Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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pokeweed a wild plant of the genus Phytolacca, which has edible, spinach-like leaves, wholesome and delicious when they are young. The plant is best known in N. America and its name derives from its common American Indian one, pocan.

The best species for use as a green vegetable is the American pokeweed, Phytolacca esculenta (formerly americana), which now grows wild in Europe. It thrives in adverse conditions. In the USA its distribution extends from the eastern states to Texas, and it has a special place in the folklore and gastronomy of several regions. Krochmal and Krochmal (1974a) write:

For generations, people of Appalachia have looked forward to the early spring harvest of poke greens or ‘poke sallet’. Boiled in three or four changes of water, they are one of the first spring vegetables available for the taking. Ambitious youngsters in Kentucky used to earn a few cents of spending money by harvesting and selling poke greens. Now a poke sallet canning industry flourishes in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio.