Pokeweed: Prime Potherb

by Green Deane

in Alcohol, Greens/Pot Herb, Medicinal, Miscellaneous, Plants, Toxic to Pets/livestock, Vegetable

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 CuriousGoods.co

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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{ 90 comments… read them below or add one }

1 James Crawford Pitts January 17, 2012 at 10:19

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?


2 Green Deane January 17, 2012 at 13:58

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


3 Josh yingling April 28, 2012 at 12:47

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…..so I was wondering if you or anyone else had success in keeping the juice in liquid form without making a pink bomb! Lol


4 Green Deane April 28, 2012 at 16:36

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


5 Josh yingling April 29, 2012 at 00:32

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


6 Laurie G. May 9, 2012 at 11:56

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!


7 Green Deane May 10, 2012 at 14:53

Here is one of many studies…



8 Laurie Gorham May 16, 2012 at 18:48

Thanks, Deane, appreciate it!


9 Raenell June 10, 2012 at 23:08

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?


10 Green Deane June 11, 2012 at 18:00

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


11 Raenell June 13, 2012 at 22:14

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


12 Jennifer Page June 20, 2013 at 18:09

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.


13 Green Deane June 20, 2013 at 18:15

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.


14 waya June 12, 2012 at 06:23

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


15 Jean May 25, 2013 at 23:32

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


16 Hisgirll June 13, 2012 at 04:30

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


17 SirShuvel August 9, 2012 at 17:30

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.)


18 Grammy Meg August 17, 2014 at 14:47

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


19 Marie August 18, 2012 at 21:49

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


20 Rhapsody98 August 19, 2012 at 23:13

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.


21 kristen September 19, 2012 at 18:02

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?


22 Green Deane September 19, 2012 at 20:05

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.)


23 kristen September 20, 2012 at 10:30

Okay, thank you. That makes perfect sense.


24 Bill March 7, 2013 at 10:53

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 ?


25 Crunchy Mama May 6, 2013 at 12:02

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.


26 Aussie Forager CQ March 12, 2013 at 05:40

Hi Mate,

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


27 Green Deane March 12, 2013 at 07:24

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


28 PapaBrid March 18, 2013 at 17:03

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!


29 Joyce E Forager March 25, 2013 at 13:33

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.


30 Green Deane March 27, 2013 at 09:37

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


31 George April 4, 2013 at 22:44

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.


32 Crunchy Mama May 6, 2013 at 12:04

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


33 Darth Be'lal May 13, 2013 at 00:05

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.


34 Green Deane May 13, 2013 at 07:43

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.


35 Mrhycannon May 19, 2013 at 03:03

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..


36 Green Deane May 24, 2013 at 07:26

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


37 Mrhycannon May 19, 2013 at 03:06

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


38 Rusty, VA May 25, 2013 at 08:34

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?


39 Green Deane July 18, 2013 at 02:55

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


40 donna mcauliffe September 14, 2013 at 14:22

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.


41 Donna May 29, 2013 at 17:29

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 .


42 Emma June 2, 2013 at 19:32

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!


43 Fred June 2, 2013 at 20:26

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.


44 Adriane June 3, 2013 at 18:40

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.


45 MikeH June 4, 2013 at 00:01

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!


46 Jasmene August 2, 2013 at 03:43

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


47 Rosana August 4, 2013 at 16:30

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.


48 Green Deane August 4, 2013 at 18:26

Personally I would not use it an all medicinally.


49 Rosana August 4, 2013 at 16:36

“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!


50 Ronyon August 10, 2013 at 15:45

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…


51 Kathleen September 4, 2013 at 18:31

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!


52 Karen September 12, 2013 at 20:55

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.


53 Víctor González September 20, 2013 at 00:38

Archaeologist Dale Quattrin (http://www.pitt.edu/~ccapubs/books/m011.html) 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.


54 Addison September 20, 2013 at 13:15

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.


55 Green Deane September 21, 2013 at 20:17

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


56 Susan Peterson September 21, 2013 at 21:01

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.


57 Jeff Neeley October 5, 2013 at 01:32

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.


58 Green Deane October 5, 2013 at 17:28

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


59 Jeff Neeley October 5, 2013 at 01:38

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.


60 Green Deane October 5, 2013 at 17:27

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


61 Thomas October 19, 2013 at 10:37

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.


62 Green Deane October 19, 2013 at 15:39

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


63 Linda February 18, 2015 at 15:50

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 :)


64 Green Deane February 18, 2015 at 17:18

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.


65 Donna October 20, 2013 at 10:35

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”.


66 Green Deane October 20, 2013 at 14:28

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


67 Donna October 22, 2013 at 08:06

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?


68 Green Deane October 22, 2013 at 08:43

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.


69 Alan February 3, 2014 at 13:15

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 :-)


70 Patti Bell April 23, 2014 at 19:56

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.


71 Green Deane April 24, 2014 at 10:14

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


72 jo April 24, 2014 at 09:59

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.


73 Gary Houston May 3, 2014 at 20:22

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


74 Wildwolf June 30, 2014 at 16:54

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


75 Green Deane July 1, 2014 at 09:23

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.


76 Mary Ann July 16, 2014 at 04:09

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…” )


77 Green Deane July 16, 2014 at 06:50

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


78 carole August 9, 2014 at 20:21

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..


79 Wylene Edwards August 19, 2014 at 21:58

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!


80 Mel W August 24, 2014 at 13:14

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.


81 waymon September 13, 2014 at 22:37

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!!


82 Green Deane September 15, 2014 at 08:25

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


83 Judy October 18, 2014 at 16:53

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.


84 letay October 21, 2014 at 04:35

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.


85 charolette jackson November 5, 2014 at 09:14

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!


86 Green Deane December 1, 2014 at 18:24

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.


87 charolette jackson December 9, 2014 at 08:48



88 Don November 14, 2014 at 16:30

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.


89 Green Deane November 17, 2014 at 18:49

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


90 roxann slaughter March 18, 2015 at 12:34

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


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