Poke root harvest can be hard to do
Those roots grow big – almost as big as you.
How to dig it? Can it really be done?
Your best bet is to wait for a rain, not earth baked in the sun
Let that ground get soggy then start to dig it out
Dig and dig around it, then tug and give a shout
And finally when you’re tired and think you just can’t win
A bit of that root may come out and you’ll earn yourself a grin. 

You probably have heard of Poke, and may have even been warned that it is poisonous. A lot of misinformation has circulated about this misunderstood plant.

While you do need to use caution when using this plant, if you use it appropriately, there is no need to be fearful of this useful plant. If you choose to use this plant without respect and caution, you will be in for a miserable time but we’ll get to that in a bit.

While many people fear this plant, many more have learned just how valuable a plant Poke is. In the south, there are many uses including pink water, which I will discuss in a minute, and poke salat (also called poke sallet), a delectable spring dish that can also often be found in the canned food aisle in the south.

Poke salat is made by boiling the greens of Poke in several changes of water. The resulting dish tastes very similar to asparagus.

It’s no surprise that people traditionally eat Poke in the spring as he contains a variety of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), C, K, and calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Additionally, Poke contains protein and carbohydrates.

As a medicine, Poke is bitter, pungent, acrid, cooling and drying. His medicine is what we refer to as a low dose botanical. While you would generally take 30 drops of a tincture from an herb such as Plantain or Nettles, with Poke you would only take about 3 DROPS.

Poke is a first rate lymphatic herb. A tea made from a tiny amount of root, or a tincture of the root, can help to stimulate the lymph system and clear it out.

This herb is great for helping nursing mamas who get mastitis. An oil infused with the root can be massaged onto the breasts a couple times a day. The oil should be wiped off before baby nurses! I’ve also had great luck using it on my milk goats.

Poke is very stimulating for the immune system. Pink water, made with the berries, is an Appalachian folk remedy that’s used to help boost the immune system and flush out lingering illnesses.

Another southern remedy is swallowing a few berries daily to help with rheumatism and arthritis. As long as the berries are swallowed whole and not chewed (the toxins are contained in the hard seeds) no ill effects happen. Freezing or drying the berries for use year round makes it easy to keep them available when the berries are not ripe.

A lot of research is being done on Poke and findings have discovered that Poke may be effective in combating leukemia, cancer, herpes, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Poke is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, making him a great plant to use for mumps, swollen glands, tonsillitis, laryngitis, tinea, ringworm, and acne.

As a diuretic, Poke can help to reduce water retention.

In Africa, people contract bilharzia which is a parasitic disease caused by snails that reside in water that the people bathe in. Because Poke is a molluscidal, he has been used successfully for reducing the snails in the water as well as help people who are suffering from bilharzia.

Externally, a poultice or salve of the root has been used for a variety of skin issues including boils, fungal infections, bedsores, carbuncles, chicken pox, eczema, hemorrhoids, herpes, measles, psoriasis, shingles, sprains, and tonsillitis.

Pregnant women should not use Poke as it can cause a miscarriage.

The root is most often used as medicine and can be tinctured, infused in oil which can be made into a salve, or dried and used in a weak tea. The berries can be swallowed whole or strained in water to make Pink Water.

One final note of caution –  I’ve mentioned that Poke is toxic. While large doses of Poke can cause adverse reactions, if used in small amounts, such as 3-5 drops of a tincture, there generally is no need to worry about the toxicity. In the berries, the seeds are the toxic parts and should be removed before using, or swallowed without chewing. If you take too much of the root, you will start feeling nauseous and may start seeing “stars” flashing around. The symptoms usually subside quickly. if you stop taking it. If you continue to take too much, you will most likely vomit. Excessive use of Poke can not only cause nausea and vomiting, but also cramping, abdominal pain, watery and/or bloody diarrhea, weakness, hypotension, difficulty breathing, convulsions and tachycardia. This is a low dose botanical and should be used very cautiously. At the first sign of any of these symptoms, stop using it! Consuming plain yogurt can help to absorb the toxins of Poke but if you are concerned about an overdose seek medical help.

Want to learn to make Poke Pink Water with your kids? Check out my new Monday Making series. This week’s episode is on making Pink Water!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ialdbg7xvY

Want to listen to “Poke and the Sorcerer”? This story is from the Poke issue of Herbal Roots zine and it can be found on YouTube here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjvnI7uUacE

Poke Berry Dye

Poke berries make a majestic purple dye, which unfortunately is not color fast but a lot of fun to play with nonetheless.

As it is a temporary dye, it can be fun to use as a hair dye. Simply mash several berries, strain off the juice and add it to your hair.

The dye washes out with the slightest bit of water, making it a quick and easy dye to remove. It leaves a gorgeous magenta color behind.

I’ve also mashed the berries and added play silks to the juice to dye, resulting in this beautiful purple. Again, you can’t let it get wet (when washed, it often reacts with detergent and turns a dingy grey color) but it can be used for dry play time.

There are methods to make it colorfast but I have yet to try those methods.

Want to learn more about Poke? You can find the eBook on Poke in our shop: https://herbalrootszine.org/product/poke-issue-115/