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Pokeweed

I had never tried pokeweed before. It is easily identifiable late in the summer, by its huge size (five feet+) and bright blue berries. At that time, though, it’s not good eating. In fact, the berries and roots are always deadly, and the various parts get worse over the summer. The books say to eat the young shoots in the springtime. The problem is, young shoots aren’t so easily identified. But I remembered where it was growning in our yard last fall, and it’s a perennial, so this year I was confident as to which shoots were poke.

Before cooking. Note that the red color is a bad sign. Even some very young shoots were read, though, so I decided to chance it. The biggest of these shoots is perhaps too big.

After cooking. The red has mostly disappeared. So has the unpleasant and distinctive smell, useful in identifying the plant. We used two changes of water, and pretty long boiling (20 minutes each time?). Delicious with salt. Probably ever better with butter and salt too. This is the half we left for the next day, since my wife feared becoming a widow. I was cautious. I only offered them to the rest of the family and the Connell girls an hour after Benjamin and I tried them.

I edited the Wikipedia article for style. It still needs work, in case anybody wants to be useful today. It would also be highly useful to link in some of the web articles on its poisons and cooking that I looked at before cooking it.


May 26:
It’s been two days now, with no ill effects. I found a little more and boiled it twice. I intend to try frying it now.

The best reading on Pokeweed is “Can Be Deadly But Oh So Delicious: Poke weed” from around 2013. The commetns are an important part of it and of very high quality, though part of that is that I’ve been reading Twitter a lot, where the comments are deplorable. Here’s a highly useful comment:

I love pokeweed so much I feel I can never get enough. I eat the spring shoots no matter how much red they have. For the past few years I picked larger and larger shoots in an effort to prolong the season. I only ever boil them once then discard the water and everything was fine. This year I lost all self control while cruising by one of my favorite poke patches. The plants were taller than me, and flowering. I picked some young growing side shoots and cooked and ate them and was fine. So next I picked just the leaves off the plants, two short boils, again fine. As of today I have been picking and eating the leaves from the grown plants for a full week and haven’t suffered any ill effects. YAY!!!!!!!!
.
I don’t advise anyone to do risky things like I do, but my new pokeweed rule is everything except the root and seeds.


On the other hand,

We were going to cook Poke last night and my daughter loves wilted lettuce so she says can’t we eat it like that ? Like idiots we did, about 4 hours later I was throwing up amy chest burning like on fire severe cramping. Hot then cold diarrhea all day. Never again will I eat it. Husband had diarrhea all day and daughter not even sick.

Some people just don’t have the right temperament for doing risky things, so she’s doing the right thing. It’s hard for me to believe anyone would eat lightly cooked pokeweed, though apparently her daughter came out all right. I’ve been watching The Story of Yanxi Palace, though, and have read Steinbeck’s East of Eden at least twice, which makes me wonder if her daughter really likes wilted lettuce and whether she bought a lot of life insurance on her mother and dad.


Questions:

1. Does boiling pokeweed remove all the vitamins? That’s OK. I can take vitamin pills. I’m just wondering about water solubles vitamins like vitamin C. The good taste remains.

2. Boiling does remove the red color of some of even my young stalks, and it does remove the foul odor, which is noticeable and actually good as an identifier of the raw plant but intensifies during cooking. Is the poison in the red and foul-smelling?

3. What chemical test could I do to identify whether the poison or poisons remains? Wikipedia is confused about what poisons there may be. Expert editing would help there.

4. Re matters 2 and 3, I am thinking of eating the mature plant. It is 50 times as big, and is there all summer. Probably most of it is just too tough, but that is easy to ascertain. No doubt it also contains more poison. The question, though, is whether boiling twice as much will remove the extra poison. Probably I will just have to cautiously experiment, with small dose and lots of boiling at first.

For chemical analysis, the roots might be useful, as more concentrated. It’s said that they’re so dangerous you shouldn’t handle them without gloves.


September 6. In August, I tried breaking off the new growth, even with the start of the seeds forming, and found that it was very good and safe, with no more boiling than before. I think the main problem is that often even the new growth has white pith in the stalks that makes it too tough to eat. I suspect that even the big leaves are safe (with enough boiling), just, perhaps, too tough– I haven’t tried them. I have an idea for a way to experiment that is quicker and safer than gradual expansion of what one eats and how short the cooking could be: biological testing. If the poison affects minnow and crayfish– a big if– I could try putting the substance to be tested in with creatures collected from the local creek.

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