You’ve probably heard about pokeweed, poke salad, poke sallet. You may have eaten it. It has other names you might recognize: American nightshade, cancer root, inkberry, pigeon berry.

Now, this isn’t a complete treatise on Poke Weed, it’s just a few thoughts about the plant and how to prepare it to eat.

Poke is a native weed. Phytolacca americana can grow as tall as 10 feet. It’s berries have been used to make a red dye and it’s root is used in some cancer and HIV treatment research. There are tons of other health claims for poke weed but none are scientifically proven. Except two: poke contains large amounts of vitamins A and C and large amounts of the minerals iron and calcium and poke has a lymphatic cleansing property.

Because it contains these nutrients and cleanses the lymph system it has long been a spring time staple on the dinner table. Our foremothers knew that after a long winter eating dried foods and salted meats, this little weed was just the thing to refresh her family’s vitamin stores and give them a good start toward renewed health. A Spring Tonic, you might say.

You may have heard it called Poke Salad, but Poke Sallet is the correct name. A sallet is a kind of cooked salad according to Old English. We’ve just eaten poke for so long in this country, we modern folks now call it poke salad.

Poke is edible, and it tastes like a mild asparagus, but it has to be prepared correctly before you eat it. Poke contains the powerful irritant phytolaccine.  If poke isn’t prepared correctly it can cause stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting. Some people are sensitive to even touching the plant or berries. I’ve never had that problem, but I have heard of folks who have.

To prepare poke first start with tender shoots that have no purple color on them. I pick shoots for a few days sometimes to gather up enough for a meal or what Grandma called a “mess” of poke. That picture up there is my latest “mess” of poke.

After you’ve gathered up your shoots, wash them and remove all the debris and soil.

Bring a big pot of water to a rolling boil.

Chop up the shoots if desired, I seldom do but if they’re long you might want to chop them.

Place the shoots in the pot of boiling water.

Boil the shoots for 3 minutes. Drain the shoots and remove them to a plate while you boil another pot of water.

Place the shoots in the second pot of boiling water and boil for another 3 minutes.

Repeat the draining and boiling for a total of 3 boilings and drainings. If you’re sensitive to plant products and different foods, you might want to boil and drain the shoots up to 5 times. I just boil and drain three times.

To finish off the cooking after all the boiling and draining, cover the shoots with water, bring to a boil and add the seasonings of your choice. Salt and pepper are common as is a piece of smoked ham. Garlic and red pepper flakes are another tasty add-in. Let the shoots simmer with the seasonings until the meat is cooked and tender. If you don’t use meat just cook the shoots for as long as you would other cooked greens like turnips or mustard greens.

Don’t throw away that final cooking liquid. It’s called “Pot Likker” or “pot liquor”, and it is delicious with a piece of cornbread and the cooked poke. The pot likker is where many of those vitamins and minerals end up. When I was a child, Mother always gave me a little cup of the pot likker to drink.

Another way of cooking poke after the boiling treatment is to scramble an egg with the cooked shoots.

Do you cook and eat Poke Sallet?