Poke Sallet

Learn how to speed up germination of the pokeweed and enjoy the tender greens in a delicious poke sallet.

| March/April 1971

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    Gardeners have told tales of the wonderful taste that comes from a great poke sallet.
    ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

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Enthusiastic gardeners have long insisted that "poke sallet" would take the place of spinach and other garden greens if only it could be easily gown from seed. Wherever it is found it the wild—and that includes a very large portion of the country—pokeweed provides the most sought-after tender spring greens, first choice of all knowledgeable connoisseurs and gourmets. Will domesticating it bring wider popularity and perhaps market as a garden vegetable? Well, we're going to see whether the old prophecy will come true because scientists at the University of Arkansas Experiment Station have finally unlocked the secrets of the pokeberry and discovered how to increase and speed up its germination so that it is now comparable with other garden seeds.

Of course in poke country not many have waited for this great day for it has long been known that poke greens can be tamed and brought into the family garden just by digging up a few clumps of the old roots after the plant had gone dormant in the fall and replanting them along a fence row where they can grow and flourish undisturbed by the plow.

Pokeweed ( Phytolacca americana ) is a hardy perennial through most of the middle and southern states. It likes rich soil with plenty of moisture, humus and organic matter der ideal conditions it will grow to shrub-like proportions, six feet tall with branches spreading over an equal area. Given room, polk is an attractive plant with dark green leaves brightened at almost every axile by a tassel of yellowish white blossoms. The blooms are followed by clusters of berries that change from green to red and finally turn a rich, royal dark purple in the fall.

It is these berries that give pokeweed its less familiar name of "Inkberry." During the Civil War many a letter home was written by a soldier boy who fashioned his own quill from a wild turkey wing feather and squeezed the juice from ripe pokeberries to provide the ink. Some of these letters, legible as the day they were written, can be found in museums today, attesting to the permanence and enduring qualities of inkberry juice.



A bush burdened with colorful polkberries in autumn is a most pleasing sight, and the fruit is loved by a host of birds—including the robin, mockingbird, brown thrasher, blue jay, catbird, quail and others. There are millions and billions of seeds—fifty or more in every berry—pounds on every plant. What a bountiful feast to spread before our feathered songsters! Seeing a berry-laden bush in autumn and realizing that each individual berry is packed with tiny seeds fills one with awe and amazement at the prodigality of Nature . . . and her downright wastefulness. Poke is never a common weed and seldom takes over or becomes much of a nuisance simply because so few of the billions of seeds produced each year can find conditions suitable for germination ad growth.

The hard-coated, obstinate poke seed must pass through the alimentary canal of a bird or animal to soften and prepare it for germination. In this process the seed is subject to prolonged heat for a bird's normal body temperature may be as high as 106 degrees. At the same time the seeds are at the mercy of the harsh action of powerful digestive juices containing strong acids and the scarifying process of peristalsis. The few seeds that escape complete digestion, then, account for the comparative scarcity of poke plants.

Patricia Blairh
5/31/2018 3:52:41 PM

We grew some and pealed the stock and esteemed it, and it tasted like a mild Asparagus.


ashley _1
6/5/2010 1:17:46 PM

My grandmother and mother always said that one had to boil poke sallet 3 times or it would be poisonous...I also always heard that the digestive tract of a bird was necessary, but it never occurred to me that the conditions could be created at home! good to know! thanks for a great article.


Linda G. Baize
9/27/2009 10:35:04 AM

I grew up on a working farm, in the 1950's and 1960's, with wonderful parents, brothers and sisters. We had huge gardens that Daddy plowed with a tractor. All of us children, Mother and our Grandmother followed behind planting the seed and seedlings. This food was canned and frozen for us to eat during the winter months. Every spring we would go down to the creek bed, open the trunk of the car, spread a blanket and fill it full of poke sallet. Mother along with us girls would then blanch it and freeze it. We cooked it and served it like other greens and occasionally Mother would cook it and then scramble it with eggs. The taste was out of this world. For years I have craved poke sallet, but couldn't remember what it looked like so was afraid to gather any. I hope to find some seed to plant in my yard so I can taste this again before I leave this beautiful earth. Does anyone know if these seed can be purchased? If not I will try to harvest some next year.







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