Pokeweed is also known as poke sallet (sometimes spelled salet) or poke salad. A few native American tribes used it as food but most considered it medicine. It has continued to be a traditional food in parts of the Appalachian region but is not widely known outside of that part of the US. Most people consider it a weed. Only recently with the foraging trend has the herb become better known among foodies. It can be tricky to use because it contains toxins and must be processed to remove them. Despite this, it is still a relatively versatile herb with a good nutritional value and a mild flavor. Here is a look at some of the best pokeweed uses.
Make traditional poke sallet
The traditional way to use pokeweed is to fry it up with bacon, bacon grease or fatback once you have prepared it to remove its toxins. Pokeweed can kill you if you don’t exercise care in which parts of the plant you use and if you fail to prepare them correctly. You want young leaves and stems. You also want to boil them three times to get rid of the saponins and oxalates that can make the plant deadly. Once you have boiled the leaves and peeled them, then you can fry pokeweed with bacon, bacon grease or fatback.
Substitute for canned or frozen spinach
Once you get done boiling the pokeweed to make it safe to eat, you will wind up with something that looks a lot like canned spinach and that has a similar flavor, texture and nutritional value as well. You can use pokeweed in most dishes that require spinach. Pokeweed is usually foraged, which means that it has the advantage of being free.
Add to scrambled eggs
Another traditional way to eat pokeweed is simply to combine it with beaten eggs that you can then scramble. The result is a dish that is arguably more nutritious than the bacon or fatback option. Note that you will still need to boil your pokeweed to remove the toxins before doing this.
Fry the stems
Once you have made the pokeweed safe to eat, slice the thick stems into medallions then bread and fry them. Alternatively, you can cut them lengthwise to resemble narrow fish filets. The result is a crispy but succulent dish similar to fried okra.
Make a pokeberry drink
Pokeberries are the fruit of the pokeweed plant and can be just as dangerous as any other part of the plant if you fail to remove the seeds. However, the berries are safe to eat once they are deseeded. The traditional Native American way to make a pokeberry beverage was to mix the berries with cornmeal and sugar and to ferment the mixture.
If you want an alternative to that method, you can deseed the berries and add a dash of the juice to your cocktails for color and flavor. Remember that pokeberry was once used as an ink for writing and has a striking purplish color so it should make your drinks visually appealing.
Remove pokeberry seeds by freezing then thawing the berries or by boiling them then mashing them with a potato masher or similar object. You will want to do mashing part gently so as not to rupture them and release the toxins.