Poke Sallet

Here’s another ear worm for you (sorry Lyn): Polk Salad Annie, by Tony Joe White. (You might prefer the Elvis version, but I rarely prefer the Elvis version of anything.) I loved this song before I even understood what it was about.

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.

Pokeweed

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8 thoughts on “Poke Sallet

  1. Carole Lewis

    When my Hubby and I moved to TN 40 yrs ago, our neighbor Ida, taught me many things from picking blackberries and making the jellies and cobblers to frying Okra. (ugh). She also taught me all about Poke Sallet. I must admit it is a lot of work, as fixing greens of any kind fresh from the garden, or woods. But it has its rewards. It is plenty and free. With a little salt pork & onions, it is deliciously full of vitamins and will keep the pipes working. They also have Ramp Festivals, which is a wild onion so I am told. I have never tried it. And many are trying Kuduz which growes rampant and chokes out every plant and tree in its path. How great it would be if we could feed the hungry some of these plants, and see them thrive.

    1. Thanks, Lyn! Fascinating article! Thank goodness I didn’t grow up with stories of snakes in kudzu or the kudzu monster, or I’d have freaked out. But I have, indeed, seen kudzu cover abandoned houses in no time flat, and I’m still convinced that if we left one kudzu vine on the moon, the entire thing would we terraformed and capable of habitation. 🙂

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