Poke Fear & Irrational Science

In its typical, now routine, fashion ‘science’ comes to save the day and leads everyone astray.

Once upon a time they desperately wanted us to fear cannabis, so they fudged some data to make it look like not only is marijuana a ‘gateway drug’ but it will kill all your brain cells and transform you into a moronic, lethargic two-ton-Tessy with crossed eyes.

Sassafras, that most delicious natural ingredient that used to make up root beer and was enjoyed by our ancestors for centuries—science data decided it’s a carcinogen and it gets stripped from the marketplace for half a century. Then the data decides, oops, nevermind. Then they decide it makes an awesome illegal street drug known by “Ecstasy” aficionados as “Sass” and it’s then highly processed active ingredients are exploited by twisted chemists and greedy marketers and pushed on curious kids around the world. Thanks, again, Science!

So, forgive me when I heard for the first time the panicked cries about the poisonous pokeweed I had to roll my eyes a little. I heard repeated the usual crazy as I tried to research it myself—the ranchers trying in vain to eradicate it permanently before it kills all their cattle; the dying children whose dumbass parents didn’t perform the proper ceremonial procedures before consuming; the dead chickens who consumed the poisoned berries, etc. All nonsense. We’ve never had a chicken or any other animal fall ill from this ubiquitous ‘weed’. The four-legged show no interest in it and the birds, wild and domesticated, love the berries at the end of summer when little else is available for them.

And, it is the most delicious green I’ve ever tasted, no exaggeration.

I’m not alone in my palate preferences.

“For many, getting a springtime poke-sallet fix was indeed a psychological if not necessarily a medicinal shot in the arm. Azzie Waters remembered a saying by ‘old Doc McClain’ of Marble Hill, Georgia, who declared that ‘if you’ll eat one good mess of poke sallet in the spring of the year, you won’t have typhoid fever.” (Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking by Joseph E. Dabney, p. 263)

It’s simply miraculous our ancestors managed to survive at all before the Great Age of Scientism came to our collective rescue! Though I do suspect back in the day folks knew better where to draw that very fuzzy line between science and politics. Yet more crucial life skills lost to Progress.

As for the ‘proper ceremonial procedures’ I’m referring to the often repeated ‘requirements’ of fully boiling the greens three times, rinsing them and changing the water each time before consuming. I tried this, wanting to give these nincompoops the benefit of the doubt, knowing full well this had to be overkill. Simple logic told me there’s no way mountain folk would waste that much time and resources, hauling huge pots of water, burning all that fuel, and still consider these greens such a great Spring treasure. My hunch was correct, considering the mess of greens that resulted was the equivalent of green soup with hardly a solid piece of green remaining. Clearly that’s not what all the Southern old-timers rave about.

A bit more research and I’d bet only one parboiling is necessary. But, I’ve been giving it two, just to be on the safe, but still delicious, side. From there it can be used just like spinach and the taste is far better. Traditionally it was popular to fry it in bacon grease or coat it in cornmeal and deep fry it like okra.

Tonight we’ll be enjoying it smothered in homemade Mexican queso. Mmmmm. 🙂

Author: KenshoHomestead

Creatively working toward self-sufficiency on the land.

14 thoughts on “Poke Fear & Irrational Science”

  1. Good points about the books and I’m going to start searching more often for ‘indigenous’ as you mention. I found a really interesting out-of-print one that a library was getting rid of about the ‘spa waters’ in our area and it’s been one of the most interesting and locally detailed I’ve found in years. There must be more of such books out there if I start shopping around.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just looked through some of my 40 year old plus herb books & they all talk about pokeweed. They all seem to agree that this is one that all parts of are poisonous & has no place in the kitchen. I think I’ll try to check further when I have more time. In the meantime I think I’ll just stick to plants I’m more familiar with.

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  3. I’ve spent decades trying to find books about local edible and medicinal plants. Pretty much everything I found was based on the European imported herbs. Which was useful, but not very useful to the 9 yr old me that was thinking of running away from home and living alone in the bush. 😉 Only in the last few years have I started to see what I was looking for, typically marketed under the “indigenous” label, with all the PC woo, rather than botanical or regional. Still not a lot useful for our region, though. Not as popular as the coasts. :-/ Likewise, the foraging books and articles that I’ve been seeing tend to be for popular – and populous – regions. Unless I want to start eating spruce trees, and even those are about varieties that aren’t growing where we are!

    Also, thank you for the compliment. I’m really enjoying your posts, too!

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  4. I have a number of foraging books and some on medicinal herbs as well, pokeweed is not in any of them. Since we don’t have a solid folk culture tradition around here like they do in Appalachia it’s really hard to come by good local info.

    I so agree, we are not privy to real science in the public. Hard to know if I would have great respect for it until I see it! ;). Thanks for poppin’ in, love your posts!

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  5. I’ve never heard of this before!

    Over the years, I’d accumulated a very useful selection of books on medicinal herbs (which I had to pass on before we moved, because movers charge by the pound!). One of them included a lot more details information, including which ones were potentially dangerous, and which ones had carcinogens. What I found interesting was how many of the herbs that had carcinogenic chemicals them, also had anti-cancer chemicals in them. Almost as if the composition of plants was complex or something. /sarcasm

    I have great respect for science. Unfortunately, most of what we are bombarded with isn’t science, but scientism.

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