Pokeweed Berries and Greens: Eat Up and Stay Safe

Pokeweed berries and greens are a nutritional powerhouse with medicinal properties—but they can be poisonous. Here’s how to eat and use them safely.

Treat pokeweed berries with respect to tap the rewards of their therapeutic potential. (The Grow Network)

American pokeweed is a nutritional powerhouse with medicinal properties, but it must be treated with caution. (Image by efes from Pixabay)

Pokeweed Berries and Greens: Eat Up and Stay Safe

American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a milestone plant for many foragers. It’s the first plant that many of us eat that could also kill us.

Don’t get me wrong. Correctly used, pokeweed berries and greens are absolutely safe. They are also highly nutritious and delicious.

This article on American pokeweed is part of a series on weed gardens and identifying and using the plants you’ll often find there. For other articles in the series, please click here.

But it’s a rare person who doesn’t feel at least a little trepidation when cooking and/or eating them for the first time.

Is Pokeweed Poisonous to Touch?

American pokeweed is the first potentially harmful plant that many foragers eat. (The Grow Network)

Image by Sandor Molnar from Pixabay

So, is pokeweed poisonous to touch? Considering that I painted with pokeweed berries when I was a child, the answer is no. However, as I’ll explain later, different people do have different sensitivities. So it’s always prudent to proceed with caution.

Pokeweed can indeed be dangerous if eaten improperly. On this note, my most vivid memory of pokeweed isn’t the smell coming from the boiling pot in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was much more recent.

A Scary Experience With Pokeweed Berries

A few years ago, our (then) 2-year-old came up to me with a big, purple-stained grin on his face. “Have you been eating elderberries again?” I asked him. He shook his head and led me to a tall pokeweed plant.

I saw that poke berries were missing. Lots of them. One of us might have said a swear word. I’ll let you guess who.

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It’s funny how panic will totally wreck your ability to think. My mind was racing to recall everything I knew about poke berries, but all I was getting was the word “poison.” I took several slow, deep breaths to calm myself.

Gradually, my brain started to work again. The berry is the least poisonous part of the plant. The juice from the berry is safe.

The Seeds of Poke Berries Are the Problem

It’s the seed that’s poisonous.1) http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2 But the seeds are designed to pass safely through the digestive tract so that the plant can spread.

Unless my son had chewed up the seeds, any poisons would likely remain safely locked away. And at this age, our boy was more of a gulper than a chewer.

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My wife and I decided to wait and see if any symptoms developed. As it turned out, he was fine. He never had any problems with the poke berries at all. That day, two things happened:

  1. I cut down all of the pokeweed plants in our yard.
  2. I became skeptical of the oft-repeated claims of 10 berries (or even 1 berry2)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.) being enough to poison a child.

Is There a Lethal Dosage of Pokeweed Berries?

One study tried to determine the lethal dose of poke berries for mice. What the researchers found was that it was impossible to give the mice a large enough dose to kill them.

After three doses, one per hour, of as much as the mice’s bellies could hold, some finally died. The equivalent amount for an adult male human would be about 45 pounds (20 kilograms).3)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf Just for the record, 45 pounds of water would also kill an adult male human.4)http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html

Of course, I wouldn’t recommend you eat a big bowlful of the berries. After all, humans may not be very much like mice. But this study does give credence to some people’s claims of actually having eaten poke berry pie.

Let’s Eat Some Pokeweed!

Our grandparents would have thought all this caution and fear were far overblown. For them, pokeweed was a mundane food—a staple of spring.

But at some point, that familiarity with our wild, native plants began to dwindle, and pokeweed became something of a daredevil food for aspiring foragers.

Let’s take back our horticultural heritage and eat some pokeweed (after preparing it correctly, of course).

This video should help.

Identifying the Pokeweed Plant

Is pokeweed poisonous to touch? No, but learning to identify it properly is still critically important. (The Grow Network)

A close-up view of an American pokeweed leaf is required to correctly identify it.

Adult plants are the easiest to identify, so let’s start there. Mature American pokeweed (also called poke berry) stands 5–10 feet (1.5–3 meters) tall.

The leaves are alternate,5)Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves grow back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem. large (4–10 inches or 10–25 centimeters long), toothless, oval- or lance-shaped, fairly succulent, somewhat wavy along the edges, and prominently veined. They also make a neat, rubbery sound when you rub a handful of them together.

The flowers are white, pink, or green. They grow on a pink stem and form a drooping, finger-shaped cluster. Flowers appear in spring through summer and turn into glossy, deep purple-to-black berries toward the end of summer and into fall.

White, pink, or green flowers turn into dark, glossy pokeweed berries. (The Grow Network)

Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

Pokeweed berries are about the size of a pea and are flattened at the top and bottom. A mature American pokeweed stem is red or magenta (darker near the base) and has a mostly hollow core. Pokeweed has a perennial root, with the above-ground parts dying back every winter.

The dead stalks can remain through the winter and are one of the easiest ways for beginners to safely ID young plants. Mark the location of a dead stalk, and come back in the spring to harvest the new stalks growing where it stood.

Once you do this several times, you’ll start to recognize the young leaves by sight even without the older stalks to give them away.

Pokeweed Berries Have Look-Alikes

Unlike poke berries, elderberries grow in an umbel. (The Grow Network)

American pokeweed may be confused with elderberry, but elderberry doesn’t have alternate leaves, and its berries grow in an umbel. (Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay)

Overall, the mature plant is very easy to identify, though it might be confused with elderberry. Elderberry does not have alternate leaves, however, and its berries grow in an umbel,6)Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers rather than a spike.

Poke berry clusters can resemble wild cherries, though cherries don’t have that garish stem color, their leaves are toothed, and they grow on a tree.

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Some people say that American pokeweed is a grape look-alike. I don’t see it, myself. But if you’re having trouble, remember that grapes grow on a vine. American pokeweed does not.

Where to Find Pokeweed

Pokeweed is native to the United States. It grows throughout most of the contiguous states, except for in the Rocky Mountain states and North and South Dakota.

Pokeweed is also found in the eastern provinces of Canada and has been naturalized in the Mediterranean region. It prefers damp woodlands and open areas.

Birds help spread the seeds in their droppings. That’s why you can often find pokeweed shoots beneath popular perches. Try fence rows as well.

Harvesting Pokeweed Berries and Greens

The conventional wisdom is to harvest leaves and stems from young plants no more than 6-10 inches (15-25 centimeters) tall.7)Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.

Harvest American pokeweed leaves and stems from young plants no more than 6-10 inches tall. (The Grow Network)

Poke berries can be harvested whenever they are ripe, from summer into fall.

I do not recommend harvesting the root as it contains the highest concentration of poison. (However, those who do opt to take the risk typically harvest the root in the fall after the main stalk has died back.)

Some people harvest from taller plants, even taking the newer growth from mature pokeweed. Depending on your level of sensitivity to the plant and your level of experience, this might or might not be a good idea.

The Pokeweed Boogeyman

And this would probably be a good time to talk about the pokeweed boogeyman. In my opinion, the poisonous nature of pokeweed has been exaggerated.

People tend to repeat warnings about poisonous plants without verifying them. This can cause errors or exaggerations to be perpetuated until they assume the rank of “fact.” This seems to be what has happened with pokeweed.8)http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf

Don’t misunderstand me. Pokeweed is poisonous and has killed people. You have to respect it, and you have to use it correctly. But the level of fear exceeds the reality.9)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.

To further muddy the waters, some people are more sensitive to the toxins in pokeweed than others. For example:

  • The plant juice causes dermatitis in some people (like my wife) and not in others (like me).
  • Some people get a stomachache if they boil the leaves only once, while others may have no ill effects.
  • I’ve even seen a man claim that he saved the cooking water for use in soups. That one’s a bit much for me, but you can see how the claims of pokeweed’s relative toxicity might get confused.

A Common-Sense Caution

So what’s a forager to do?

Go slowly. Just cook a little bit your first time, and use one of the longer boiling methods described below. The next time, you can cook more.

Use your own wisdom, listen to your body, and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. In all likelihood, you’ll be fixin’ a big mess of greens in no time.

Culinary Uses: Cooking and Eating Pokeweed Greens

American pokeweed leaves need to be boiled before they're eaten. (The Grow Network)

American pokeweed leaves need to be boiled before they’re eaten.

Nutritionally, pokeweed is a powerhouse plant. It’s a dynamite source of vitamins A and C and also a good source of calcium and iron.10)http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2

But how do you get to that nutrition without poisoning yourself? Poke leaves are boiled before eating.

How to Boil Pokeberry Leaves As a Tasty Meal

Opinions differ as to how long they must be boiled and in how many changes of water. This is how I do it:

  1. Boil the leaves for 1 minute.
  2. Pour out the water, and bring new water to a boil.
  3. Now boil the leaves for another full minute.
  4. Change out the water, and boil for 15 minutes.

The whole process looks like this: Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 1 minute –> Change water –> Boil 15 minutes

Remember, your timer doesn’t start until the water reaches a full boil. You can keep a second pot of water boiling so that you don’t have to wait for the water to heat up every time. If you want to err on the cautious side, you can always boil it longer.

Two boils of 15 minutes each or three boils of 10 minutes each are common cooking protocols.

Serving Up Savory Greens

Serve with salt, pepper, and butter. Some people like to add vinegar or olive oil as well.

I like to add a pinch of brown sugar. My way isn’t the healthiest, but it gets the kids to eat it. Another popular option is to toss the cooked pokeweed into a pan and scramble it with eggs. I like to add barbecue sauce. (Try it, then tell me if I’m crazy!)

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Young shoots can be peeled, breaded in cornmeal, and fried. Some people boil them first, but many (including me) don’t. Another option is to boil and then pickle the stalks. I’ve never tried this one, but it sounds tasty.

Medicinal Uses: Properties and Contraindications

The root is the most poisonous part of the American pokeweed plant. (The Grow Network)

The root is the most poisonous part of the American pokeweed plant.

Used correctly, pokeweed is a powerful medicinal plant. However, the margins of safety are smaller than with most popular herbs.

The berry is the safest part of the plant to use medicinally. The root, while a very powerful medicine, is also the most poisonous.

Use caution, and get in touch with an experienced herbalist before experimenting with it yourself. Pokeweed has a wide variety of medicinal uses, both traditional and modern. Most of these likely stem from its antiviral, lymphatic, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Pokeweed Properties

Pokeweed has terrifically potent antiviral properties against a wide range of viruses, including SARS and coronavirus. It is a powerful lymphatic-system stimulant, helping to prevent cytokine storms.11)Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory immune response often linked to certain viruses. Isolated compounds from the pokeweed plant have even been used to inactivate the HIV virus in rats, rendering them HIV-negative.12)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.

That’s a lot of antiviral potential.

Pokeweed is also strongly anti-inflammatory and has a long history as an arthritis herb.13)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. Some people take 1 berry a day to ease their symptoms. Others use the root in powder or tincture14)Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper. form.

Read more on pokeweed’s antiviral properties here.

One suggested dose of root powder is 60–100 milligrams.15)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008. A 1:5 tincture of the dried root in 50% alcohol has also been suggested with a dose of 5–15 drops up to 3 times a day.16)Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.  Again, use caution and seek a trained expert before putting any of this into your body.

Pokeweed Contraindications

American pokeweed has the potential to interact with drugs that have sedative properties. Possible side effects include lowered blood pressure, confusion, weakness, blurred vision, nausea, difficulty breathing, and death.17)The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.

Pregnant women should not use pokeweed.18)Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000. If you’re looking for similar effects from safer plants, try skullcap or cleavers as alternatives.19)Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013. Red root also has some similar properties, though it has safety issues as well.

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Hopefully, I’ve scared you just the right amount—not so much that I scared you away, but not so little that you jump in with abandon. Pokeweed is a powerful, nutritious, delicious plant that is safe when it’s given proper respect and dangerous when it’s not.

What Do You Think?

What are your experiences with pokeweed berries and greens? Are you still asking, “Is pokeweed poisonous to touch?” Or is it now, “Pass the poke berries, please!” Have you ever tried poke berry pie and lived to tell the tale? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.


This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on April 24, 2018. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments; however, we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!

Psst! Our Lawyer Wants You to Read This Big, Bad Medical Disclaimer –> The contents of this article, made available via The Grow Network (TGN), are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information provided by TGN. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk. And, of course, never eat a wild plant without first checking with a local expert. 

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1 http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
2 The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
3, 8 http://digital.library.okstate.edu/oas/oas_pdf/v43/p54_57.pdf
4 http://www.nleomf.org/officers/search/search-results/james-c-mcbride.html
5 Alternate: A leaf pattern in which leaves grow back and forth or in a spiraling pattern on a stem.
6 Umbel: A flat, disk-shaped or umbrella-shaped cluster of flowers
7 Peterson Field Guides. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America. Lee Allen Peterson.
9, 16 Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2012.
10 http://www.eattheweeds.com/can-be-deadly-but-oh-so-delicious-pokeweed-2
11 Cytokine Storm: A potentially fatal, hyper-inflammatory immune response often linked to certain viruses.
12, 19 Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections. Stephen Harrod Buhner. Storey Publishing, LLC. 2013.
13, 18 Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: The Definitive Home Reference Guide to 550 Key Herbs with all their Uses as Remedies for Common Ailments. Andrew Chevallier. DK Adult. 2000.
14 Tincture: A preparation in herbal medicine wherein the medicinal components of a plant are pulled into a solution of alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin and administered by dropper.
15, 17 The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide: The Safe Way to Use Medication and Supplements Together. George T. Grossberg M.D., and Barry Fox. Publisher: Harmony. 2008.
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This post was written by Scott Sexton


  • Joanna Newcomer says:

    Thank you for posting this, Ive got a little one running around that is starting to want to to eat everything.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah. Kids are natural foragers. I show mine what’s edible and what isn’t, and we talk about safety. But all that curiosity can still get them into trouble. Now I’ve got a separate area of my yard fenced off for growing all my poisonous and prickly plants.

  • AmyWhitney says:

    Last weekend I was talking to a guy at a local community garden who was just getting started with foraging. He pointed to a young plant, thick-stemmed and in the “asparagus stage” in terms of appearance, and he said he thought it was pokeweed. In fact, it was a swamp milkweed (I have some in my yard, for the monarchs). The similarity is not super-close, but it fooled the fledgling forager.

    Do you ever suggest that people keep their own photo-book of plants at various stages of development, to help them learn what each plant looks like as it grows? I was trying to think of a good way for this guy to learn his weeds, and that is all I could think of at the moment. Is there a specific method for learning that you recommend?

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      I keep a lot of pictures on my phone. I’ve got more pictures of odd plants on there than of my children. haha. But a photo-book is a really good idea. I probably will start recommending that. In fact, I should start one of my own to use an aid when I take people on plant walks. Thanks for the idea. People will say, “How did you come up with this great idea?” And I’ll say, “It was Amy.” 😉

      Whenever I’m learning a new plant and I think I’ve found an example of on in the wild, I’ll just watch it grow for a year to see it in the different seasons. Plus, I focus on a lot of sensory information. I’ll look at it, touch it, smell it, etc. I try to build up a complete sensory map of the plant in my mind. So I always recommend that to other people too. And I’ll tell people that it never hurts to google the name of the plant you think you’ve found, plus the word “lookalikes”.

  • Mary says:

    Thank you for posting this.
    When I was very young, my mom always fed us all kinds of “Weeds”, dandelion, pokeweed, and a whole host of things I cannot remember. We grew up very healthy. I want to learn how to continue using “Natures Meds”.
    One of my MAJOR concerns is: “Positive identification of the plant”. I find that not very many people have the “Confident Knowledge” of the plants grown in the wild.
    Thank you. Please keep up the good work.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      Thanks, Mary. I am a firm believer that natural medicines are very powerful and effective when used correctly. But as you were saying, positive identification is very important. I’ve been working on another post with some helpful tips about that, so stay tuned. 😉 Thanks for reading!

  • Franne says:

    Hello Scott. Great information. I’d like to add that I have eaten poke sallet all my life and am now 62. I have several patches of poke that grow in the fields around my house and gather a lot of poke throughout the spring and freeze it for later. When I find a good plant, I pick out the top of it to eat (kinda like cutting it back). Then in a few weeks, when the suckers grow out, I come back and trim those out to eat as well. This lets the plant get tall while still putting out shoots that are tender and green. I’m also careful about trimming out any small/new seeds that might be forming.

    As for the stalks, I will peel them and cut them up just like okra (rather than leave in long pieces) and fry in cornmeal. It does taste a lot like okra and if you don’t tell anyone the difference it would be difficult for them to know that it isn’t okra. Whereas I don’t worry too much about the stalk being red, I do tend not to eat the older tougher bottom part of the stalk. The red part usually peels off rather nicely.

    My grandmother told me that the poison was taken out by the actual frying of it. Not too sure of that anymore as I have (by mistake the first time, several other times since) eaten some poke that had only been boiled. The taste is similar to boiled spinach out of the can and rather bland. Not as appetizing as frying, but still good and non poisonous.

    My favourite way to prepare is to boil it twice, each time about 30 minutes. I’ve found that if you don’t boil it at least twice it has a rather bitter taste. After boiling and rinsing it twice, I squeeze all the water out and put it in an iron skillet with lard. You can also use bacon grease, Crisco or any other vegetable oil. I cook with lard almost exclusively. Once the poke is frying up, I’ll also add some chopped onion, some salt and lots of black pepper. Once it’s fried up for about 15 minutes or so, I add several scrambled eggs and mix it and fry it all up.

    Poke sallet is one of those foods that is an acquired taste I believe. I have always gathered and froze enough poke to keep me and my two children’s families stocked with poke so that it can be eaten year round.

    I have also taken the root and boiled it and used the water to spray on dogs and cats for flea infestation. It seems to work with no ill effects. I have not tried the berries. I’m told that it’s the actual seeds within the berry that are poisonous and if you don’t crunch or break them up, you should be fine.

    Good luck everyone with foraging.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      Thanks for the feedback and the extra info. I had never heard of using the root to kill fleas, but it makes sense. And your way of cooking pokeweed sounds delicious. My grandmother used bacon grease, but I’ve developed a taste for it without that. …not that I would turn it down, of course. 😉

  • eric.mackinnon1961 says:

    Great little intro into eating weeds. I’ve got a ton of the things growing along my fence line. Time for edible revenge. Thanks.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      Haha! Yes! Show those plants whose at the top of the food chain.

  • clairemarie183 says:

    Poke is the one thing I know how to identify because my mom taught me about it, even though I never ate it. I wish I knew for sure how to identify elderberry in the wild. I think there is some near me, but have never gotten close enough to be certain. I want to grow it in my yard too.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      I love elderberries. They’re great in recipes, powerful medicine, and easy to grow from cuttings. I just added several more of them to a food forest I’m working on. Maybe I can write on that topic in the future.

      I’m not sure that I could give a satisfactory description of the plant’s identifying features in this short reply, but you can often buy them from plant nurseries. Watching a plant grow is a great way to learn to identify it. Buying from a nursery is also a good way to avoid any dangerous lookalikes while you build confidence in your ability to identify it.

      1. Owl says:

        I would love to know how to propagate my wild elderberry plants by cuttings!

  • Brian Moyers says:

    I usually give unknown volunteer plants in my raised garden beds a chance to grow a little bit so I can properly identify them.🌱 In the past, I’ve experienced some awesome surprises such as peanut plants (apparently planted by squirrels) and sunflowers (presumably also from squirrels raiding the neighbors bird feeder). Unfortunately, one year I had a fast growing plant in the middle of my raised garden bed that (you guessed it) turned out to be pokeweed. I knew I had to remove every single bit of its root system else I might risk two or three plants growing back in its place!!! I literally excavated my raised garden bed with exacting precision! It ended up looking like an archaeology dig! The root system was massive, especially with all the lateral roots branching out! I applaud your defense of this often misunderstood “badguy” of the plant world… but pokeweed will still forever remain my nemesis! 😜

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      We all have our nemeses. And , yes, they are tenacious. I’ve got a ton of tiny poke weeds coming up in an herb bed. I guess I’ll just have to eat the little darlings.

  • lhoffmanfritz says:

    This is great to know! We have a lot of pokeberry we have scared of. I love knowing we can use it with caution.

  • sonnywv says:

    would not let me post my comment

  • sonnywv says:

    now it seems to work So I’ll keep it short. Thank you or the info. on Polk, a lot I knew, some I didn’t about the Berry’s all in all very good information. Thank you keep up the good work.

  • Kerstin DeRolf says:

    I think it is also very interesting that in homeopathy Phytolacca – homeopathic poke – is also a very useful remedy for many problems. Look up homeopathy – it is, for many remedies, herbal tinctures on steroids…awesome!

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      And pokeweed would be completely safe, due to the extreme dilution involved in homeopathy. Thanks for bringing that up!

  • Deborah Dailey says:

    The story about your two-year-old son immediately reminded me of my daughter when she was about the same age. One day she came to me outside with a juicy, green grin, and announced, “Ma, I ate something.” Fortunately, I knew by the smell of her breath that it was parsley. I had a lot of pokeweed growing in my yard then, but I always taught her it was poisonous, because that was my understanding. I think the birds and other wildlife also left it alone. It’s interesting to know that it can be eaten, but, with all of the other wild plants around, I would personally rather stick to those that don’t need to be so carefully prepared in order to be safe.

    1. Scott Sexton says:

      I totally understand. There’s no reason to eat a plant you’re not comfortable with. Thanks for the comment.

  • Catherine Kilgore says:

    Thanks for the article, Scott! My grandmother taught me how to cook poke (as we always called it). When I first tasted it, I couldn’t stand it. But I learned to love it as I got older. We have a lot of it growing around in these parts, in the field behind my house, along fence rows, etc. When I see it during the summer, I just go out and pick a big bag of it. It takes that much because it cooks down to almost nothing (kind of like spinach). By the way, I was always told not to pick the leaves if the plant was bearing berries. Maybe that’s because the leaves are too big and tough. The younger leaves are tender and taste better.

  • hayeslaurita says:

    I was taught pokeberry by my grandmama’s community granny woman whose parents were taught by the local Cherokee. Poke was a big one. The berries have natural steroids in them that I was taught your liver could recognize and break down. This means poke, unlike artificial steroids, does not accumulate in the body. Everything you use steroids for (or Benadril) think poke. Joint pain is the most recognized ailment pokeberries are marvelous for. My ex had old-injury-related bursitis so severe the Dr. told him steroid shots were not going to work. He told me he would try anything. I picked berries and had him take three a day. In two days the pain dissolved. He took the berries for 3 weeks. In that time, the other old injuries in his elbow and knee also resolved. That was 15 yrs ago and they have not returned since. I used the berries for appetite for my mama who died of multiple myeloma. The Dr. said she would quit eating. Well, we used berries for appetite. I was taught that the liver would adjust to a set dose, so you need to vary it. We would start out on one berry a day, then increase by a berry a day up to 27 berries a day, then triturate back down one berry a day until we were back to zero. Then you wait 3 days to let the liver normalize, then start again. She ate until 3 days before she died, and had only a little pain the last month or so. My mama would make gallons of poke wine in buckets to give to people with arthritic dogs. I have letters from people thanking her for added years of pet life because they could walk again. One of the best things I have found for berries is poison ivy. If yu take a few berries before or right after exposure to ivy, you will not even break out. We used it also when my son had (suspected) co-v – id where his extremities swelled for no reason, including his face and throat. I recognized the allergy-type problem and gave him several berries a couple times a day. The swelling vanished within 48 hrs. He had also read up on using B1 (thiamin) and Vit. C and zinc, of course and baby aspirin. Well, he was taking the other stuff but it was the berries that got the swelling down. I have used the fresh root (low dose) for mastitis. Cook a pea-sized piece in a little coconut oil for several minutes, then use a drop or two at a time on the affected place a few times a day. You have to make it fresh every day because root loses potency by the hour. It’s awesome for pain! Recently, a friend had a painful, bony growth on her thumb knuckle that was quite large. She dug up fresh root and boiled a little in water each time and soaked her hand in the tea several times over a couple of weeks and the growth disappeared. I remember it being called “tumor root”. Any allergic reaction or arthritis responds well to poke berries, too, either dried or frozen. I never leave home without them. I was taught the seeds are poison because they contain atropine, which increases respiration rate. Steroids, of course, do the opposite. I have marveled often that the perfect package of the pokeberry contains both so the body can choose to extract atropine from the seed if it needs it, or just stick with the steroids, etc. if it doesn’t. The leaves make a good local poultice for topical pain, too.

  • pmrc423 says:

    I steam the leaves, not boil them, especially early in spring before the stems turn red. I use the water for cooking other things and have never had a problem. They’re delicious with Hollandaise sauce. I knew the seeds are poisonous but didn’t realize the berries and roots had so many medicinal properties. This is all good to know. Thanks.

  • Roslyn says:

    Love this article and thank you for writing it. I’m 54 years old and have been eating poke salad for ages. It was a staple at our house, when I was growing up, in spring. My Grandfather had a saying when we went out to pick it; “If it’s to the knee, let it be”. We only picked the young leaves. He said if it was taller than your knee, the leaves were too tough to eat. Never heard of the boiling method though. We just washed them off, cut them up, sauteed them in butter or bacon grease, with onions, peppers and mushrooms (Morels, if we found any). then added in some scrambled eggs. MmmmMmmmm, now that is some good eatin’ right there.
    I haven’t tried anything with the berries, we were never told they were poison, just that they would give us an awful tummy ache if we ate them, similar to eating those little green crab apples. I have heard of people making pies and jelly from the berries though.

  • betharrell says:

    I grew up eating poke. Still do if I can find it. We live in the city now and there’s not much around. Mom never used all these elaborate cooking methods. She just boiled it up like other garden greens. But we did use only the tender shoots or the tinder top leaves. I didn’t know what a strong medicinal plant it is. I’m going to do some research! My daughter has degenerative disk disease and takes strong steroids. I’m wondering if poke will help with the pain and healing. Has anyone heard of poke used for this?

  • Lisa Pizza says:

    First are Poke greens when I was around 20, with round green pepper-vinegar (like the tobasco vinegar with hot peppers in it). It was great! I pick it for myself, always before the stem is red, double boil (about 15 minutes each) then freeze to use later. It still has a strong taste, more like Kale or older Chard than Spinach.
    I try to just say, Poke greens, as a friends Mom actually made a salad of Poke, after remembering the phrase Poke salad. She was in the hospital for a while to get the poison out! So Poke greens is a better phrase.
    Would like to make a Poke green pie, like the Spinach dip mix flavor, but using double boiled Poke. Think it would be a winner, especially with added cheddar shreds and pimentos in the mix. And also a slightly sweet crispy, flaky crust mix.
    Non-vegans should add bacon, chicken or other meats (maybe ham?).

  • Owl says:

    I wonder if you could dehydrate the berries or freeze them for medicine all year instead of just in season? I have degenerative disk disease and a connective tissue disorder that causes severe joint pain and the berries do seem to help both.

  • tinarock says:

    Hi Owl, Yes you can dehydrate the berries to use them all year. If you have a dehydrator, this is easy. Or you can use your oven on very low, like no more than 110 degrees, put the berries on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and leave them in the oven till dry, that’s maybe 2 hours. Check them and if they need more time, give them more time. Store them when dry, in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid and put a label on the jar stating the date and Poke Berry.

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