The poke plant (Phytolacca americana) is toxic. One of the first things Appalachian children are taught is to not eat poke berries, despite their juicy purple color. But the leaves are the main ingredient in poke sallet, which despite the name, is not a "salad" at all, but greens carefully cooked to reduce their toxicity. What toxicity remains acts like a purgative, which can rid the body of worms and other parasites.
This isn't food that's cooked as a dare or to be showy, like say, Japanese fugu, one of the world's most poisonous fish, now served at Michelin-starred Suzuki in New York City. According to Nicole Taylor, chef and author of The Up South Cookbook, poke sallet is a stretch food, and it happened to be the first fresh vegetable to rise from the ground in the earliest days of spring. "When you look at foraging, that's only what they call it now. People who were poor and people who were formerly enslaved—they had to figure out what to cook, and what to eat. You can trace different wild foods back to those folks. People who are looking for food to get by are more likely to eat poke sallet than someone who had means to eat other things."
My parents and grandparents ate poke sallet, and I think about it when the tender young leaves appear in the spring. But considering the difficulty of gathering enough leaves at just the right stage and cooking it three times only to produce a dish with a "vaguely asparagus-meets-spinach flavor" which acts as a laxative, I'd just as soon open a can of something else and wait for the garden greens. Read about poke as a food, medicine, poison, and song inspiration at Saveur. -via Metafilter
(Image credit: Stefan.lefnaer)