Mabon, the Autumn Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, is a time to give thanks for the many blessings of harvest. We often think of drying herbs, canning, preserving, making wines and robs, freezing and storing root vegetables in root cellars. One method of harvesting you may not have thought of is to make ink! Poke berries are ripe and ready now!
There is a jar in my 'fridge labeled POISON because the juice is a luscious magenta color, clove scented to preserve it, and it could be very tempting! This is the ink that was rumored to have been used to write the Declaration of Independence. Further research indicates that it was used for the draft, but the actual document was written with iron gall ink made from ferrous sulfate and ink extracted from the oak galls.
In the spring, the immature leaves of the poke plant, said to be similar to turnip, collard or mustard greens, are cooked with bay leaves, Cajun spices, and a ham bone. Unlike the other greens, poke is considered to be poisonous until 'thoroughly cooked", a process that requires boiling it for at least five minutes for three times and throwing out the water to replace it with new, uncontaminated water each time. After the final boiling, the instructions are to wring as much water out of the plant as humanly possible. Because the plant is poisonous, so you have to cook it. A lot.
I grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and knew people of considerable age (note - I was 12 at the time - anyone over 40 was of 'considerable age' in my perception) who ate poke annually, praising it for it's role in reducing or eliminating joint inflammation, arthritis, and numerous types of cancer.
Personally, I'm reluctant to cook plants that have been declared poisonous. I can go to the grocery store or farmer's market and buy plants that are safe . . . and edible.
NOTE: As I was "poking" - pun intended - fun at poke during one of my “Enhancing Your Life with Herbs” classes, one of my participants mentioned that she grew up eating poke and they simply gathered and cooked the young plants in early spring. She convinced me to give it a try, but Gil, another participant, asked that I wait until my class was over! Loved that class!!!
There are other ways to use poke. If anyone has put a hex on you, use hydrangea and poke to remove it. Call me. I'm not getting into all of that here.
And you could always write a song about poke, as Tony Joe White did in 1969. He wrote Polk Salad Annie. He did a fabulous job and I adore his version, but I'm featuring Elvis because his use of crib notes is truly hilarious, and after all, he is the KING! So I apologize to you Tony. After all, Elvis is King! Enjoy!
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!