"Pick me a mess of poke salad"

Poke (Phytolacca americana) is a robust perennial potherb native to the eastern United States. It frequently grows along road banks, fences, and areas where the earth has been disturbed. Viewed as a weed by many, feared by some as poisonous, Southerners have long recognized its value as a green vegetable.

We created this page for fun and to celebrate this Southern staple! We can sell you some poke if you can't find your own. Contact us for more information.

Growing Poke

Poke makes a terrific perennial addition to your vegetable garden. However, getting it into your garden can prove troublesome. Growing it from seed isn’t practical. To germinate, poke seeds must pass through the digestive tract of birds (That's why poke mysteriously appears in places it never grew before). If you’re brave and have lots of time on your hands, you can process the seeds for germination, which includes soaking them in sulphuric acid! Poke frequently grows alongside urban and suburban roadways. However, automobile exhaust, antifreeze, oil, and other leaking fluids, and lead dust from detached wheel weights can contaminate any roadside plant.

The best part: Long after insects and critters have eaten your spinach, collards, and other garden greens, your poke plant will stand boastfully unaffected. It's also drought resistant. No need to worry with bug sprays, sevin dust, neem oil, and so forth. Poke fends for itself.

A Poke By Any Other Name

Poke is known by many names:
  • American Nightshade
  • American Poke
  • American Pokeweed
  • American Spinach
  • Amerikanische scharlachbeere
  • Bear's Grape
  • Bledo Carbonesro
  • Cancer jalap
  • Cancer root
  • Chongras
  • Coakum
  • Cokan
  • Crowberry
  • Garget
  • Garget Weed
  • Herbe de la Laque
  • Hierba Carmin
  • Ink berry
  • Ink weed
  • Jalap
  • Kermesbeere
  • Méchoacan du Canada
  • Morelle à Grappes
  • Phytolacca Berry
  • Phytolacca Root
  • Phytolaccae Radix
  • Pigeon Berry
  • Pocan
  • Poke (also spelled Polk)
  • Poke Root
  • Poke Salad (also Salat, Salet, Sallet)
  • Poke Weed
  • Raisin d'Amérique
  • Red-Ink Plant
  • Reujin D Ours
  • Scoke
  • Sekerciboyaci
  • Skoke
  • Virginian Poke
  • Wild spinach
  • Yoshu-Yama-Gobo
  • Yyamilin

Cooking Poke

Good Heavens, Cook It Before You Eat It!

Raw poke salad makes you sick as a dog. Then again, so will a belly full of raw chicken and uncooked rice. Severe cases of poke poisoning could be life threatening, but choking down a fatal quantity of raw poke leaves is an unimaginable feat. More likely, someone adds raw leaves to a salad or fails to cook it properly and two hours later, Wham! The reckless gourmand is galloping toward the nearest thunder mug.

The stuff that makes you sick is concentrated in the root, stems, and to a lesser extent, the veins of larger leaves. Many people warn not to eat large leaves, or leaves from a plant more than knee high. However, you can pick large leaves, strip them away from the thick veins, and cook them with no problems. That's a lot of work, though -- best to allow some larger leaves to remain so the plant can thrive, and pick the small leaves as they regrow. After a few seasons, a well-tended poke plant will reach heights of ten feet or more and provide a family with all the poke salad you need.

So how does it taste? Some people compare it to asparagus. Nah, not even close. I know because I hate asparagus! No way I'd eat poke if it tasted like those creepy green sticks. Although the taste is unarguably unique, it's similar to spinach.

Traditional Southern Recipe

Begin with a mess of poke salad: enough leaves to fill a shoebox or plastic grocery bag.

  1. Wash and rinse the leaves.
  2. Add to cook pot and bring to boil. Drain and refill with water. Do this two more times.
  3. After boiling and draining three times, squeeze out the excess water.
  4. Place boiled poke in a mixing bowl and stir in two raw eggs.
  5. Add bacon grease to a skillet on medium heat.
  6. Cook the poke until the egg is done, stirring frequently.
  7. Salt to taste.
  8. Optional: cook with a half cup of chopped onions.

Poke Trivia

  • Gainesboro, Tennessee; Harriman, Tennessee; Blanchard, Louisiana; and Harlan, Kentucky all host annual Poke Sallet Festivals in the spring.
  • The pokeweed family includes several enormous South American trees and some unusual serpentine vines of the tropics.
  • Poke comes from the Algonquian Indian word "pakon" or "puccoon," referring to a dye plant used for staining.
  • Poke is sometimes spelled polk. The leaves were reportedly worn by enthusiastic supporters during the campaign of James K. Polk, 11th president of the United States.
  • Poke contains vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and phosphorus.
  • Poke contains steroids that resemble cortisone, making it a helpful treatment for skin conditions like psoriases, acne, and fungal infections.
  • The song Polk Salad Annie by Tony Joe White was later covered by Elvis Presley.
  • During the War Between the States, soldiers fashioned quills from feathers and used ripe pokeberry juice for ink. Some of these letters can be found in museums today, as legible as they were on the day Sherman burned Atlanta.

    Modern Healthy Variation

    • Olive oil instead of bacon grease
    • Soy-based bacon bits for the bacon flavoring
    • Free-range eggs
    • Spike instead of salt

    Medicinal Uses

    Some Native American tribes used poke as a Witchcraft Medicine. One belief held that uncooked, poke's ability to purge the body by causing profound diarrhea and vomiting would also expel bad spirits. The root has also been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, tonsillitis, mumps, glandular fever and other complaints involving swollen glands, chronic catarrh, and bronchitis.

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

    Poke from Argo Farm

    Our plants are harvested here on the farm, far from commuter traffic and laboratory acid baths. Birds love to perch in bamboo, so we frequently find new plants growing in the mulch at the base of bamboo canes. We harvest the dormant roots in winter. As you can imagine, quantity and availability is limited. Contact us for more information.