as in kill you.  But when picked and prepared properly, as millions have done over the centuries, it is perhaps the most delicious pot herb of all, one that makes you look forward to next season.

Phytolacca americana (fy-toe-LAK-ah  am-er-i-KAY-na) is native to the eastern United States. Americana means of America. Phytolacca is an international construct combining phyton (Greek for plant) and Lac (French for a dark red pigment.)  The word “poke” comes from the Virginia Algonquian (Indian) word “pakon” or “pucone” first recorded in 1708. Pakon refers to a plant used for dye or staining, and indeed a red coloring from the poke weed’s berries has been used as a dye for centuries. Indians used the juice to color feathers, arrow shafts, garments, even their horses. Berry juice was also used at one time to color wine, but that practice has been discontinued. In a modern twist, red dye from poke berries doubles the efficiency of certain solar cells.

Ripe poke berries, do not eat

While coloring foods with poke berry juice has been banned, because it is reportedly poisonous, Dr. Julia Morton says on page 51 of her “Wild Plants for Survival In South Florida” 1982 edition,  “The strained juice of ripe fruits may be safely used for coloring foods.” During her lifetime, Professor Morton was the most authoritative source in Florida on toxic plants and her works still the main references. In theory the juice could be made into jelly. While the berries are the least poisonous part of the plant, never eat the seeds or the root. Accidental poisoning have happened by people getting a little root with the shoot. And never eat a mature poke weed. What’s mature? For safety, I would consider any poke weed over 7 inches mature and off limits. And, or, any poke weed with deep red stems no matter how short it is.

Canning poke weed ceased in 2000

Poke weed grew a good reputation centuries ago despite its dangerous side because it’s one of the first edible greens in spring, at a time when folks have been living on non-greens for several winter months. Many attempts were made to move the weed into the mainstream vegetable market — as it is in parts of Europe —  but it just never took off in North America. However, the demand for it was enough to keep two companies canning it up into the 1990’s. That southern tradition ended in the spring of 2000.  In April that year the Allen Canning Company of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, canned its last batch of poke sallet. The reason why they stopped canning poke weed was there were not enough people interested in picking it for them. So, if you want poke weed you really do have to pick it yourself or order it through Wild Pantry.Com.

Toxic poke weed seeds and a quarter

A third alternative I’ve heard of which I haven’t tried because I live in Florida — where houses don’t have basements — is dig up a poke weed root and bury it in a sand box in a lightless area of your basement. In the spring it will send out white shoots which some say only need to be boiled once. While that may be theoretically possible, it would take a lot of roots to get enough shoots for even one meal. You’re better off harvesting it or collecting the seeds and growing your own. More on that in a moment.

When I go collecting poke weed, I take a ruler with me. It’s called my hand. From the tip of my middle finger to my wrist is about six inches. If the shoot is six inches or under, into the pot it will go, taller I leave it be. The second rule is pick nothing with red stems but that’s not so hard and fast because even two-inch shoots can sometimes be pink to red. And when I gather it I don’t pull it up, I cut it to avoid the possibility of getting any root. And do not handle raw poke weed if you have any cuts or abrasion on your hands.  It has mitogens which I will explain later.

The top picture of young poke weed is the appropriate size range. While I boil them twice. First time one minute. Then I change the water and boil for 15 minutes. That said, I know a southerner who not only picks red-stemmed shoots but boils them only once. That’s too brave for me but as of this writing she’s 70 and her husband 85 and they’ve been doing that every spring since they were kids in Kentucky. Merritt Fernald in Edible Plants of Eastern North America (1958 edition) writes young shoots need only to be boiled once. He also says they make great pickles.

Acres of young poke weed at new housing development

I like the 1/15 method because it accommodates large quantities of poke weed. You can boil them for a minute and then freeze. Mark the package that it has to be boil 15 minutes after thawing. The 1/15 also helps with cooking large amounts of poke weed. Use two pots of boiling water: One pot should be the right size for cooking your poke weed and the other should be much larger. The larger pot is your reservoir of boiling water. When both pots are at a boil, drop the poke weed into the smaller pot with ample water and boil them for one minute. Throw away this first water then refill the cooking pot with fresh boiling water from the large pot and boil for a minimum of 15 minutes and enjoy. I have tried this and it seems to works well. I’m still here. If you want to feel safer about it boil them twice in one minute baths and then boil 15 minutes. (I know how you feel. Long ago I used to cook poke weed in boiling water three times, 20 minutes each. Then I dropped down to two 30 minute boils, then two 20 minute boils. I heard of the 1/1/15 method and used it successfully. Then inadvertently I did 1/15. Been doing that ever since. Then again, I’m not a detail person so that one minute is usually longer, so is the 15. )

Poke weed ink, photo by

A few folks also peel the stalks fry them like okra. Some blanch them first, others do not. Seedless berries reportedly can be made into pies but before I do that I’d like to meet someone alive who has done that, eaten said, and is still among us. Read don’t do it because it was supposedly done. It would also take a fine mesh to separate the seeds from the berries, but not impossible. Also, if you are thinking about raising poke weed from seeds, they are resilient. The best germination comes after fermenting the berries then soaking the dried seeds in sulfuric acid for five minutes then washing thoroughly. That probably replicates conditions in a bird’s gut.  I tried that this last year and it worked very well with a full row of poke weed in my garden.

I like poke weed shoots just fine boiled then dressed up with salt, pepper and butter, or olive oil. Best guess: Boil it at least twice for insurance if not three times for assurance. I’ve come to prefer the one-fifteen method particularly for young poke. Older poke might need more boiling.  Some day, when you are an experienced poke picker, you can make up your own rules. Nutritionally, poke weed is a powerhouse: A half cup of the greens provides 35 calories (10 from fat), no cholesterol, three grams dietary fiber, and 90% of your daily need for vitamin A, 60% of vitamin C, 8% calcium, and 6% of iron. Poke weed has 8,700 IU’s of vitamin A per 100g serving.

Poke weed root is very toxic

Incidentally, you will hear poke weed called “poke sallet” which sounds like “salad.” That “sallet” and “salad” sound the same today has been the cause of a few poisonings because people did not cook the poke weed before eating it. Never eat poke weed raw.  NEVER. Always cook it. I know of someone who accidentally ate raw poke weed leaves and was wretchedly ill. Some web sites say “Sallet” is an old English word meaning “cooked greens” but research does not bear that out. “Sallet herbs” were eaten raw and “pot herbs” cooked. “Poke sallet” is just a time-corrupted use of the term. Sometimes “sallet” is spelt “salet” but that’s not only incorrect but a “salet” is a helmet from a few hundred years ago.

Doctors — and here I will admit my severe bias against them when it comes to food and nutrition issues — think the plant should be eradicated. This is the same group that told us transfats were good for us, and high fructose corn syrup. Not a good track record. There’s some evidence that compounds in poke weed are antiviral and it has potential against AIDS. More so, poke weed proteins have shown fantastic clinical results in the treatment of childhood leukemia. A study published in the Journal of Natural Products 5 Jan 2008 shows one saponin might have a positive effect on ovarian cancer. Not bad for a plant doctors want eliminated. However, to be balanced, there is evidence poke weed constituents — mitogens — have the potential to cause cell mutations. That is why you don’t handle it if you have cuts on your hands. Mitogens can stimulate the immune system and also cause cancer. That’s why we boil it. A precaution: Those pregnant should not eat it or handle it.  That’s a lot of warnings, but it has also been eaten by millions for centuries.

Three historical notes: James Polk was a dark-horse candidate for president in the 1840’s. In one of the first PR gimmicks, his supporters wore poke leaves on their lapels. He became the 11th president of the United States. That’s Poke Power. And when the Constitution was written Tom Jefferson wrote it with ink made from poke berries on hemp paper… still legible after all these years. And during the US Civil  War many a letter was written home with a bird feather and poke berry juice. These letters, too, are extant for us to read because an herb called poke weed was valued not eradicated.

To make ink remember those ripe berries you brought home to rot for the seeds. You crush the berries, strain out the seeds, and let the rest ferment for a couple of weeks.  There is natural yeast on the berries or you can add a little wine or bread yeast. Then strain the liquid, once or twice depending on the thickness. You now have ink worthy of a constitution. You can mix fresh, filtered juice with vinegar to make a purple ink but it will fade. Fermenting turns the ink brown but sets it.

Cherokee mother and child

Lastly, I am doubtful about the presumed history of poke weed consumption. Poke weed certainly has been eaten for a few hundred years and that adds up to a lot of people. But I’m not sure about its use before the Europeans arrived in North America, that is, how the Native Americans used poke weed.

Consider: The Alabama Indians referred to Europeans as “those who eat poke weed.” That sounds as if the Alabama Indians did not. In fact, of the dozens of tribes we only know of four that used poke weed as a food, and those uses seem to break down into pre- and post metal pots. Also consider that boiling was a difficult task before the introduction of metal pots, particularly for a green that has far less nutrition than say a rat. I’ve got a suspicion that poke weed was medicinal (worth the difficulty of boiling) but not a food until it became easy to boil poke weed in changes of water in metal pots. In their different uses you can read pre- and post-metal pot use.

The Cherokee crushed the berries and sour grapes together, strained, mixed that with cornmeal and sugar to make a beverage. Leaves were gathered into a bundle and dried for future use. Those two uses do not require cooking. Crushed berries were used to add color to canned fruit. Young shoots, leaves and stems were parboiled, rinsed, and cooked alone or mixed with other greens and eggs. Peeled stalks cut lengthwise, parboiled, dipped in egg, rolled in cornmeal, fried like fish. Those require cooking. The Iroquopis, Malecite and Mohegans also ate poke but how was not recorded.  That’s not a lot of ethnobotanical evidence that native were eating a lot of poke weed long before Europe discovered America. I personally know two people who swallow one berry whole (no chewing) to treat arthritis. Beyound personal testimony I have no idea if it works or not.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: Pokeweed

IDENTIFICATION: Phytolacca americana: (See “Telling The Difference” below) Poke weed is rugged but not handsome. It’s four to ten feet tall, stout with reddish stems, leaves four to 10 inches long. The plant often has a scraggly look. It’s flowers can be green, white or pink on a stalk six to eight inches long.  The berries are globular, purple black, flattened on top and bottom. The root is so toxic if you handle it do so with gloves.

TIME OF YEAR: Blossoms primarily in spring but can blossom all year until interrupted by frost or winter.

ENVIRONMENT: Poke weeds are opportunists, disturbed land often produces huge amounts, but likes rich, moist soil.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Never eat poke weed shoots uncooked. They can make you very sick. Never get any part of the root in with your greens. That can kill you. Boil short, young shoots at least twice, changing the water both times. Many writer recommend boiling them three times, which is acceptable, too. It does not change the flavor though drain your cooked greens well, they absorb a lot of water.  Poke berries, minus the seeds, have been mixed with grapes, sugar and cornmeal and fermented.


Foxfire II said hill people believed a home-made antidote for eaten raw poke weed was drinking lots of vinegar and eating a pound of lard.

Telling the difference

Inkweed (Phytolacca octandra) is very similar to American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and Venezuelan pokeweed (Phytolacca rivinoides). These species can be distinguished by the following differences:

•    inkweed (Phytolacca octandra) flowers are borne on very short stalks (i.e. pedicels) only 2-3 mm long and usually have 7-8 stamens. Their ‘petals’ (i.e. tepals or perianth segments) turn red and persist on the developing fruit. The mature fruit are relatively small (4-6 mm across) and usually have eight slight lobes (i.e. they usually contain eight seeds).

•    American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) flowers are borne on relatively long stalks (i.e. pedicels) 5-10 mm long and usually have 10-11 stamens. Their ‘petals’ (i.e. tepals or perianth segments) turn red and persist on the developing fruit. The mature fruit are relatively large (5-11 mm across) and have ten or eleven slight lobes (i.e. they contain ten or eleven seeds).

•    Venezuelan pokeweed (Phytolacca rivinoides) flowers are borne on relatively long stalks (i.e. pedicels) 7-12 mm long and have 9-14 stamens. Their ‘petals’ (i.e. tepals or perianth segments) fall off as the fruit begin to mature. The mature fruit are relatively small (5-6 mm across) and have 12-16 slight lobes (i.e. they contain 12-16 seeds).



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{ 145 comments… add one }
  • James Crawford Pitts January 17, 2012, 10:19 am

    When I think shoots, I don’t think leaves… So are we looking for an asparagus like shoot or the leaf material? If leaf, do we discard the stems or are they boiled with the leaf material?

    • Green Deane January 17, 2012, 1:58 pm

      Young plants with leaves. Young stems and young leaves are edible cooked in at least two chages of water.

  • Josh yingling April 28, 2012, 12:47 pm

    Just wondering, if you know, how do you preserve the ink from the berries? I’ve used the berries to stain arrows and my fingers bright pink! Lol but I wanted to keep some ink on hand one day so I took a fiberglass screen and squeezed the berries and collected the juice in a small tupperware container then put a lid on it,i think that was where I went wrong, about three to for days later a rather loud explosion came from my room and I could figure out what it was until I saw my poke berry ink bubbling upfrom the lid lesscontainer… I was wondering if you or anyone else had success in keeping the juice in liquid form without making a pink bomb! Lol

    • Green Deane April 28, 2012, 4:36 pm

      It says in the article how to make ink. You have to take the lid off and let it ferment.

      • Josh yingling April 29, 2012, 12:32 am

        Oh I’m sorry I totally didn’t see that part, thank you for answering all of our questions I really appreciate this website, I’m into primitive ways and love reading about how the natives used some of these”weeds” you do a fantastic job covering as much as possible on each plant thank you again

        • Joyce August 10, 2015, 11:57 pm

          Hi James Crawford Pitts,
          From long personal experience of ingesting poke & being told that pokeberries were poison, I can answer your question. What we preferred to pick was shoots (which I describe as short stalks displaying some leaves, but not necessarily unfurled or open)is very similar to asparagus spears, as being the most tasty. Parboil and eat the young stems or stalks with leaves. We never used more than 1 short early boil to wilting point followed with draining & rinsing, and then proceeded to cook it in manner of choice. Young leaves unfurled and even as I learned from my son, who is now 55 years old, picking new tender leaves from older plants also is safe to eat, as long as you follow the parboil, drain & rinse, then cook. My family always enjoyed these 1st spring greens to appear. I can remember my mother making poke stalk patties, but never fixed them this way myself, but ate my share of them. I don’t recall parboiling them first, but any fritter or patty recipe & frying should work.
          Recall one year when we had an abundance of poke sallet growing in a freshly bulldozed acreage, and did we have a ball with harvesting that. We ate poke shoots and stalks, older ones with more leaves, but still shied away from red stems or stalks. Froze about 50 quarts of poke sallet that year & enjoyed poke all winter long. With such an abundance of white poke stalks, hit on the idea of making poke stalk pickles (used a dill pickle recipe from the Ball canning book), no parboiling and my young children ate them like candy. Fifty or more pints did not last through the winter.
          One of our favorite recipes for poke when leaves were more prominent with less stalk was to let parboil stage run a few minutes longer, drain and rinse. Put bacon grease in cast iron skillet and put parboiled poke in, then beat eggs as to scramble while poke is heating up and pour over the poke in the skillet, stirring frequently while beaten eggs cook. Some of that crumbled bacon does enhance the flavor somewhat.
          Now lets talk about those poison poke berries. A bout of what was probably a bad bout of gouty arthritis that had me moving like molasses in January – very slowly – as even my ribs hurt when I breathed. On the advice of a very near and dear woman, I started taking poke berries that fall – after a discussion re their being poison and her telling me that they never hurt her aunt who had taken them for arthritis pain as long as she could remember, and was then in her middle to late 80’s. I reminded this dear lady that if her poke berries killed me, she had to finish raising my children for me. When she didn’t back down after that bit of information, I watched my pokeweed closely and started taking them as soon as they ripened. However she didn’t know how many poke berries she took at a time or how often, so I had to work out that for myself. For the more daring ones who trust God’s medicine more than man’s, my advice is to start by taking 4 or 5 pokeberries at a time, 4 times per day and add a berry or 2 each day until you notice some improvement. The most likely side effect that might occur is some loose bowel movements. If this occurs, decrease the berries until it stops and hold the number of berries at that level 4 times per day.
          When I first started taking pokeberries, my advisor told me that her aunt dehydrated the berries that ripened faster than she needed to take them, so again I followed her aunt’s wisdom. Since then I have gone on line to learn how to make a tincture or extract of herbs, which the poke berries are. Simple to do, a little time involved and also a little messy when straining the pulp and seeds our of your tincture or extract. My youngest child probably was less than 2 years old when I first started taking poke berries and I am still here to tell you and all others interested in good health about it, so get off your duff and get out there and pick those pokeberries.
          Found a brother of mine suddenly limping badly with a walker and asked him what was going on. He replied that he had the gout in his foot and the doctor told him he nothing more to offer, so he would just have to live with it. After a long discussion, I told him that I had a healthy crop of pokeberries still ripe and I would bring him some if he would use them. Had more trouble talking him into eating asparagus (since this doctor had told him that it was bad for the gout), until I told him that the asparagus was bad for the gout, but it was good for him. He made a trip to the grocery for the asparagus, and the next morning I carried him a bag full of pokeberries and instructions of how to use them. Three days later he was walking fine without the walker and was one happy pain free camper.
          As for that poisonous root, had a relative ask me for any natural remedy for scabies (itch), so I asked if she knew what poke sallet was and got a positive answer. Told her to dig some poke root. cover it with water and boil for 5 to 15 minutes. Throw root out and let water cool before applying it all over the body, leaving it on for a short period and shower off. Later asked her if it worked since I had only read about it myself. Her reply was that it worked just as she had hoped, but it sure did feel like she was on fire when she applied it to her skin – reports of any problem except for the initial discomfort of being on fire.
          Have also read of at least one person who makes a poke root tincture or extract, but don’t recall what she used it for. My guess would be that if poke root water kills off scabies, it should also kill off head or body lice and probably internal parasites also. But if I were using the root extract, it would be in 1 or 2 drops in a glass of water 4 times a day and building up to point of noticing a difference, whether it was improvement or undesired side effect. If the difference was an improvement, you might increase by another drop or if an undesired side effect, decrease a drop or 2 until it stops.

    • Joyce August 11, 2015, 12:17 am

      Hi Josh yingling,
      One bit of advice is when fermenting any thing that you might be ingesting or getting on your hands and into your mouth, do NOT use plastic – use Glass or the old fashioned crock or churn – because you don’t want the toxic crap in the plastic leaching out into whatever you are fermenting. Fermentation is what occurs in wine making and fermentation always forms gas which is what caused your lid to fly off and splash pokeberry juice all over anything nearby. Look up wine making before you try this again whether making wine, kraut, or kimchee or other fermented vegetable. Bet the mess it made really made you appreciate the small amounts of purple pooh the birds always decorate our vehicles with at this time of the year. LOL After the first few days of fermenting, and straining it off, it will still be doing some fermenting and it can explode a glass container with a tight fitting lid. A small amount of plastic or silicone tubing, poked through a cork, sealed with a few drops of wax from a candle, with the long end of tubing under water in a bottle near the container of whatever is fermenting should avoid any more explosions. The cork prevents air from getting into your fermenting substance and the bubbles you see occurring coming out of the tubing underwater lets the gas formed escape harmlessly. When the bubbles stop you will know that the fermentation is finished and you can put it into a sealed glass bottle without fear of explosion and a big mess to clean up.

  • Laurie G. May 9, 2012, 11:56 am

    Deane, could you site your sources for the research showing that pokeweed has mitogens? Also, do you have any research about mitogens in general? I’m interested in following up on this.
    Thanks, I find your blog very informational!

  • Raenell June 10, 2012, 11:08 pm

    My son and I just ate a large batch of pokeweed. A friend who has a farm in KY, told me that she and her son eat them. I picked a bag full of the leaves, from plants that were as tall as me or taller, with very red stems. I cleaned them in cold water, stripped them of the stem within the leaves, boiled them with a little salt, and olive oil. They were very tastey. We each ate about 2 cups of the cooked greens. (Boiled only once, and from the same water) Then I discovered this information, and now am concerened! It’s been about a half hour to 45 minutes since eating them. As of yet, neither of us are having any problems. Any advice other than, don’t do it again?

    • Green Deane June 11, 2012, 6:00 pm

      An excellent example as to why we study first, eat later.

    • Raenell June 13, 2012, 10:14 pm

      Just a follow up: My son was unaffected entirely. Whereas I, ended up with a major case of diarrhea.

    • Jennifer Page June 20, 2013, 6:09 pm

      I eat poke leaves raw in my salads all summer long.It’s a good blood cleanser.The first time e it for the year it will give you plenty of bowel movements but that is cleansing your body of toxins. When my son was 3 he ate poke berries.It scared me. I called poison control and they told me to put my finger down his throat to make him throw up.He was ok.He is now 38 years old.I guess the berries aren’t toxic.I heard that old timers in North Georgia. Mtns. drank poke berry wine.

      • Green Deane June 20, 2013, 6:15 pm

        And I know of someone who spent several days in the hospital after eating some raw leaves, and of a woman who died from said. What individuals decide to do is one thing. I teach only what I know to be safe and not controversial.

    • Rita May 12, 2015, 2:47 pm

      you and your son are fine. I’m 56 years old and have been eating poke greens since I was probably 5 years old. My granny, and great granny also cooked and consumed over the last 150 years.

      We don’t eat the shoots; we eat only the leaves; I strip center vein from large leaves, otherwise they don’t cook down well and are a little tough.

      I rinse my leaves very well. and place them in cold water, bring to a boil and cook for about 30-45 minutes. pour off water, and drain in a collander to remove as much moisture as possible. If freezing, I’ll leave the balance of water in and seal in airtight bags. If cooking immediately, I’ll squeeze as much water out as possible.
      I like the idea of olive oil – but the way you eat them in the South is to heat a skillet with bacon grease, amount depends on size of batch – for a 10-12″ skillet – about 3-4 Tbls. Add greens, cook over med. heat adding salt and pepper to taste. Heat thoroughly, then turn up heat a little more, scramble a couple of eggs and pour over the greens stirring til they are cooked. Serve hot w/ cornbread, beans, fried potatoes!
      Earlier this week I sauted fresh leaves in some bacon grease in my iron skillet, granted it took about 45 minutes total to get them rendered down to same consistency as boiled version – but worked just as good! Scambled eggs in them and yum yum! Don’t let everything you read on the internet scare you. Cook them the way you feel comfortable. I used to cook them 2 separate times. It just isn’t necessary. Have been feeding them to my
      own family for last 40 years and haven’t had an issue yet! Now, if you Don’t cook them down enough, about the only thing you’re going to get is a case of lower GI trouble, (the big D) – there is SO MUCH FIBER in the greens – duh! but you’ll live! Enjoy!

      • Marisa June 9, 2015, 7:02 pm

        MY grandmother and great grandmother cooked polk salad all the time. I have ate the leaves young and the big leaves . I don’t strip my leaves. I cook them with green onions and scramble an egg in them. The egg is to take the bitterness out. I have cooked with and without egg. The keys is to make sure they are done and have some kind of shortening in them. I like to use crisco or canola oil. Doesn’t change taste of greens. My Grandmother also Pickle the young stalks. She would put them in an iron skillet and put shortening in and cook. When done she would pour a little vinagar in the pan. GrandMaw always said that the country doctor would say if every0one would eat a mess of polk salad in spring they would be a lot heilthier . Taste good.

  • waya June 12, 2012, 6:23 am

    i grew up eating sallet leaves bigger than my hand every other day when in season. its my favorite green !

    • Jean May 25, 2013, 11:32 pm

      Same here, waya! And we do not parboil it either!

  • Hisgirll June 13, 2012, 4:30 am

    ur article combined the best of everything ive read so far on poke. there is a lot growing here and im ready to try it. of course i will boil it long long multiple times first lol
    thank u

  • SirShuvel August 9, 2012, 5:30 pm

    In the Ozarks, it’s said that people used to eat one raw pokeweed berry per year to ward off arthritis. Of course, no one still does this (to my knowledge.)

    • Grammy Meg August 17, 2014, 2:47 pm

      Some still take them for arthritis! Just pick, freeze, and pop one or several when pain occurs. I had a Cherokee tell me that poke berries was the only thing her grandmother ever took for pain

  • Marie August 18, 2012, 9:49 pm

    I eat the green stems every spring, up to 14″, blanched twice. No side effects.

    • Rhapsody98 August 19, 2012, 11:13 pm

      Same here! Poke was th first wild food that I learns, My grandfather taught me. His mother taught him. Eat only the shoots, smaller thatne width of your thumb. Here in East Tennesee, we coat it in flour and fry them, like okra.

  • kristen September 19, 2012, 6:02 pm

    I just found a baby pokeweed in my back yard, but it is fall. Why are the fall baby pokeweeds off limits? The leaves look slightly tougher than the spring ones and it is 5 inches and the red stem is already visible. Could I be misidentifying it? Are there fall look alikes?

    • Green Deane September 19, 2012, 8:05 pm

      Fall poke weeds shoots are not off limits if they are from seeds. Usually fall shoots come from roots and often they have very red stems even when only a few inches high. It’s usually the red that makes them off limits in the fall (or any time.)

      • jess August 30, 2015, 11:11 am

        I have poke weed growing in my backyard in southern California. I didn’t know what it was so I just let it continue to grow until I could ID-which I did a few days ago. Unfortunately the poke weed steam is red and is 4 feet tall. The leaves are sprawling all over the place (wing span of 6 feet) and there are a lot of green berries. I am assuming they are getting ready to ripen. In the article it says not to eat red stem. Ok got that. It also says not to eat a bigger plant. So my question for you is- can I still eat the leaves and use the berries as dye or is the poke weed too large and should I cut it down or dig it up. Please advise. Thanks so much!!!

        • Green Deane August 31, 2015, 3:30 pm

          The ripe berry juice, minus the seeds first then cooked, can be used as a food dye. The seeds are toxic and must be removed first before anything can be done to the juice. As for large leaves, my advice is to leave them alone. However, opinions on that vary. I err on the conservative side.

  • kristen September 20, 2012, 10:30 am

    Okay, thank you. That makes perfect sense.

  • Bill March 7, 2013, 10:53 am

    Poke in my area (southern Illinois) must not be as toxic as some other areas. I have never heard of anyone getting sick from the plant or berries. I have been eating it for over 60 years. I boil it down, drain it, freeze it in zip lock bags. When I am ready for it I fry it in a small amount of bacon grease. I had some friends when they got in their 60’s they were having problems with arthritis . They started drinking a shot glass a week of raw poke berry juice, they both lived to be over 90 and never had any more problems with arthritis. A relative of mine had crippling arthritis and tried it. It didn’t cure it but he said it helped with the pain. I have some neighbors that deep fry the inner part of the steams, they say their good. I have never tried them. Guess what I am going to have for lunch ?

    • Crunchy Mama May 6, 2013, 12:02 pm

      Bill, thanks for sharing your experience with poke weed. I love the idea of frying it in bacon grease (after the boilings). I am going to try my first poke weed shoots this year. I cut some today but some of the leaves have the faintest bit of purple but after reading the post and the comments, I think that it will be fine. And, a big thanks to you, Green Deane, for sharing all of this wonderful information on your website and your youtube channel.

  • Aussie Forager CQ March 12, 2013, 5:40 am

    Hi Mate,

    Here in Australia we have a Phytolacca octandra, do you k ow if it can be used in the same way?

    • Green Deane March 12, 2013, 7:24 am

      It’s an invasive in Australia from Central America. I have no reference to its edibility.

  • PapaBrid March 18, 2013, 5:03 pm

    Hi. I still remember being cajoled into eating my first “poke salad” when I was about 6 years old. Loved it! My relatives in East Texas boiled it two or three times and then saute’d it in a skillet with some green onion, a little dab of bacon fat, salt, and pepper. Then they stirred in a beaten egg until the egg was set. Awesome dish. But, in later years, I discovered a superb addition. I prepare it as above, then finish it with a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Better than any spinich/artichoke dip I ever tasted. A few years ago, I read that poke might cause genetic problems, so I laid off it for awhile. But, after a few years of abstinence I began to crave it again, and found myself looking forward to the first, and best, greenery of spring.
    I’m now almost 60, and healthy as a horse. Am really anticipating my first meal of poke this spring, which should be only another week or two. I was amazed to learn the U.S. Constitution was written in pokeberry ink. Also pleased to hear it may have some success in curing out worst diseases, like cancer, leukemia, HIV, etc. Thanks for a great article!

  • Joyce E Forager March 25, 2013, 1:33 pm

    where is the most convenient place to get sulfuric acid for the pokeweed seeds? Can the crusts of sulfuric acid on my car battery be used too, and if so, any idea on how I should prepare them? I left two mature pokeweeds in my garden to reseed for greens, but only four seedlings came up. Thanks for any advice.

    • Green Deane March 27, 2013, 9:37 am

      it’s battery acid. Most auto parts stores carry it.They sell it by the quart. A quart will last a lifetime.

  • George April 4, 2013, 10:44 pm

    I am 60 years old live in East Tennessee and have eaten polk as long as I can remember. My mother used to pick the leaves and have a mess for us once or twice a week. Rule of thumb was only to not use the leaves with red stems. She did not boil it twice, and I have never done it either. I have not eaten the shoots. My wife especially likes to mix it with spinach to add a little zest to it. My sister, who is 72, will pick the leaves off larger plants than I do…she says as long as there is no red in them they are fine. Personally, I think the smaller the plant, the milder the taste.

    I have one friend who takes three berries a day swallowed whole for arthritis. He swears doing so has helped him more than any medicines he has had prescribed. He freezes the berries so he will have a supply for the Winter. I have eaten the berries this way without any ill effect. You do not chew the berries and crush the seeds….non chewed seeds will pass through the digestive system.

    • Crunchy Mama May 6, 2013, 12:04 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. By the way, you have a fine name! We named our second son George 🙂

  • Darth Be'lal May 13, 2013, 12:05 am

    I think your 1-15 method of cooking pokeweed is a bit of overkill. I tried that today with the stems and they got turned to mush. Not very appetizing. The leaves held up better. For me, the stems are the creme dela creme of early spring wild edibles.

    I really have to get a hold of Euell Gibbons “Stalking the Wild Asparagus.” He describes the method he used to cook both pokeweed and milkweed and that method has worked for me when I cooked poke years back.

    I really don’t know what’s all the fuss about the dangers of eating poke. I did eat plenty of it years back and never got the least bit sick. I served it to all my girlfriends and they liked it. Hell, my ex-fiance liked it and she was the type that would reject ice cream if it was too cold.

    • Green Deane May 13, 2013, 7:43 am

      The fuss is this: They aren’t going to sue you for why you say or write but they will sue me for what I say or write. Thus I choose to write and advise conservatively and limit my liability. In regards to pokeweed perhaps no other plant generates letters on “how we used to do it.” But again those writers are not in the public eye or on the hot seat. I am. Thus I recommend that which I know to be safe. If people what to experiment on their on past that, that is their business not mine, nor my liability.

    • Randy Fry May 27, 2015, 3:29 pm

      I have Ewell Gibbons’ book. I’ve eaten poke all my life (66). I fondly remember the smell when my grandmother was fixing it. No one else likes it but me.

  • Mrhycannon May 19, 2013, 3:03 am

    I am 68 years old.. I’ve been eating poke all my life because it’s my favorite green leafy.. My folks always boiled 3 times with a bit of bacon and added vinegar at the table.. About 40 years ago I took exception to all that work and cut out the third boil.. Then I cut out the second boil..
    Remember when the government told us to boil with lids and only cook till tender because the vitamins leech into the water.. After 3 boilings and discarding the water, how many nutrients are left.? I keep the water (vegetable broth) to use in gravey or soup.. I also batter and fry the stems and leaves.. The smallest leaves make add a nice touch on a pot pie, just brush crust with a bit of egg and sprinkle the tiny leaves over top.. In short, I do everything with poke that can be done with any other green leafy..
    When I harvest poke in the spring, I use the shoots.. The rest of the season I use the youngest leaves and stems even if they are big.. I freeze as much as I can to hold me through the winter.. The berries I use for fabric dye and to control arthritis pain.. This year I’ll try pokeberry pie.. I’ve even heard that medicine can be made from the root.. Don’t forget that tomatos and potatoes were once thought to be poison..

    • Green Deane May 24, 2013, 7:26 am

      Many folks do different things with pokeweed. They won’t get sued. I could so I give conservative advice regarding said.

  • Mrhycannon May 19, 2013, 3:06 am

    And this year I cured ringworm with an infusion of poke leaves and stems..

  • Rusty, VA May 25, 2013, 8:34 am

    I was introduced to Poke Greens last year with the multiple boiling and draining method. I wasn’t that impressed. I then encountered a woman from the southern mountains who stir fries it with bacon grease and some bits of ham. That was delicious! Yesterday I picked some leaves 6 inches and less…fried them in a bacon grease, butter and olive oil mix…with ham and spring onions…I then layered that in a pie crust with a quiche liquid and made a Poke Green Quiche. I guess the frying, and then baking, might have mediated the toxins though I did not drain anything. I have had the greens fried like this about 4-5 times with no side effects. Comments?

    • Green Deane July 18, 2013, 2:55 am

      I recommend what I think is safe and defensible in court. How others cook poke is their own personal responsibility.

      • donna mcauliffe September 14, 2013, 2:22 pm

        I greatly appreciate your expertise! For some, the tried, true, and safe experience of foraging can turn into disaster. I knew a Dr years ago who ingested mushrooms….well death was the result. No one lives very long without a toxic liver. As for myself and mine I will follow instructions to the letter! As for the inexperienced who tread not so lightly…”you can’t fix stupid” lol.
        sorry for duplicate mess. Am having troubles today. thanks.

  • Donna May 29, 2013, 5:29 pm

    We were going to cook Poke last night and my daughter loves wilted lettuce so she says can’t we eat it like that ? Like idiots we did, about 4 hours later I was throwing up amy chest burning like on fire severe cramping. Hot then cold diarrhea all day. Never again will I eat it . Husband had diarrhea all day and daughter not even sick .

  • Emma June 2, 2013, 7:32 pm

    Deane I totally ndertand your cautionary advice. But… @ mrhycannon are you saying you eat the newest leave of bigger plants? The plants in my yard are about 2 ft tall now but the top leave have no sign of red or purple so are they safe! I noticed the deer are eating the newest growth I wonder how they feel!

  • Fred June 2, 2013, 8:26 pm

    Im 60 years old and have eaten poke all my life. I pick only young tender shoots or centers out of less than knee high plants,where ever they snap is tender and good the eat. Boil 10 or 15 minutes in salted water,drain,pan fry in olive oil and garlic,then add a drained can of white kidney beans,add black pepper and red pepper flakes,and get a fresh loaf of Italian bread. I freeze the poke and beans in ziplock bag and enjoy all winter.

    • Derek kincer April 4, 2015, 8:57 pm

      How do u freeze it ….what steps do u take….can it be fried after freezing

      • Green Deane April 5, 2015, 9:17 pm

        I freeze it in baggies. But, ti still needs to be thawed then boiled for 15 minutes. Then you can fry it.

  • Adriane June 3, 2013, 6:40 pm

    I love pokeweed so much I feel I can never get enough. I eat the spring shoots no matter how much red they have. For the past few years I picked larger and larger shoots in an effort to prolong the season. I only ever boil them once then discard the water and everything was fine. This year I lost all self control while cruising by one of my favorite poke patches. The plants were taller than me, and flowering. I picked some young growing side shoots and cooked and ate them and was fine. So next I picked just the leaves off the plants, two short boils, again fine. As of today I have been picking and eating the leaves from the grown plants for a full week and haven’t suffered any ill effects. YAY!!!!!!!!
    I don’t advise anyone to do risky things like I do, but my new pokeweed rule is everything except the root and seeds. I plan to make pokeberry jelly (minus the seeds) as soon as the berries ripen. Just passing along my experiences.

  • MikeH June 4, 2013, 12:01 am

    I’ve never eaten pokeweed greens, but I’ve used the berries a lot. An herb manual I have says to use 3-4 berries per meal for arthritis. It takes about 3-6 weeks for the effects to show up. I’d pick the entire string of berries and drop them into a bag. When I got home I’d put them in the fridge to chill and firm up. If you don’t do this you end up making ink. Everywhere. A couple hours later when firm I’d strip the berries from the stems and put them into heavy quart baggies to freeze. Whenever I wanted pancakes I’d use poke berries in place of blueberries. I’ve eaten loads of these over the years, but got tired of ignorant, but well-meaning family members tossing them out for me. I’ll have to try the greens now….it’ll make my narrow-minded dad have a fit!

  • Jasmene August 2, 2013, 3:43 am

    I too have eaten the berries, not in large quantity, but every year, a few here and there, no bad effects, at all

  • Rosana August 4, 2013, 4:30 pm

    I had read pokeweed is a purgative (colon). I had ordered powdered pokeweed from the health food store. The owner there said pokeweed is in colon cleansing formulas. I will have to do research on retail powdered pokeweed like how it was make. I would think the manufacturer of powdered pokeweed knew what they are doing. Since I am unable to get fresh pokeweed, I am to use the powdered. Any thoughts on a person using powdered pokeweed as part of a colon cleansing formula? I am looking at activated charcoal. Slippery elm and marshmallow should be good. The last three mentioned Dirk Yow used in his practice. State of Washington stole approx. $750,000 from his colonic business including taking his house.

    • Green Deane August 4, 2013, 6:26 pm

      Personally I would not use it an all medicinally.

  • Rosana August 4, 2013, 4:36 pm

    “I will have to do research on retail powdered pokeweed like how it was make.” Should be “I will have to do research on retail powdered pokeweed like how it was made.” I just have to get my colon in gear so I do not make typos!

  • Ronyon August 10, 2013, 3:45 pm

    This seems like a plant that could benefit from domestication.
    A plant is liable to have traits that express themselves differently in individuals. Apples for example are all over the map in terms of sweetness. Cherries have various amounts of cyanide in thier pits.
    Potatos bred for supirior chipping properties have sickened some consumers but not others.
    Till poke is tame as tomatoes, I won’t be eating it without multiple boilings, but then I stopped eating green potatoes, even though they never hurt me…

  • Kathleen September 4, 2013, 6:31 pm

    OM double G! Back in the late 90s I was having weird health things and went to a shaman-like guy who was 105 and he told me to pick Polk berries and soak them in honey for a month or more and have a spoonful every day. Um, I ate all of it! It was beyond heavenly tasting. Glad I was young and invincible!!! I did to a little crazy there for a whole though!!! I’m much less trusting of people who tell me to go pick something and eat it. I research now… Great site!

  • Karen September 12, 2013, 8:55 pm

    Love the article! I’m wanting to get into eating more plants from the wild. Good stuff to know if ever in a survival situation. Come spring I will be trying out pokeweed. We have a lot of it around here.

  • Víctor González September 20, 2013, 12:38 am

    Archaeologist Dale Quattrin ( found the remains of phytolacca rivinoides to be one of the most common plant remains in all 4 archaeological sites excavated from Formative 1 period (1000-600 BC) in the Valle de la Plata, Colombia. We do not know yet how Pokeweed was used there, but your page has some interesting suggestions.

  • Addison September 20, 2013, 1:15 pm

    What about purslane ? Do you have info. on that? We had so much of it growing around here (Baltimore and DC area) here the last few years and it is delicious in salads. Sadly this year there is none and I wonder what has happened to it.. Thank you.

    • Green Deane September 21, 2013, 8:17 pm

      Yes, there is a large artile on my website. Just type purslane in the search window.

  • Susan Peterson September 21, 2013, 9:01 pm

    We have a lot of poke in our yard and have eaten the shoots in the spring. We just stir fried them. I had read you shouldn’t eat them if they have any red on them, but these have some red on them as soon as they come up. We ate the young ones anyway. My husband had no ill effects, but I had some loose stool which might or might not have been from the poke.

    If they have red when they first come up, does that make them bad, or can I just stick to the under 6 inches rule? What about if the root is deep and there are some white parts to the sprout? This happened when I put a compost pile in the fall over where there was a poke root. I got a long white stem. We ate some of those too.

    I am interested that the berries might be edible if you can strain out the seeds. I often look at them and think, what a shame that we can’t eat those. One of these days I dyam going to try dying some tee shirts with them, for sure.

  • Jeff Neeley October 5, 2013, 1:32 am

    It is not nearly so poisonous as people think. I have eaten it all my life and we boil it once, drain and wash it, and have never had any problem. I have even eaten the leaves raw a few times. YOu do not need to pick the smaller plants. I usually skip them and I pick leaves off the largest plants often as tall as I am and taller. I like the larger plants because you get far more leaves. I have gotten enough for a meal off of one plant. We used to break off the entire plant and strip the leaves when we got home, but I have started this year picking off the leaves only and soon new leaves grow to be harvested. I will not say that the roots and red stems are not poisonous, but I have eaten it all my life without any special precautions. I pick and prepare it like I would any other green. I am told that the stems can be pealed and fried loke okra and are very good. I have not yet tried this.

    • Green Deane October 5, 2013, 5:28 pm

      As I said what you do with pokeweed is up to you. As I can get sued I keep my advice conservative.

  • Jeff Neeley October 5, 2013, 1:38 am

    I gernerally ONLY eat mature poke weeds and do not waste time on the small plants except early in the season when they are all small. I also collect it all summer long and into the fall. I have plants growing in my yard now and pick the leaves only and new ones soon replace them. The plants are taller than I am. They also have red stems and berries.

    • Green Deane October 5, 2013, 5:27 pm

      What you do with pokeweed is up to you. As I can get sued I keep my advice conservative.

  • Thomas October 19, 2013, 10:37 am

    Growing up in central Missouri, we would gather poke leaves in the spring, boil them, and eat them says we would spinach, with a little vinegar.
    My grandfather tried pokeberry root tea for his arthritis and it nearly killed him. That may be because it was too strong or possibly due to a pre-existent heart condition. As stated, I would treat the root as poisonous.

    • Green Deane October 19, 2013, 3:39 pm

      I am not an herbalist but to my knowledge it is the fruit used whole to treat arthritis not the root.

      • Linda February 18, 2015, 3:50 pm

        We have a lot of poke weed on our farm, and I have eaten it at my mother’s house (boiled once) several times in the past, so a few years ago when I was interested in learning how to make tinctures from plants, I did some research on poke weed tinctures. One website I read then said that the most powerful medicine for arthritis was a tincture made from poke root. However, because the root is so powerful (poisonous?) the daily dose of the tincture was ONE DROP.

        I never made any tincture, but I did eat a lot of the berries, without chewing the seed. The instructions from that same site were to start by eating one berry a day and increase the amount by one berry a day until you get loose stools, then decrease by one berry and that is your daily dose. I made it up to 30 berries a day before I ran low on berries, as it was late in the season.

        I have a small jar full of berries in my freezer (I may have dried them before freezing) that I would like to thaw and plant near the house so that I don’t have to walk a long way to pick my poke this year. Exactly how do I use battery acid on the berries without damaging my hands or my sink or plastic plumbing, or whatever? Do I need to do this outside? More instructions, please 🙂

        • Green Deane February 18, 2015, 5:18 pm

          Battery acid come sin plastic. Put your seeds in a plastic cup, pour in the acid,, wait five minutes, pour off the acid — carefully — then rinse the seeds gently with water. Wear protective glasses.

  • Donna October 20, 2013, 10:35 am

    Rivinia humilis, a cousin to Poke, (same family) which grows in South Florida, Arizona, Texas, and the Caribbean, isn’t mentioned. Also called Rougeberry, it seems to have the same “warnings”. What can you tell me about it? Thanks for helping to change attitudes about “weeds”.

    • Green Deane October 20, 2013, 2:28 pm

      As far as I know no part of the Rivinia humilis is edible. That is why it is on my non-edible page.

  • Donna October 22, 2013, 8:06 am

    Didn’t know about the non edible page. Where is the link? I had some folks from the Caribbean say that they did eat it. What are the possible adverse effects?

    • Green Deane October 22, 2013, 8:43 am

      The link to the non-edible page is on the top menu of the home page. Young poke weed is edible after being boiled twice. If not it can be deadly.

  • Alan February 3, 2014, 1:15 pm

    Thanks to everyone who has passed on their experiences as well as to Deane for his sensibly cautious advice. What doesn’t kill you makes you better informed 🙂

  • Patti Bell April 23, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Thank you for the great article. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I never heard of poke, except for the song. I have been living in western Kentucky, in the area called Land Between the Lakes. It is an area formed from the damming of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, for over 30 years now. I am 60 now and still haven’t tried the green. My landlord pointed it out to me a couple of years ago, but always thought it was poisonous. Our little corner of the world is in a large wooded area and I have seen poke all over our hill. I am going out to pick some right now. I love to make wilted lettuce (from fresh leaf lettuce, fried w/bacon grease, bacon bits and a mix of sugar and vinegar, making a sweet & sour taste). I think I will do this with the poke. Again, thank you for your knowledge. I will let you know how I like it.

    • Green Deane April 24, 2014, 10:14 am

      Make sure you boil poke weed twice in new water. It is not to be eaten raw.

  • jo April 24, 2014, 9:59 am

    I grew up eating poke leaves, my dad would bring home large leaves and tell us to soak them for 20 to 30 minutes in warm water then we would rinse them and flour and fry them…delicious. My Dad told us kids fourty years ago that it cured cancer and was a blood tonic, he was born in 1909 and ate poke all his life. I’m getting ready to plant some poke seeds- I forget what poke looks like out in the wild. Once you eat poke, you will want more.

  • Gary Houston May 3, 2014, 8:22 pm

    I was watching a patch where i knew poke grew.None up at all last sunday but 6 days later its already over a foot tall.I guess im out of luck this year

  • Wildwolf June 30, 2014, 4:54 pm

    I heard pokeweed can be confused with wild blueberry. If so, what’s the difference?

    • Green Deane July 1, 2014, 9:23 am

      Some people can confuse a cow for a horse. That they can does not make the two confusable but more reflects the observer not observing closely. There is a saying in the foraging community that no two plants look alike if you look closely enough. I would not be so bold as to say a person could not confuse a Vaccinium for a Phytolacca but I think even a blind man could easily tell them apart, as he could a horse and a cow. One would have to ignore a huge amount of differences to think they look alike starting with most blueberries grow no taller than your knee and poke weed can get seven or eight feet high. But even if one were to talk about a short poke weed and a tall blueberry one is herbaceous (a green plant) and the other woody, a shrub. They produce berries in different arrangements, and the berries look different. But if you have a friend who has a problem telling the difference between a horse and a cow I would not go foraging with them.

  • Mary Ann July 16, 2014, 4:09 am

    I want to thank you so much for your site! I live in the Sierra Foothills of Grass Valley, Ca. and found a Pokeweed in the corner of my garden a couple of months ago…I did not plant it nor was it there over the last 12 yrs. that I have lived here. I am surprised my “Mystery” plant has turned out to be poisonous but, am wondering if I should cut it down or let it grow and try to eat it. I read it is poisonous and then I read it is delicious to eat if prepared properly. I am confused.
    Thank you again and will appreciate any advice here. Thank you…” )

    • Green Deane July 16, 2014, 6:50 am

      Pokeweed is edible only when very young and then boiled in two changes if warer.

  • carole August 9, 2014, 8:21 pm

    have plant its tall and has berries and their green and some pink.. .. has berries. green. very small. smalller than blueberries.. and .rd. and tryiign to .give best description. . . has leaves there just green..

  • Wylene Edwards August 19, 2014, 9:58 pm

    Today I added about 10 poke leaves, 2 inches-4inches in length to 2 bunches of mustard greens and 2 bunches turnips greens. I add them to greens about 2 times every summer. They add a delicious flavor. This was the first time I got a colon cleanse from eating them! I don’t mind the laxative effect, but wasn’t expecting it. I will be be preboiling it several time and discarding the liquid for all future eating of poke greens. I am glad I researched the internet about the safe way to prepare poke greens. The idea of eating only poke greens does not appeal to me. I’d rather be safe than sick!

  • Mel W August 24, 2014, 1:14 pm

    Loved the article, but wanted to point out a correction to your historical footnote. While Thomas Jefferson may have used poke ink and hemp paper in his writing, the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the National Archives is made from iron gall ink on animal parchment.

  • waymon September 13, 2014, 10:37 pm

    Would like to write a little about pokeweed. Poke is NOT poison. I will be 80 in less than a month. I have eaten poke leaves of ALL sizes boiled one time all my life and have never been the least bit ill from eating it. MY DAD WAS BORN IN 1886 (lived 102 years) ate poke all his life (boiled one time) Never got sick. In fact he was 90 years old before he was ever in a Hospital. That was because a snake bit him. He was at least 50 years old before he ever heard anything about poke being poison. I started seeing articles in the newspaper in the early 1950’s stating that poke was poison. No one ever claimed the articles. I was Grocery Stores trying to make people think poke was poison, so they would buy their Greens. IT WORKED, and people like you are helping it along. My family has eaten poke leaves of all sizes (from the time they are large enough to eat until frost kills them) fed it to friends, neighbors, visitors, and anyone else that may happen to be around when we had poke cooked, and NOONE has ever got sick from it!
    Wish you would trot out some of the dead!!

    • Green Deane September 15, 2014, 8:25 am

      There are many ways to prepare poke. As I can get sued I err on the cautious side.

    • Alex June 7, 2017, 12:51 pm

      It’s so funny that you make this statement. I’d say you’re right. I would take Pokeweed and make tea like a fool when I was losing wait. I literally drank the tea from the first boil. Diuretic it was. Poison it was not. So I wonder whether it’s not healthy as hell and they tell you it’s poison. They do the same thing with Paulownia tree and the Chinese have used that tree for many things including cancers…and they make tea from it. So yes, I agree with you my friend.

  • Judy October 18, 2014, 4:53 pm

    I use poke weed anywhere I can find it. When I come across a batch that is starting to turn purple I only use the leaves. But with young sprouts, Katie bar the door because those stem are delicious.

  • letay October 21, 2014, 4:35 am

    wow I get promising idea from this tank you for all of you. I know traditional fermented condiment which made from leaves of Phytolacca dodecandra together with cereal. currently, i am doing my research dealing with fermenting microorganisms.

  • charolette jackson November 5, 2014, 9:14 am

    i noticed several people talking about cutting the stalk and frying like okra. i had a older gentleman tell me this and said once you eat that you will not eat okra again. i have been afraid to try it cause i was always told not to use anything but the leaves. my question is what size should the stalk be. i know one person on here said thumb size but i would like to know what you think. i totally trust what you say. thankyou so much for all the info you have!

    • Green Deane December 1, 2014, 6:24 pm

      I have heard of people doing that but I have never seen anyone do it. Until I do, and until I do, I can’t recommend it.

      • charolette jackson December 9, 2014, 8:48 am


      • Kevin January 7, 2016, 8:21 am

        Hi Green Deane,
        I’m just after some advice if you don’t mind helping me out.
        I’ve been given some pokeweed plants and I was advise to keep them for a few years so that the roots would grow nice and big before eating it. The person that gave me the plants instructed me to treat them like Ginseng’s and once the roots are large enough cook them up and eat them.
        What are your thoughts on that?

        • Green Deane January 7, 2016, 6:54 pm

          DO NOT EAT THEM. ABSOLUTELY NOT. THEY ARE FATAL. The roots are so toxic that you should cut the the shoots off to avoid getting even a few milligrams of root.

    • Sheila June 18, 2016, 5:15 pm

      I eat longer shoots than six inches and don’t boil. I come from a long line of pan fried poke eaters. I wash the shoots, bread and fry. Also, use the stalks that are not hollow. We peel the red skin off but only if it is a solid stem. If you ever eat it fried raw you will never boil again.

  • Don November 14, 2014, 4:30 pm

    Without a doubt I am a very lucky 72 year old as I have been eating poke sallet for most of those 72 years and from what I have just read I should be dead. The idea of only harvesting leaves from a plant not to exceed 6-8 inches really set me back. I have always harvested the leaves from the first ones off the ground to as high as I can reach. I do strip the large vein out of the larger leaves which themselves might be 8 to 10 inches long. I do this while they are soaking in the sink. To prepare the sallet to cook, I put it into a pan half filled with boiling water. Put in all the pan will hold. Boil for about 10 minutes, drain and rinse real good. Heat about three tablespoons of granola oil in a large skillet and add a couple tablespoons of chopped onions. When the onions start to clear I put in the drained poke sallet. When the sallet gets good and hot put in two eggs and salt and pepper to suit your taste. Be sure to stir the eggs into the sallet. Let it cook for 4 or 5 minutes and get ready for a feast.
    While the sallet has been cooking the cornbread
    has been in the oven, it is time to get it out. You now have a a meal fit for a king. Put a pile of fried taders (potatoes) next it the poke sallet and enjoy.

    • Green Deane November 17, 2014, 6:49 pm

      As you can’t be sued and I can I err on the side of caution.

  • roxann slaughter March 18, 2015, 12:34 pm

    been eating poke for years with other wild greens ,dandelions, carpenters square, nettle greens, best greens u can eat there is more just cant think of them right now. if anybody know hit me up on my e- mail

  • Xyara April 21, 2015, 11:15 am

    I was wondering if you have any thoughts on whether there’s a difference in shoots/leaves from previous years’ taproots versus first year shoots from seed? The overwintered plants of course produce leaves of harvestable size earlier in the year, but if there’s a significant difference in chemical makeup, I can wait. Thanks so much for the informative article!

    • Green Deane April 21, 2015, 4:15 pm

      There is some thinking in the foraging/herbalism community that there might be a difference than say a shoot from a seed vs a shoot from an old root. This might be why sometimes only one boiling works.

  • Nancy May 3, 2015, 4:57 pm

    Have been cooking poke leaves for years. I pull the large vein from the middle of the leaf and give the leaves a good rinse. While doing that, I fry bits of bacon, add minced garlic, leaves and cook just till wilted. Other that a mild laxative, have had no “problems”. 🙂

  • Mike May 15, 2015, 1:33 am

    Thanks alot for the great blog! And wow this thread is very informative and I love the controversy around eating this plant!

    I just tried eating poke for the first time today! I was very careful to use small shoots about 6 or 7 inches, making sure there was no bit of root attached. I noticed where I was picking one bunch of them must have been growing from a huge taproot. There were about seven shoots coming out! The big ones had longer thicker stems than any others in the area. Also they were covered by more leaf litter and were effectively blanched like how people grow celery. Other shoots in the area were much thinner and clearly were new growth from seeds as there was no skeleton of last years plant next to them. The shoots from seed were more green in color. The shoots from the taproot were more reddish but still paler-pink than many pictures I’ve seen. Ultimately I was scared to eat them because they were quite pinkish-red.

    I rinsed and cut up some of my pickings that had the least pink-red coloration since some comments say to avoid the red stems. I blanched for 2 minutes, drained, then added fresh boiling water and simmered for another 15. Then I added them to some frying slivered bacon and sauteed for five minutes. Flavor-wise the greens were much more exciting. They shriveled up and got concentrated and had a deep, nutty lovely flavor. The stalks were comparatively watery and underseasoned. I wonder if salting the water would affect the leaching out of poisons? The stalks are very much like asparagus. Next time I’m thinking I’ll just harvest a bunch of leaves from shoots around 8 inches tall.

    Bottom line is I’m still standing thankfully! Happy to add another plant to my repertoire. My other favorites this spring have been redbud, sweet clover, daylily and greenbrier. Happy weeding!

    PS careful with the daylilies I ate too many raw leaves (5 or 6 plants) and felt very comatosed. They’re said to be psychedelic but I felt more sedate and nauseous.

  • Gerge May 22, 2015, 1:29 am

    Just had a debate with my brother on this subject today! I deep fried a large salad bowl of poke stalks, small green shoots and large red ones. Split the large red ones in half before frying. No boiling whatsoever. He told me I had to boil them three times in fresh water. Never heard of such blarney!….. Until I read these posts! lol. I guess he read some of this stuff. If I wake up dead in the morning I guess he was right! lol. Til then I’ll keep eatin em. He too has grown up eating these” poisonous ” invasive plants. I am also confused by how the same plant can be a cancer causer and yet a cancer curer!? Hmmmmm. Me thinks more research is in order before making such uneducated guesses. If it were a cure for cancer, I do know that the medical community would do everything in their power to prove otherwise. Wouldn’t want to damage their trillion dollar industry ya know. For those who have gotten sick after eating poke, I would be curious as to what else is in their diets. Such as medicines or just poor diet habits. The thing about eating something that detoxifies the body is that it reacts strongly to foreign substances, toxins, pathogens, and damaging free radicals. This is more commonly known as the herxheimer effect, which happens when your body overwhelms and destroys harmful pathogens in the body. In my opinion, trust your body. Start eating small amount and work your way up. If you feel nauseous back off a lil. Just remember, a purified body is a healthy one.

    • Green Deane May 22, 2015, 7:24 am

      There may be a difference in the toxicity between shoots from seeds and shoots from old roots. Poke was more a medicine for Native Americans than a food. Many people report their family cooks poke in ways other than what I recommend. I err on the side of caution and to avoid being sued. As no one is probably going to sue you for how you cook and eat poke have at it.

  • Tim June 7, 2015, 8:16 pm

    when I was about25 or so, I decided to make
    Poke berry waffles, and I ate them. Didn’t have any
    Problems. Just threw some berries in the waffle
    Mix and cooked them. Made the waffles kind of purple
    As I recall. A long time ago.

    • MaxWeber October 15, 2016, 8:01 pm

      Did you remove seeds?

  • PipeMike June 22, 2015, 2:56 am

    Wow…….. Just – WOW!

    I’m reading all this stuff – and Wow! I can’t get my arms around the multitude of opinions. I’m really trying, though! i want to make it – but – then again – I don’t. But – I want to make it. Maybe not!!

    I’ve been talking to several people here, around town (because my particular job allows me to meet many, many, many people who are from this area. I’ve asked questions. I’ve gotten a myriad of responses. I’ve used things like dandelion, wild violet, purse-lane, etc – forever. Poke simply happens to be new to me. Holy Crimeny, have I seen different responses!

    I have a lot of this poke weed growing around the perimeter of my 6 acre property, only because the main portion can be mowed down, and I’d never see it…… “Tastes better than spinach” – “You’ll die!” OMG!

    I love the internet for information gathering – but hate it, at the same time – because there are so many ‘stories’.

    Sheesh! This guy has to continually state that he is giving his own opinion, and knows the potential liability that someone – ANYONE – could quite potentially, possibly, maybe – sue him if he says one word that nay be in error. I feel for him. I really do.

    BTW – McDonald’s coffee is Hot! It’s coffee, for cryin’ out loud!

  • Bruce August 10, 2015, 9:13 am

    Thank you Green Deane. I like the way you write, authoritative, entertaining and concise.
    Question… when is the right time to collect seeds? Berries go from green to black and fall off fairly quick. I assume black is the best seed.
    I want to plant a garden bed of poke but I got bummed when I read your suggestion of treating the seeds before planting with fermentation and sulfuric acid. WHAT? Do you know poke seeds won’t sprout without this bird gut emulation? Did you ever try planting in the fall? Although I doubt Florida’s winter would have the same husk busting effect Illinois winters have.
    BTW, seems a lot of people who eat mature poke have ate poke many years, I wonder if you build up a tolerance?

    • Green Deane August 10, 2015, 11:11 am

      Clearly poke seeds will sprout without humans soaking them in acid. But it dramatically increases the chance the seed will sprout. As for developing an immunity or resistance to the seeds as medicine I do not know. Medicine or herbal applications are not my area of expertise. Those folks I know who take said for arthritis have done so for many years. They pick and dry the ripe, black berries.

  • Stacey August 25, 2015, 6:15 pm

    Hey Dean,
    My family enjoyed your Sarasota walkabout a year ago! Do you have any idea if the Inkweed or Venezuelan Pokeweed are edible or toxic? Do both grow in the States? (I assume so but wanted to check!) Are the plants distinguishable when they’re not fruiting?


    • Green Deane August 30, 2015, 6:11 am

      Boiled Phytolacca rivinoides’ leaves and shoots are edible.

  • Grace September 26, 2015, 6:21 pm


    • Green Deane September 26, 2015, 7:55 pm

      No problem, just wash it off.

  • Connie September 27, 2015, 8:49 pm

    If there are berries still on the plant and they are dry can you use them? Or is it best to pick berries when ripe and dry them how?
    Thank you. Heard it is good for neuropathy.

  • catherine October 1, 2015, 12:55 pm

    Have these weeds on our fence line. One fell down near the ground because of all the rain. We have a new puppy that likes to chew maybe eat leaves on trees. Also berries
    Cut it down immediately for fear it will poison her.
    Do you know of animals dying from this weed?

    • Green Deane October 1, 2015, 8:03 pm

      It is bad for mammals to eat poke weed raw.

  • Oliver November 14, 2015, 9:55 pm

    Thxz so much Green Deane! Your wonderful article on Poke answered my every question and even taught me a thing or two! I grew up harvesting this delicious green in the early Spring, a tradition that I continue till today. I knew my Mother use to freeze Polk in Ziplock bags but didn’t know quite how and of course your essay covered that as well, Thxz again!

  • rachel December 3, 2015, 4:09 pm

    I have cut up stalks and ate like okra when the stalks were about the diameter of actual okra(small) they were amazing.way better than okra.didn’t need any seasoning.yes you still have to boil and wash before frying

  • jo December 16, 2015, 2:08 pm

    Hi, My neighbor gave me a poke plant from his yard( he thought it was a weed… imagine that )- all I had to do was dig it up. I transplanted it to my garden is there a good chance it will make it? I’ve been planting poke seeds for a couple of years and nothing came up.

    I ate lots of poke growing up and I love it. We let it soak in warm water for 20 minutes or so then fried it. DELICIOUS!
    Thanks for the article, I’ve enjoyed reading it.

    • J. Miller January 3, 2016, 4:28 pm

      It’s a menace weed were I live (in the Blue ridge Mountains). Some older natives of this area tell of folks who made wine from it. I personally don’t want nothing to do with it and wish I could get rid of it as it constantly grows too close to my bee hives which makes me have to clear it out. My bees are not fond of weed eaters :-/

      • Ashley Sewell April 10, 2016, 11:39 pm

        As a fellow bee keeper, our “elders” at our bee club say that herbicides should not be a problem for the bees. They are farmers and use them on their land and near their hives. For whatever you feel that’s worth. Might solve your need for a weedeater problem.

  • John R. February 16, 2016, 6:15 pm

    In the early 50’s Mother would have us three kids to pick poke leaves. No berry or stalk of the plant. Plants could be 2 feet, some a little taller. Mother wash the leaves and cook until boiling Pour water off and boil again two more times. The whole family ate the tall stalk leaves until june. Never got sick from it. Sister-in-law from Tennessee said they would eat the stalks too. We never cooked the stalk or berries. Rendon,Texas.

  • Susan September 11, 2016, 10:55 pm

    I thought these poke berries were elderberries. I made jam just like the elderberry recipe. It tastes great. I am still alive and nothing is happening to me. Now you all have me stressing out. If you can make wine out of why not jam. You strain all seeds out with cheese cloth.

    • Green Deane September 12, 2016, 8:14 pm

      It is the seeds and uncooked juice that is the problem. Strained cooked juice with no seeds is edible.

  • Debbie Livinghouse October 2, 2016, 7:40 pm

    My 9 yr old granddaughter has had a variety of medical problems since birth – weighing 1 lb 8 oz and born at 24 weeks gestation.At age 3 she was termed autistic and is non verbal. We just found her out back eating poke weed berries. She can’t tell us how many she ate but was coated in berry juice. My daughter called poison control, they said there is not much we can do just watch her for nausea. We are freaking out and feeling sick to our stomach worrying about this. For now she is her happy self. Can you add any info to help ease our worrying.

    • Green Deane October 3, 2016, 7:29 pm

      I am sorry I did not see this message sooner. It would come down to how many berries as it is the seeds that are the toxic part in the berries. Most children who eat a few berries don’t experience any problem. Again, the amount is the key. How is she?

  • Dave April 9, 2017, 12:31 am

    I know an old Indian man that drys whole berries, an keeps them in his pocket. He will eat a berry or two for gout, and he swears by it.

  • calle April 21, 2017, 10:57 pm

    Oh my land.

    Don’t think I will eat.
    But would love to make ink or dye cloth.


  • Patricia Wallace May 4, 2017, 9:54 am

    Try stripping the thin red membranes off poke stalk slice roll in corn meal salt pepper to taste fry like okra! It’s delicious!

  • Catdaddy May 8, 2017, 9:28 pm

    I LOVE to eat poke! I think is better than spinach. If i can catch the young shoots, great. But I will eat the leaves of plants up to 3 feet or so, cooked 3 times, drained and rinsed and pressed in a colander. The worst that I’ve ever experienced is a good gut purge, and that is actually a desirable thing, occasionally. BUT! If you have missed the opportunity to catch them young, just cut down the taller plants and wait a few days- a new crop of shoots will appear in your patch.

  • Sandi May 10, 2017, 2:16 pm

    I recently had a dead tree cut down and within days had an area approximately 6′ x 6′ full of 5-6″ plants. 3 weeks later, the plants are 6′ tall and taller. I identified the plant through websites, thinking at first they may be a vegetable. After reading the article and comments above, I don’t know whether to cut them down, eat them or offer them to someone for medical research. To say the soil that they are in is fertile would be an understatement in this instance. Any suggestions on what to do with this small field of very healthy plants?

  • V.S. June 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

    One day, I was riding in my wheelchair (injured by an accident) down the street with a male companion. He recognized polk sallet and introduced me to it and said it was edible. Since he encouraged me to one day eat it, I have had interest in knowing its taste ever since. It has been three years since he introduced it to me. Every time I saw the plant since then I was interested in trying it. He never once told me it was poisonous in any way.

    One year I saw a nice pretty shaped bush of it that just popped up beautifully in my moms yard. I live next door, so then one started growing in my fenced in potato patch. I wondered how did either end up in the yard, I started to remove the one in my potato patch about 2 feet diameter of space it was in, but I never did. It wasn’t shaped as pretty as hers. And i told my mom that my male companion told me it was edible. she swore it was just a weed and I should not eat what he told me was edible coming out the yard.

    Last year I harvested the berries and thought about eating them , but instead laid them around its bush for the animals and to ease the weight off the plant. I thought the berries looked strange and questionable. Later, again my mom warned me not to eat it. If it weren’t for her I may have tried the berries. So, recently, I was upset with my mom about something and she said I’d rather trust this guy telling me to eat stuff and could be something wrong with the plant (she never liked the man for certain abusive actions towards me she knew about) . so then I looked it up while she was on the phone to prove it was edible and that is when I found out it was poisonous, potentially. It was her first time knowing also, but she grew up in the south and told me the plant stank and she knew to stay away from a plant that stinks. I never smelled any stink from the plant whatsoever. I may have a little trouble with my olfactory glands.

    So then I tried in a conspicuous way to question the male companion’s motive. I told him my mom cut down the polk sallet in her yard. His response “she probably don’t want you eating it” . I told him that one day soon I would like to try eating of the plant that was growing in my yard in the potato patch. I said I thought about removing it because of the potatoes. It was already a 4 feet tall stalk. His response is that leave it alone, it would not bother the potatoes and I should go ahead and try it but don’t try it now but wait until the leaves get bigger like around August. He said somebody, maybe an older woman will be excited and come and grab some of the leaves saying, “Polk Sallet!!” he told me the story of a woman that came by someone’s yard where he was visiting years ago and grabbed some leaves saying the same, and the guy who owned the yard admitting to eating some himself, but was a little upset that she grabbed it out of his yard, but allowed her to take them because she had already gotten them. He said last time he ate it was (probably 9-10 years ago). If there was any dialogue between the lady and man about it being poisonous, he did not disclose of such.

    He also told me how to prepare. He told me you have to mix it in greens such as mustard greens and to get the ones a foot long best because the plant grows about 6 inches diameter (those were my measurement from his gestures that he agreed on the scale I measured), and can even add fish or some meat. Never once told me it was necessary to drain. Never once told me to drain the water after cooking.

    I told him I would like to try the berries. he immediately said “that’s for the birds to eat” I said if the birds eat it it should be good for me to eat. he said not so, but never told me they were poisonous.

    He did tell me other plants like one that looked like elephant ears that I had said looked edible and certain jellyfish were poisonous, but never used the word poisonous in reference to the poke weed.

    So then the next day I brought out a small healthy sandwich on tortilla bread and told him I would like to try some of the leaves on my sandwich. I asked him could he get some leaves of the plant for me to eat. He started to rush to leave the area claiming work to do (he’s a street mechanic), but when I told him I was going to make a (raw) salad out of the leaves he then pulled off two of them for me to eat with my sandwich. I noticed the semi-putrid stench from the leaves and drew my head back from sniffing it, and said my mom told me it smelled but i never noticed it before. i asked him has he eaten it raw before? He said yes, but he quickly left before there was ever a chance for me to eat in in his presence.

    I’ve seen him since. He did not come that evening but following evening he came but for short moment and left several times. I never told him that I ate any of it. never mentioned it. For those reading this article, I never ate any of it. I had no intentions of eating it. It was only a test to see his motive.

    I took the leaves over my mothers house moments later and she wanted me to throw it away. I ended up saving it for evidence if necessary.

    But, I often wonder was he trying to kill me?

    I researched the internet some more to see how big of leaves people were eating, and I keep hearing that it should be drained, and its poisonous, and your article not to eat it raw, and to eat the young leaves and not to eat when berries grow on it, which I would have followed the male companions instruction to wait until July or August and it would have had ripe berries on it by that time.If I did not know of poisonous nature, more likely eaten it.


    The thing is if he would actually eat the raw leaves himself. I know that on previous occasions when I did not know about how poisonous the plant was, I maybe twice suggested he eat some with me and he refused. I would have tried it then and there if he would have agreed to eating it, but he always encouraged me to try. Never once mentioned it was poisonous, and if he knew about poisonous nature of other things that he discussed with me same day, I’m so sure he knew of the poisonous nature of the plant. He discouraged me eating the berries for a reason, but never once told me it was poisonous.

    Now in the past he had threatened to kill me, in recent past he threatened to leave me for his ex girlfriend, but got kinder past few weeks because of my intent to run for political office in my city. Always tells me he love me, but I do question his sincerity at times. And of course I did not want to stay involved with him for reputation sake, and I have temporarily barred him from stepping foot in my house for more than a year now due to an undesirable lifestyle of his. And he has warrant out for his arrest on something else but police never picked him up even when I called to complain. His attitude is good now since giving me the leaves. I don’t need advice about this but answer to my question above. Out of concern I did ask advice from an officer who knew nothing of pokeweed.

    • Green Deane June 17, 2017, 6:05 pm

      Two raw leaves could make you sick and perhaps kill you but that depends on several things… is the plant young or is it a shoot from an old root? That might make quite a difference. One’s size, how hydrated you are, how much you ate et cetera can all effect that along with just plain personal differences. Do know that poke weed preparation has a lot of variations. Another point is people often don’t remember all the things about a plant because they were not the ones who harvested it nor prepared it. People can forget and mix up information especially if they learned it when they were young. So he might have some motives or he just might not be remembering all the information or never even learned it.

  • Donna June 22, 2017, 7:21 am

    Is this poisonous to reptiles? To be specific Tortoises?

  • Brenda from Clt Nc June 22, 2017, 12:35 pm

    Poke salad is only good thing June my grandmother taught me how to cook it you have to boil it three times about 15 mins then on fourth boil you put clean water and mix with mustard greens and I use fat back to finish let it cook at least two hrs I never got sick but do not eat after June it’s a good laxative to clean you out once a year

  • Myra August 21, 2017, 2:07 pm

    I moved into my house just over a year ago and was curious about this plant growing in the yard. I initially thought it to be a weed but noticed the berries growing from the plant. After researching what it is called, I learned it was a Poke Weed plant. I don’t think I would like to keep it as I will not be using it for any kind of recipe. I do want to dispose of it carefully. How should I dispose of it without putting myself or anyone in danger? Thank You!

    • Green Deane August 22, 2017, 4:27 pm

      Handling the plant isn’t a problem but it is probably growing from a large root. You will need to dig that up and be careful you don’t accidentally ingest any of it.

  • Mark December 3, 2017, 12:35 am

    No mention of Tony Joe White?

    • Green Deane December 3, 2017, 8:56 am

      White spelled it correctly in the lyrics but a lot of folks have been made sick because they think it is “salad” when it is sallet (et cetera.)

  • Page December 10, 2017, 9:49 pm

    Do you know where to find pokeweed in Orange County or North San Diego county? I would like to forage it for dyeing. And I wish I could find stinging nettles. It used to be at the Farmer’s Market by Sears but I haven’t seen it there in ages. I love that stuff!

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