Since there is not much going on around here while wild ramps are out of season (seeds should be available soon!), so I thought I would make a quick post about another favorite food of us mountain folk.
Pokeweeds, also known as poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, polk salat, and inkberry is another spring tradition around these parts.
As this plant can be toxic if not prepared correctly, precautions must be taken to ensure it is fit for consumption.
Young pokeweed leaves can be boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling. The result is known as poke salit, or Poke salad, and is occasionally available commercially.
Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after thrice boiling, as traces of the toxin may still remain.
For many decades, Poke salad has been a spring favorite West Virginia cuisine, despite campaigns by doctors who believed pokeweed remained toxic even after being boiled.
My Granny and I have been eating this stuff for years, and I bet her Granny used to eat it also. It tastes a lot like spinach. I like taking a heaping spoonful, putting it in a bowl, giving it a good dose of salt and pepper, and then smothering it with vinegar. Tasty!
Here is a snippet of an article I found online with some useful information:
Pokeweed is a perennial herb that is native to North America, South America, East Asia, and New Zealand. It was introduced to European settlers by Native American Indians. Now you can find pokeweed cultivated in Europe and throughout the world.
This plant grows from 1 ft.-10 ft. tall. All parts of the plant are poisonous to cattle, horses, swine, and humans if eaten raw; the roots being the most poisonous. Swine are able to pull up the roots (even though they grow deep) and eat that part of the plant but it usually kills them. The pokeweed plant contains several toxins as well as histamines.
Birds eat the berries and because the berries are swallowed whole the birds aren’t harmed. Then when the birds do what comes naturally to them, new plants will spring up in the meadows and fields.
There are many uses for the pokeweed plant such as the juice from the berries are used in crimson dyes and in the earlier days of America, ink was made from the berry juice. People who work with natural fibers now will use pokeweed berry juice to dye the fabrics they create. The food industry still uses the pokeweed berries to make red food coloring.
The berries and dried roots are used in herbal remedies even today. Research shows that pokeweed contains compounds that seem to enhance the immune system. Young pokeweed shoots contain low levels of toxins and were used by Native Americans and European settlers as food.
Research has shown that the pokeweed has anti-cancer properties in animal studies. More research needs to done on humans to see if the same results will prove to be a positive step in cancer treatment. Pokeweed has an antiviral protein (PAP) that is believed when used in certain formulas may be useful against cancer cells that depend upon hormones for their growth; such as the cells from breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.
There are many claims that supplements made from the pokeweed and taken internally will help treat rheumatoid arthritis, joint inflammation, breast abscesses, and a host of other conditions.
If you have never picked poke salad, take someone who is familiar with the plant. They will also tell you how to pick and prepare it.
Most people will wash the leaves, put in boiling water for 5 min., then pour off the water, and repeat this 2 or 3 times. After the last boiling they will squeeze excess water from the leaves. Pour a little oil in the skillet, put the poke salad in the hot oil, then add eggs as many as you like, salt, and pepper to taste.
If you’ve never eaten poke salad, always taste cautiously to make sure there is no allergy. Probably less than 1% of the world would be allergic to pokeweed and it would only be important if you were in that group.