Friday, June 20, 2014

Poke Sallet. Phytolacca of many species

Tony Joe White "Polk Salad Annie" 1969
Words change. Sometimes they become obsolete in the terminology of the linguist. Sallet as a food is one of them. Sallet is not known to the Chrome Dictionary. I wonder if it is in the Merriam-Webster. Nope. I stopped down and commented on it. This is what I wrote 
 No, it is not turnip greens exclusively. Or any greens for that matter. It is an obsolete form of salad. My 1971 Compact OED includes it. A Dictionary of Archaic & Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases ..., Volume 2 By James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps maintains it was obsolete in 1852,"Sallet. A salad. Hall." but I would maintain that it is still used provincially in the American south to this day but typically in regards to Phytolacca americana though we all know salad can be any collection of greens. As it is understood today and particularly in regards to poke it is a cooked green as opposed to a fresh one. Polk Salad, Poke salad, poke sallet all refer to the same food. Tony Joe White recorded Polk Salad Annie in 1969. Thinking of poke as our typical fresh salad green has caused some at least apocryphal tales of folks suffering from shall we say gastro-intestinal distress?

I did however find it in the Urban Dictionary.
The term poke sallet is an old Southern term for the cooked young leaves of the poke weed. Sallet comes from Middle English and refers to a mess (another Old or Middle English term) of greens cooked until tender. The term Polk Salad is a gentrified way of referring to poke sallet, and I'm afraid it reflects our inferiority complex when it comes to standing up for our Southern terminology. We are not making a mush of Polk Salad; actually, we are being true to our English ancestors who settled here a long time ago.
Some folks around here always add a little molasses and fatback to the water when they cook their poke sallet. That's the traditional way.

Don't you just love Tony Joe White's song Poke Sallet Annie?
by Flem Snopes July 12, 2008
Sallet is another variation for the spelling of salad, archaic, obsolete and I am among the people on the planet that wants to call this dish by this name. I am hard-headed sometimes. Everybody else calls it salad which has led to some unfortunate dining experiences. Despite its reputation as poisonous there is no reason to avoid this plant. Euell Gibbons called it the 'Cadillac of greens'. There are festivals held in its honor. This song was written with an acceptance of it as a normal, everyday part of the diet. It was even the subject of a dissertation in 1757 at the University of Pennsylvania. If you have access to that work, I sure would like to see some of it. Perhaps Google can be of assistance....

A little background first I suppose would be in order. Poke has a couple of different names, but the varieties are essentially the same. Phytolacca is the Genus. That much is straight forward, they haven't decided to change that part yet. 5.5+ million hits and here are the first five for Poke Salad: Wiki Wild Pantry Don't Eat Poke Salad Annual Poke Salad Festival and Cooks/Recipes for Poke Salad

AUTHOR(S): Callahan, R.; Piccola, F.; Gensheimer, K.; Parkin, W. E.; Prusakowski, J.; Scheiber, G.; Henry, S. 
TITLE: Plant poisonings - New Jersey. 
YEAR: 1981 CITATION: MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep, 30(6), 65-67 [English]
FDA #: F07132 
ABSTRACT: Within a 2.5 month period in 1980, 27 New Jersey residents were poisoned, in 2 separate episodes, by eating wild plants. The poisonings were serious enough that 21 persons sought medical care; 4 were hospitalized. Pokeweed poisoning Passaic County: On July 11, an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness related to eating pokeweed leaves affected campers in a large day camp. Initial reports indicated that the outbreak was limited to a "nature group" whose members had sampled a salad made with this wild plant. The group, comprising 52 campers and counselors, had been offered pokeweed salad prepared from young leaves picked, boiled, drained, and reboiled that morning, a method that reputedly ensured the plant's edibility. Sixteen (31%) of the 51 interviewed met the case definition (vomiting accompanied by any 3 of the following: nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, dizziness, and headache on July 11). Nine others who were not part of the nature group also had tasted the salad; 5 (56%) of these became ill. Of the 21 ill campers, 18 (86%) experienced nausea, 18 (86%) stomach cramps, 17 (81%) vomiting, 11 (52%) headache, 10 (48%) dizziness, 8 (38%) burning in the stomach or mouth; and 6 (29%) diarrhea. Persons became ill .5 to 5.5 hours (mean 3 hours) after eating the pokeweed. Symptoms lasted 1 to 48 hours, with a mean of 24 hours. Eighteen persons were seen in local emergency rooms or physicians' offices. Four of these were hospitalized for 24 to 48 hours for protracted vomiting and dehydration. Food history analysis was done for all 60 persons. Salad was the only food item significantly associated with illness. Twenty (43%) of the 46 persons who ate pokeweed became ill compared with 1 (7%) of 14 who did not eat it (P .01). Moreover, for those who ate the salad, illness was associated with eating at least 1 teaspoonful compared with less than 1 teaspoonful (p=.02). Vomitus analyzed for 7 persons was negative for Staphylococcus aureus. 

There is disagreement about edible parts, season of edibility, and methods of preparation of pokeweed and even about whether the plant should be eaten at all. Indeed, the camp counselor in the Passaic outbreak had been preparing pokeweed salad for many years without apparent ill effects. 

and this
Jaeckle, K. A., Freemon, F. R. 1981. Pokeweed poisoning. South. Med. J., 74: 639-640.
Just google it. It is a book link and Google frowns upon taking whole sections of print from their stacks. 
 and this
In Vitro Antioxidant blah blah blah
What I find fascinating about poke is that it is considered either a green of the highest order or a poison. There is no in between for most people. The scientist sees it differently. They throw things at various and sundry cells just to see what happens. Every PhD had to do a dissertation and every researcher needs something else to research. It was probably a given that they would try this plant out.

I suspect this was one of the early plants that the Euro encountered when they came over the Atlantic. I would venture that it was among the foods served at the first Thanksgiving dinner. There are festivals in celebration of this plant. As cited in from the Poisonous Plants link I did finally manage to find a case of poisoning from eating the greens, but the counselor did not suffer any ill effects nor did over half of those that consumed it. I have eaten it for years. It is delicious. I did not find any citations of poke sallet poisoning in the festivals celebrating it and I sure would love to see the actual case notes from that Passaic case. The other citations I found from the Canadians referred to somebody making a tea from either roots or berries. There is evidence of this plant being used by herbalists in lands other than America. It is cited in "In Vitro" as being used in Iran. There is also a citation in the Canadian link to turkey poults and hogs being poisoned by it, yet its typical vector for being spread around an area is defecation of the seeds by various birds. It is ordinarily found where a bird will perch after consuming the berries and defecating the seeds. I wonder if their system is less likely to break the seed coat and the turkeys more likely to which would release more of the toxin than just the fruit part itself.

This is just skimming the surface some. I might come back and add some more to it, but I have wanted to get this blog entry finished for a while. It deserves some more work, but I have much to do today and I am already being lobbied to get my butt in gear.

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