This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


  Well, I finally did it! After all these years of contemplation and putting it off, I finally took the plunge and it felt good to just let go and do it!
  I have had a long history with the Poke Plant and have had many experiences involving all parts of the plant from the Roots to the Berries. From using the root medicinally, to dying wood art with the Berries and swallowing the Berries whole. But in all this time, I had never eaten the plant itself, probably the most famous part.
  For years I have known that "Poke Salet" was a traditional Springtime favorite of Southerners and after moving to the south I have spoken to many "old timers" about their experiences with poke. Yet even after living here for seven years, I still hadn't tried it.
  Sometimes knowledge can hold you back. I have always believed that traditional knowledge was more important than scientific knowledge. What I mean is, if a culture has been using an herb successfully for thousands of years, and modern science says the plant is dangerous, I would always lean toward the traditional knowledge. On the other hand, being a science lover, I would also take the modern knowledge as part of the equation and weigh in after careful study and thought. And though I wasn't afraid of Poke, after all I had learned and experienced over the years, I thought there were plenty of other Wild Edibles to forage on and Poke was not something I HAD to have.
  One real tipping point for me, among others, was a paper I had read about Poke. I used to teach a two day Wild Edible and Medicinal plant segment for a Natural Medicines class at South Hampton College when I lived in NY. I got to the school early one day and while waiting in the Professors  office, I picked out an interesting book from her great library, and started to read about some Medicinal plants. When I got to the section on Poke, the author quoted some studies of the effects of Poke on the human body. All were negative, but the one that stood out for me was the study showing that Poke actually deformed white blood cells and had a very negative effect on the immune system. The authors recommendation was to never even touch the plant, as even handling the mature plant showed negative effects on white blood cells and white blood cell count.
  Now, on the other side of the coin, one day, while taking a group of 5th graders on a hike to do a Field to Forest Program, I stopped to show the kids the Poke or "Ink" berries and how you can use them to paint your skin. I cautioned the kids never to put the Berries in their mouth as they were very toxic. The schools would often send a chaperone  with each group to help supervise the kids. This day, the Grandmother of one of the students was with us. She later pulled me aside to tell me that when she was younger, her Grandfather and Father would take Poke Berries and place them in Brandy or Vodka and they would drink small amounts through out the winter to help them stay healthy and to help with the pains of old age. I questioned her memory, as I had always learned that the Berries were very toxic, and she assured me that this was the same plant.
  Now you can see why I was being cautious about Poke, these were only two of the many contradictory learning experiences with this intriguing plant.
  Fast forward to the present. I decide to give Poke the chance it deserves in my repertoire of Wild Edible Plants. So, using what I had learned over all these years, I just went for it. I picked the poke at the very young stage, just as it was emerging from a long winters sleep and still not fully unfurled. This is the safest time to use poke and I have learned that once the base of the plant and the petioles and leaf veins start to turn red, they are getting toxic and should not be picked.

Young Poke plants before turning Red at the base

  Poke should never be eaten raw! Where people get into trouble is misreading "Poke Salet" as "Poke Salad" and get sick when they make a salad of raw Poke leaves. Always cook Poke in two changes of water before eating. It is best to have a second pot of boiling water ready so you can add boiling water to the hot Poke after straining off the first boiling water. It is not a good idea to add cold water to the pot to start the boiling from scratch again.
  This may seem like a lot of trouble to go through to eat some plant, but with the abundance of Poke around this time of year it is no trouble at all for a bunch of good healthy meals.

Ready to Eat!


  1. It is sometimes hard to know who to believe on the topic of 'poisonous' plants. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Hey Emma, thanks for stopping by.
      Your right, that's why I have a million plant books! I like to cross reference and study historical writings. Also like to talk to elders who have used the plants for ages. Is there Poke in your part of the world?
      I checked out your site, very nice, I did have to look up what a bokashi bin was though!

  2. Alan, you are brave!! ;) I think about eating poke every spring and then opt out for fear of getting sick. One of these years I'll try it. I honestly haven't even seen any poke coming up in my backyard yet, which is unusual.

    1. Yes, I know the feeling!
      You godda just go for it! You see how long it took me but I'm glad I finally tried it. It was pretty good too.