Everyone can stop worrying now! I am pleased to report I survived eating pokeweed.
PLEASE NOTE: This post details my own personal experience eating a weed which is poisonous if consumed incorrectly. None of this should be considered an endorsement for eating pokeweed. Reader beware. Ok, on with the story.
I read many, many sources before trying pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) since it is known to be poisonous. It took me so long to try it, in part, because so many authors gave differing information about how to handle poke, at what size to harvest it, how long exactly you had to boil it, and whether or not cook it further after the boiling. The only thing they agreed on was: don’t ever eat pokeweed raw, and avoid the root because it was particularly toxic. Greaaaaaaaat.
I figured I couldn’t go wrong with the very youngest, freshest shoots in my yard. I limited myself to plants less than my own hand-span tall. Even at this tender age, the plants showed a lot of magenta on the stalks. Some authors says it’s only safe with no pink at all, but in my yard, they always have at least some pink tinge.
Over several days, I harvested about a meal’s worth – about 3/4 lb as a generous side dish. I stored them in a bag with a moist paper towel in the refrigerator until I was ready to face my destiny.
For the record, some authors also say to wear gloves whenever you handle pokeweed. I didn’t learn that until after I had already collected the shoots. Ooops?
(That’s me … always living on the edge!)
I chose to cook both leaves and stalks. Some authors say to only use the leaves. If I had picked older plants, with larger stalks, I might have taken the time to remove and only processed the leaves.
The water turned pink almost as soon as I added the poke to the boiling water. I boiled the poke longer than one minute, but less than 10. I didn’t really keep track. I basically watched for when it seemed most of the pink had come out and the leaves and stalks remained mostly green. Then I drained them using a colander in my sink.
At least one source I read recommended washing the pot and your colander between water changes, to remove any lingering toxins. Ummmm, I did NOT do that. Nor did I wear gloves (still).
I had been heating a second pot of water while the first pot was boiling. I carefully poured the hot water into the original pot, and dunked in the partially cooked poke for the second boil.
The water changed color again, but not as dramatically. I started nibbling samples after five minutes as I watched the greens begin to disintegrate from the abuse. There was no trace of bitterness – at least one article said if it was at all bitter, keep boiling – but I cooked the greens another five minutes just to be sure.
They looked so sad at this stage. But I persevered, draining them then adding them to a pan of bacon grease for further cooking.
After a few minutes I added pine nuts (yum!) and the bacon which I had cooked and chopped earlier. Even the bacon and pine nuts couldn’t hide the soggy limpness of the pokeweed.
So I added Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.
The greens were still mushy, but I could no longer see them.
They were, honestly, delicious. The pokeweed had a mild, almost sweet flavor, which was highlighted by the salty bacon bits. I just wish the greens weren’t so… you know. Sad and squishy.
If you were wondering – my husband bravely ate the pokeweed along with me. After 30 minutes of intense questioning about what symptoms, exactly, we would experience if I were wrong. Thankfully, neither of us suffered any digestive upset of any sort as a result of consuming the poke.
I have enough growing in my yard, I can probably manage another meal or two. I just have to dream up other ways to cook it… and maybe ways to cook it a little less.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever eaten?