But living in the South all those years ago, I finally stumbled across someone who knew about Poke Sallet. It’s also called Poke Salad by some, but I think Poke Sallet is the more common name, given that there are Poke Sallet festivals in various Southern towns even to this day. (I have no idea why they changed it to Polk Salad in the song, but there you go.)
It comes from Pokeweed, which grows throughout the South, and apparently in some parts of the North, too. If it’s prepared correctly, I’m told it tastes pretty good, like asparagus. But you’re not going to find it in the produce section at your grocery store, because if it’s prepared incorrectly, it can kill you.
That’s why I’m so shocked that there are still festivals out there in this litigious country. You can also find recipes on line, with no warnings. If the stuff doesn’t kill you when improperly harvested and/or cooked, it will make you vomit or get diarrhea or convulse for days, to the extent that you’ll wish you were dead. The berries can make your hands burn, too. One berry can kill a child, despite the fact that many types of birds can eat it with no problem. And the older the plant is, the more toxic it becomes.
But back in the day, for example, during the depression, many people survived on the stuff and knew how to make it (using only very young leaves way before the stem turns red, and boiling it three times, to name a few careful steps). People will eat anything when they’re hungry enough, and pokeweed was very easy to find. It still is, if you know where to look.
According to Wikipedia, it was once used to cure skin diseases and rheumatism, and was recommended for weight loss. (I’ll just bet it does make you lose weight, but at what cost?) And this article would have you believe it’s good for anything from mumps to AIDS to leukemia, but there’s really no medical evidence to support any of this.
Anyway, there you have it, for your next trivia contest.