Poke salat - truth vs myth
There are lot of misconceptions about this plant, and a lot of unnecessary dire warnings about how toxic it is. I guess they figure it's easier to scare folks away than to educate them and count on them to do things the right way. How sad.
Here's the truth about poke salat - phytolacca americana.
Poke salat, when it matures, develops purple colorations on its stalk, flower stem, and berries and seeds. It is the MATURE leaves, and purple stem and seeds that contain the poisonous substances. Young plants are safe, as is the juice.
Young poke without any hint of purple makes an excellent dish of greens similar to spinach. It must be parboiled, then should drained well and added to a skillet and fried in butter or bacon drippings. It's a meal fit for a king.
Mountain folk often make a wine from the berries, claiming that a small glass each day helps relieve their arthritis symptoms. They also make a jelly, discarding the seeds. Many southern cities have festivals in honor of poke, and many websites contain lots of information.
Poke plants are spread far and wide by birds who gobble up the berries, then deposit the seeds for miles around. In fact, the seeds are difficult to germinate artifically because they prefer going through the acid in a digestive tract and then get frozen before they will sprout.
Poke root is a herbal remedy that has been used for millenia with excellent results, but can be poisonous when used incorrectly, as sometimes happens with someone who doesn't know what they are doing.
Poke salat has a place of honor in my garden, and in my kitchen.