Home > Eating Wild Things > Eating Wild Things: Polk Salad

Eating Wild Things: Polk Salad

Whatever you do, don’t eat Polk Salad. It is both delicious and toxic.  All parts of the plant are toxic.  I’ve been eating Polk Salad since childhood and apart from some drain bamage, I seem to be okay, but why risk it.

From Wikipedia ~ the source of all wisdom

“Ingestion of poisonous parts of the plant may cause severe stomach cramping, nausea with persistent diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes bloody, slow and difficult breathing, weakness, spasms, hypertension, severe convulsions, and death. However, consuming fewer than 10 uncooked berries is generally harmless to adults. Several investigators have reported deaths in children following the ingestion of uncooked berries or pokeberry juice. Severe poisonings have been reported in adults who ingested mature pokeweed leaves and following the ingestion of tea brewed from one-half teaspoonful of powdered pokeroot.”

Okay, you’ve been properly warned.

Find Polk Salad (aka: pokeweed, poke) growing throughout the south along roadsides and in open fields.  Polk grows in full sun. It is a true weed and will grow in the poorest of soils and hard packed clay.

I boil my Polk Salad, drain and rinse thoroughly before cooking.  I also use only young plants and I usually stay away from the stems (although admittedly I have fried young stems like okra).  Also, I only prepare a small portion. I cook them with scrambled eggs and make a kind of Polk Salad omelet.  I season with a bit of salt and ground pepper and nothing more.

The flavor is similar to spinach or turnip greens, although with spinach or turnip greens you don’t risk killing yourself and they are available at your local produce stand.  The reason I eat Polk Salad is for the fond memories it stirs up of my childhood.  Perhaps my folks fed it to us intending to thin out the herd and cull out the weak among us.  For whatever reason, it instilled a passion for the poisonous Polk.

Whatever you do, do not eat Polk Salad, Jack

  1. George Krpan
    May 19, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    The last time I heard of polk salad was in Tony Joe White’s 1969 hit “Polk Salad Annie”.


  2. The Velo Hobo
    May 20, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    That brings back memories…is it me or does that dude look like Vampire Bill on “True Blood”

    • George Krpan
      May 20, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      It is revealing of how old I am remembering Polk Salad Annie but not knowing Vampire Bill or True Blood. But, I will check it out.

  3. Randy Minnick
    July 19, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Your are HURTING me!! LOL! Thank you for the warning and update on toxins to my body. I was quite unaware that Poke Salad was toxic! I have heard, however, that it was very much a staple to poor folks in the south for many a decade. Since I truly believe that the US economy is about to tank, I wanted to rely on the little folk lore that I remember as a youth. Polk Salad, turnip greens, beet tops, carrot tops, and such were considered to be very acceptable ingredients to anyone’s diet. So, again, I thank you for bringing me up to date and with a good laugh to boot!

  4. The Velo Hobo
    July 19, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve been revisiting a few of the edible wild things from my childhood. There are some wonderfully tasty things growing out there. In my neck of the woods berries are just coming ripe.

    I can’t say enough about the value of a good feild guide. I have had several Petterson’s Guide books, from trees, birds, wildflowers, mushrooms and wild edibles. They are all very helpful.


  5. Sharon Reid
    April 22, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    I eat polk salad about twice a year and have never gotten sick! It is a delicious plant when cooked properly!!

  6. The Velo Hobo
    April 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for the comment Sharon and I agree, it’s delicious. In my neck of the woods, young ramps ready for the digging and the odd morel or two may be hiding under the cover of fallen leaves. I’m going to try to go our and forage a little this weekend. Jack

  7. bill
    December 31, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I ate polk as a child and not brcausr it was tasty to me either it was outof necessity. Me personally think it is aweful but thats the way i remrmber it.

  8. Esther B. Thomas
    April 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    Thanks for the eggs idea. Am cooking some now. Will rinse and add eggs. No one mentioned collecting from shady places. These are tender and Clean even bigger leaves.
    The tenderness is the key not the size. It took me 40 years to discover this food & many more years to learn how to cook it. You fortunate people! s

    • April 19, 2013 at 7:24 am

      Mmmm, sounds good. Ramps are begining to come into season here as well. I need to get out and start collecting. Thanks for the comment, Jack

  9. Ann Hughes
    May 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    May 16,2013 at 4:13 p.m
    I love Polksalad I pick it and wash it leave by leave,Put in water and bring to a rolling boil.
    pour off water rinse salad with cold water .put back in water and bring to a boil again.wash
    polksalad with cold water and put back on stove for third time,after it comes to a boil this
    time drain water and strain it.mash all the water out of it you can.Take a skilet put enough oil in it to cook green onions,after the onions are tender take polksalad and put on top .I use 3 to 4 eggs beaten and pour over top.stir until eggs are done. Wow its readdy just give me some hot corn bread and polksalad. its a meal in its self, Ann

    • Esther B.Thomas.
      May 18, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Hello Hobo, Just had some polk greens. Mine were planted by the birds under A pine tree. The pine is gone but there’s still some shade. It is clean and tender and the stalks grow tall. I like the peeled stalks better than the leaves.Learned about the stalks from you & your commenters. Polk is best to me with a little unsalted butter a little sea salt. Nothing else! I’ve learned some use 3 changes of water just to be on the safe side. Thsnks, Hobo. What else can I TRY? Esther/Florida

      • The Velo Hobo
        May 18, 2013 at 6:08 pm

        Esther, I heading out tomorrow to look for stinking nettles. Very yummy and very nutritious…I even enjoy getting stung, but I’m just weird that way.

        • Esther B.Thomas.
          July 19, 2013 at 11:24 am

          Hi Hobo,Just found this. I have lots of sting nettles and bull nettles (white flowers). Don’t care for taste but they both make good hair tonic and can make capsules when dried. Any thing else interesting? Thanks for your reply. Esther

    • The Velo Hobo
      May 18, 2013 at 6:05 pm

      Ann, Sounds great! There’s tons here in Western North Carolina this year…must be the mild winter we had.

    • Waymon Vest
      February 19, 2015 at 9:19 pm

      Been a while but thought i would reply anyway. I don’t understand why you didn’t just eat the onions, eggs and cornbread. Maybe you was using the poke as a filler, because there sure would be no taste left in it when you got through with it. WASH IT AND BOIL IT ONLY ONCE. put bacon bits in with the onions.

  10. July 31, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I broke off the tips of some new leaves at the top of the plant and ate them raw yesterday afternoon taking care to avoid the berries and stem. I don’t recommend this. Now I know why they need to be boiled for at least 10 minutes. The sensation of urge to clear my throat spread from one tiny spot at the back of my throat to my whole mouth by this morning, and I’ve had diarrhea twice. The last thing I need is more brain damage… hope I live.

    • The Velo Hobo
      April 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm

      Wow almost a year and I’m just getting around to replying. Ooops, sorry. I hope you’re still alive and your brain has not been damaged by polk weed. I’ve never eaten it raw, so thanks, I’m no longer tempted. Sounds like a not so pleasant experience.

      • Esther B.Thomas.
        May 6, 2014 at 2:06 pm

        Hi Hobo, What can you tell us about wild primrose? Have tried the blooms -salad and the leaves in tea. Both good but need to know more. Thank you for any comments. Yours, Esther B

        • The Velo Hobo
          May 7, 2014 at 10:47 am

          I have one growing in my yard but didn’t know they were edible. I’ll try it. maybe I’ll try a wild mint and primrose tea. Thanks!

  11. Chris
    May 29, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I too ate polk salad as a child. Always liked it! My mother always boiled it at least twice to get the toxins out. The plant’s berries can also be crushed to make dye for coloring cloth and wool. Never eat the berries! The smaller leaves are best for cooking. You can also cut the larger leaves into smaller pieces to make them more manageable.

  12. June 9, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    Howdy would you mind letting me know which web host you’re utilizing?
    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a
    lot faster then most. Can you recommend a good hosting provider at a
    reasonable price? Kudos, I appreciate it!

  13. Betty Abbey
    June 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I was wondering about eating poke raw in my smoothies. I guess that would be a no no. I never boil mine more than once, and I use the water after boiling in soup.I guess I’ve been lucky. IN use large leaves and small. I strip out the stims and wash
    at least 3 times maybe that is when I get the toxins out.
    What are “ramps”? Have you eaten lamb’s quarter? It is a favorite of mine. I’m lucky
    and have poke and lambs quarter growing in my yard.
    I’m allergic to eggs so I just eat them as a vegi.

  14. Donna
    July 10, 2014 at 4:10 am

    That’s not at all true. We had a pokeweed plant growing wild next to our house and I used to pick the leaves and cook them all the time. It’s the berries that are poisonous. The leaves are actually really good for you.

  15. Waymon Vest
    July 13, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Hello Hobo
    Would like to state a few things about Poke Greens. My dad was born in 1886. He ate poke greens al long as he could remember. It wasn’t until the 1940’s, maybe the late 1930’s that he ever heard of poke being poison. It must have started in the late 30’s but I remember seeing articles in the newspaper in the early 1950’s that stated that poke was poison. I KNOW that it was put in the paper by Grocery Stores to keep people from eating free greens and buy their Greens.
    For over 100 years, my family has eaten poke, served it to friends, neighbors, and visitors (for many it was the first time to eat it) and NO ONE ever got sick. The poke was NEVER boiled but once.
    My dad lived 102 years my mother 96 years. A brother died a few months ago at 92. I will be 80 in Oct. and still in good health. Seems to me that poke is pretty healthy.
    Just read where the American Poison Information Center did a 10 year study. Poke was the 7th most frequently injestid poisonous plane. 65.3% had no effect, 5.8% minor effect, and 0.4% had moderate effect and NO fatalities.
    The American Medical Association says that 100,000 people die are hospitalized each year from properly administrated drugs and 2 MILLION are seriously injured.
    There is NO truth in poke being poison

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      I agree! I grew up and live in North Alabama. My Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather were Cherokee. I’m not sure about a lot of the history but my Great grandmother lived to age 98 and he died at 101. NOW I know why they didn’t live longer! They always ate poke salad. I remember as a small child picking polk with them. I also remember picking it with my grandparents and my parents. I was always told to ONLY cut the top leaves and, I never understood why, but now maybe I do. Nevertheless, we NEVER got sick either. We cook it with eggs too. A Family Tradition handed down for generations that I hope will pass on to my kids and theirs. BUT… thanks for the warning, we have always been the strong and we will survive! Donadagohv i (until we meet again).

  16. Waymon Vest
    July 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Just posted something about poke greens. I forgot to mention that I only eat the leaves, but the age and size of the leaves make NO difference. I pick them from when they first come up, until frost kills them. The only reason that I like the young leaves best is that they are easier to cook. The taste is the same.

  17. Waymon Vest
    July 14, 2014 at 9:46 am

    Not sure who Jack is, but he must own a produce stand and is trying to scare people into not eating poke greens and buy his produce. He rambles on about eating poke, but it is poison to everyone else. He states, whatever you do, don’t eat poke. (but HE eats it)
    While i am here i will also state that i was born and raised on a small ranch. ALL animals that eat grass love poke. It comes up all over the pasture, but if you have cattle in the pasture, you never see poke. If you put cattle in a new pasture that has poke growing in it, that is about the first place they go. How does the dumb people that say it is poison to cattle think that you would keep cattle from eating it when birds scatter it all over the pastures?

    • July 24, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Thank for the comments and an early happy 80th birthday. I’ve eaten a pile of poke myself and never had one dizzy spell; never felt the least bit ill. I’d never thought of the possibility of there being a conspiracy of grocery stores to keep people from eating poke, but I find the idea compelling.
      This post, by the way, was written ‘tongue in cheek’ and meant to be humorous and in no way educational or informative (basically pure fluff and of no real use to anyone). Also I hoped by giving people fair warning, if anyone did happen to flop dead after eating poke weed, I’d not be sued.
      I wish you many more years of happy poke eating my friend, Jack ~ The Velo Hobo

  18. Waymon Vest
    September 12, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Just got back from a trip to Alaska. Sure missed my poke greens. 6 days up, spent two weeks up there and 6 days back. Not as young as i used to be, but can still drive for 12 to 14 hours a day.
    I did get to meet Sarah Palin and have my picture taken with her. She is a really nice lady.
    I spent 35 years in Alaska and would still be there but it is a young man’s world up there.
    Got to go cook up some Poke!!
    Jack, thanks for the early happy birthday wish. It is getting closer.

  19. December 14, 2014 at 2:42 am

    i’ve been eating poke salad all my life and my 8 yr old daughter loves it ,i do the 3 time boil and rinse then drop a couple raw eggs in and mix salt & pepper . and i eat it with corn bread and pour tobasco vineger hot sauce on it mmmm its great, and i use every leaf on the plant and i dont care if its a 2 ft or a 6 ft plant ,ive never gotten sick from it

  20. Waymon Vest
    January 6, 2015 at 4:04 am

    Steve, if you boiled the poke greens only once it would have a lot better flavor. Read my post on July 13 2014. The next time you cook poke, try this. Boil leaves until tender, drain, BOIL ONLY ONCE & DO NOT RINSE. Chop up Bacon bits and onions put in frying pan with butter or grease. cook until bacon bite are dun & and onions are wilted. Chop poke greens and add them to the frying pan, Beat eggs, mix into greens, (Mix well) When eggs are dun it is ready to eat, Don’t forget the cornbread

  21. Evelyn
    February 18, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I ate poke when I was growing up on the farm but haven’t had any since 1979 cause I could never find it after I left Arkansas and moved to Arizona and damn it was some good stuff I miss it and my grandma too

  22. February 18, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    And it’s really only the stalk that has the poison if the leaves are cooked right you should have no problem lest your immune system is bad

  23. February 18, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    If the leaves are cooked good you’ll be fine unless your immune system is really bad. Now I’m in georgia now anyone know where I can find some poke salad? I only know it by smell it’s one you never forget!

  24. Waymon Vest
    February 21, 2015 at 12:45 am

    If you don’t know what poke looks like in the wild, you would have a hard time finding it. You sure couldn’t find it by smell. Growing up on an Ar. farm, you should know what it looks like. I am sure that you can find it in most places in the country side and vacant lots in town. It likes full sunshine.

  25. April 10, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    I’ve ate Polk salad all my life and it should be ready to pick soon around upstate SC the best way to prepare is boil and rinse young leave a couple of times drain and mix leaves with flour , eggs and chopped green onion and white onions, salt and pepper and fry patties in fat back or bacon grease ! yummy

    • w vest
      May 1, 2015 at 9:26 pm

      Mary, If you only boiled it once and drain, never rinse after cooking it and it will taste much better. Rinsing it after cooking is about like opening a can of oysters, through away the juice
      and make oyster stew with the oysters only.

  26. Edie Harp
    April 22, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    When me and my cousins were teenagers, about our main sources of entertainment was driving up and down the roads fairly aimlessly. One day we was in a pickup and happened to run across a whole bunch of the stuff. Just for the hell of it, we picked that pickup bed piled up full. Washed it all in washtubs in the front yard. Took about all the burners on the stoves in three houses and every pot we could find to cook it up. Ever bit got ate too. My mama cans it in quart jars. I just parboil it and freeze it. Poke salad all year long that way. Yep.

  27. w vest
    June 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I posted the following on Midtown Farmers Market and it got removed. I guess that they don’t want people to know the truth about Polk Greens. (may cut down on their sales) They quote Jean Weese from Auburn. Although she told me that she wasn’t in the pocket of the grocery store chains, i believe she is. She couldn’t tell me where i could ANY doctors report where anyone had been sick or died from eating Polk salad. THERE IS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT SHE IS IN CAHOOTS WITH LARGE GROCERY CHAINS.)
    Anyway, this is what got removed:
    The other day i was picking some polk leaves out of a thick clump. When i got 2/3 down the stalks i saw some leaves with deep scolops (spelling) in them. Got to looking. The top 2/3 of this plant had leaves that looked much like young polk leaves. The bottom 1/3 had deeply scolloped leaves. Had to sort the whole bucket of leaves. I have no idea what the plant is. There is a plant that grows on my property that i have always called wild lettuce that looks a lot like it but has scopleped leaves from top to bottom.
    If someone DID get sick from eating what they thought was Polk, maybe they ate this plant.

  28. Mike
    August 15, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    I came across this site from Google searching for recipes, instead I got this. First off, it is poke salad (or poke sallat) which 2 minutes worth of Google searching would have educated you on.

    You couldn’t take the time to do that, wrote a shitty blog, and I know you like bicycles from your username. As much as this piece of crap as this blog is, I clearly know that you are just another asshat that can’t take 2 minutes to research the topic they are talking about. Congratulations, on the “ultra-light’ bike from an artisan you never heard of.

    I hope my Xterra runs over your shitty ass bike with you on it, while I go properly prepare poke salad.

    Precious that your domain name has hobo in it, but I couldn’t punch you in the face fast enough to get away on your titanium bicycle.

    • The Velo Hobo
      August 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      Thanks for the comment Mike (or spambot). I hope your day is filled with as much joy as you’ve spread here. By the way, you’re supposed to eat polk, not smoke it.

  29. w vest
    July 2, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Haven’t seen a comment in a couple years. Wondering if site is still in operation.

  1. December 31, 2013 at 10:29 am
  2. April 1, 2015 at 8:33 pm
  3. June 11, 2015 at 9:19 pm

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