Poke salad can be very poisonous and has to be prepared just so. Preparation involves boiling the greens in water and pouring off the water. Replenish the water and boil again. You need to do this at least six times.
You pick the very young leaves that have just emerged. If any red can be seen, it is poisonous. My mother painted her fingernails with red poke berries as a child. Her grandfather got very upset. He had her to wash her hands and gave all the cautions adults do.
Birds love the red berries. The old adage of if you see an animal eat it, you can eat it is just plain wrong. Periodically you hear of someone being treated of mild poke salad poisoning. The seeds are incredibly poisonous but their shell is so hard, they are said to be viable for 40 years. Birds also love poison ivy berries. Imagine dying of eating poison ivy berries, convulsive scratching before anaphylatic shock.
I guess you think my caution reflex is in overdrive. It isn't. I've seen too much to not know people have feet of clay. I've done some foolish things. So far, I've done nothing that has killed me.
In South Georgia, people do not talk about eating poke salad. I think I might be the last generation to eat the plant. I stopped pointing it out to students when I noticed a student who was considering a harvest. It is one of those things that will not hurt you if done properly but will certainly kill you otherwise. It is like harvesting wild mushrooms.
Poke Salad probably prevented scurvy is my guess why it prevented illness. In the mountains, people ate poke salad along with ramps. They were the food of the poor which is a whole lot of people of the mountains. The growing season really goes year round in South Georgia. Certain plants like collards produce year round. I had an uncle that had some collard plants that were about 4 years old in his back yard.
What does poke salad taste like? It taste likes weeds. It is not a good taste but a palatable one. You usually cook them and then scramble a few eggs in them like spinach. I don't recommend doing this because some varieties are poisonous. But they taste like the grass you mow boiled. This is up there with something tasting like dirt. I have never eaten boiled grass or dirt. But I have eaten a mess of poke salad.
I go through my picture archives and cannot find one of poke salad. I've got a few reedy stems near the road. That is what is left this time of year and it is a drought. Next year, I will have to get a good picture.
|The dried stems are the poke salad. They are usually bright red with green leaves this time of year. But we are in a drought.|