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Nature How People Use Wild Plants Poke Salat


Poke Salat

Salat is the German word for salad, and probably came to the Ozarks with German settlers. Poke salat is made from Pokeweed. In towns you'll find pokeweed growing wild in alleyways and vacant lots. In the country it grows in the fence rows and along the edges of woods. When mature it has clusters of shiny purple berries which birds love to eat.

After a long winter without fresh food, the early settlers looked forward to cooking the first tender green leaves of pokeweed. It gave them vitamins and was a good spring tonic. They'd cook it up with lamb's quarters and dock, which are also early spring greens. Some people today still cook and eat poke greens in the early spring.

  Poke plant

Though the whole plant is poisonous, the young leaves can be eaten after cooking them using two changes of water. Poke is still used medicinally. Old timers in the Ozarks still eat one pokeberry a year as a preventative or to treat arthritis.

Here's a recipe for Poke Salat

Marideth Sisco, a native Ozarker, remembers her mother cooking poke. "Poke salat was made by boiling poke in two waters," says Sisco. "My mother used the fresh and very young leaves, washed them, then boiled them in a pot of water for one or two minutes. Then she'd throw out that water, add just enough water to keep them from scorching and continue cooking until tender. She'd season them with bacon drippings. I prefer a little butter and lemon juice. Either way, it's good for what ails you. It looks like spinach and tastes a bit like asparagus."

Mountain Soul Food

After cooking the young poke leaves and discarding water, make a cornmeal batter. Use coarse cornmeal, an egg and just enough water to make a batter, not too runny. Add salt or your favorite seasonings and garlic powder. Fry like fritters. Best if not fried too fast.
This recipe was submitted by Anara Brinmere, North Carolina. She says, "A neighbor where I used to live back in the woods on the W. Va./Va. mountain border made them and walked the creek path to my place with one for me to try. I've been hooked ever since. Definitely the best way to cook Poke."

Sources: Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs.Peterson Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston/New York, 2000, pp. 65-66; Marideth Sisco, personal communication; Anara Brinmere, e-mail communication.