If you live anywhere from Maine to Texas, you may have been introduced to the poke root as a highly poisonous berry that should never be touched. In fact, before using the leaves, herbalists boil them three times, discarding the water in-between to create a dish that is referred to as “poke salad” or “polk salad.” This dish gained some popularity when Elvis Presley covered the song “Polk Salad Annie,” a song about the dish and the poor, rural, Southern girl who prepared it
This plant actually goes by many names, most commonly pokeweed or nightshade (not to be confused with belladonna, which is commonly called deadly nightshade and has similar looking berries). As a perennial, it can grow up to ten feet tall during the summer and then die back to its root each winter. Juice from the berries was once used to make ink and dye, and it is still used by the food industry to make red food coloring.