Last weekend, I was instructed by the wife to go out and cut down a weed. It was a mighty big weed, too, over 6 foot tall. As I was headed out, she also informed me that this was a Poke Weed. Now, immediately my mind went to the 1968 hit song by Tony Joe White "Poke Salad Annie". (Sort of sounds like a party at Facebook - everyone doing POKES!...ok, that joke was rather lame, but let's move on.) Rather than cut it down and throw it away, I wondered aloud about making us some 'poke salad.' It's what any good ol' suthun wanna-be like myself would do, right? - The wife laughed at me.
You see, if not prepared properly, Poke Plants are toxic. I would imagine that all the good ol' boys in the area know this. So, then, how does one prepare this oddity without killing oneself? The song would suggest that Poke can be prepared to consume, albeit prepared properly being the key. First, harvest: you want to have young leaves only with little or no purple (yes, purple!).
In the kitchen, cut out the stems and discard. Wash the leaves and boil for about 20 minutes in plenty of water. Pour through a colander and boil again in fresh water for about 10 minutes. Drain it a second time and put it in fresh water to boil for a third time. This time, add any seasonings like onions and garlic, spices, salt, etc. You could also toss in a ham bone or other protein or vegetables as you see fit. Cook this last time for at least 10 minutes or as long as you need to cook the other ingredients and bingo! You've got a lip smackin' mess of poke grandma would be proud of.
And what does it taste like? I've never had any, so I had to ask around. According to one source, poke weed has a very strong taste, even after all that boiling. An acquired taste, I suppose. Some people love it, while it's a little strong for others. Serve it with cornbread, whose natural sweetness complements the hearty flavor. (Old timers steep the poke leaves without any seasonings and use it as a tonic. These tonic users claim that poke tea is the reason for their long life.)
More than a weed or food stuff, Poke also has other uses. In the civil war, soldiers used the purple berries for ink (which is why many old letters you may see from that period appear brown - they were using Poke Weed Juice!) and as a dye when used alone or with other plants such as pumpkin to produce a rich brown. The weed grows mostly in the Southern US, from West Virginia to Texas.
As far as cutting them down, they cut down real easy, I didn't even have to resort to the chain saw. It's in the wood pile now, but I have to admit the roots are still out there. I know I'll see some more of the Poke if we get enough rain.
I guess I'll be digging those roots up later this year...and now I got that song stuck in my head to boot.