Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Adventurous Eating: Lunching on Poke

In our area, we've got a hefty supply of pokeweed and lately, I've noticed a bunch of seedlings growing on the edges of our yard. While the plant is known to be poisonous, I vaguely remembered reading that parts of it were edible.

So I did a bit of research, and sure enough, young poke is edible. It's actually supposed to be more than edible, it's supposed to be quite tasty. What the heck, I figured, I might as well give this plant a try. Here's what I did.

Step 1. Figure out the most conservative way to prepare poke. Some books, suggest that merely sauteing poke is enough to neutralize its poisons, while the Wild Edibles App recommends boiling for a minute, then draining, then repeating for 15 minutes to make sure all the poison is gone. Yeah, I decided to go the 15+ minute route. I also confirmed this strategy with YouTube where people demonstrate cooking and eat this stuff (versus copying and pasting tales of people eating it).

Step 2. Collect the plants. Luckily, Poke isn't hard to identify as we've got quite a selection of plants from older (non-edible, but easily recognizable) plants to quite young ones. You want the young plants, but sources disagree as to how young. Some say anything over 7 inches tall is off limits, and that's essentially the rule I followed. In fact, I found ones that we even shorter. I collected them by trimming off the shoot and leaving the root alone. For this experiment I collected just a couple of plants, which resulted in about two bites worth of poke. If I was going to play with fire, it was going to be an especially small fire.

Step 3. Prepare. I followed the basic recipe in the Wild Edibles app: cut into bite size pieces, drop into boiling water, drain, smooshing water out of the stalks, repeat. After 20 minutes or so, my small collection looked like so:

Step 4. Eat. You're supposed to saute poke in olive oil or dress it up, but I was curious what the basic plant tasted like. After all, wouldn't any food taste pretty good sauteed in enough olive oil?

And the verdict, after my 3 bites, is: surprisingly good!.

The first food that came to mind when chewing on poke was pasta. It had that same neutral, but firm texture that makes it such a good base for so many dishes. I could totally see using this as a pasta substitute. There was no sharp or bitter flavor at all. It just tasted like food.

Some folks suggest that you can grow poke yourself, and because you only want the shoots, you can grow it in low light conditions indoors. That's an interesting suggestion: growing a tasty veggie in your basement. I may have to give that a try.

The next experiment is to collect up and cook an entire dish worth of poke. Anyone want to taste the first bite of said dish?

[Note: I tried this experiment and composed this e-mail 2 days ago, yet am intentionally publishing this now. So yeah, there are no side effects from my little adventure to report. You know, like poisoning myself and all.]


  1. Joan says there is an old song from back in the 1970s called Poke Salad Annie.

  2. > Joan says there is an old song from back in the 1970s called Poke Salad Annie.

    Apparently the dish was called Poke Salet - and the salet part throws you because it implies you can eat the poke raw. Which of course, you can't. Until the 2000's, you could actually by cans of poke salet.

    But yeah, I'm not super surprised there would be a song about it...

    See also