Friday, April 30, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Sassafras

Anything posted here is for education and entertainment. I am not a doctor, just someone who loves folklore and learning about how people coped before modern medicine. You are entirely on your own if you want to experiment.

Almost everyone in the south has heard of sassafras tea. It is known as a "spring tonic" and is thought to purify the blood. It is also used for stomach distress and nerves. I have read that it was used to treat venereal disease before modern medicine. Externally, the tea will help rash caused by poison ivy.

Sassafras officinale grows abundantly in North Alabama on roadsides and around pastures. Its leaves feed deer and other wildlife. Every part of the tree is fragrant, and distilled oil from its roots is used in the perfume industry.

All parts of the plant can be used to make tea, but purists prefer the roots. Clean 1/4 cup of roots, cover with 2 cups water, and boil gently about twenty minutes. Strain and sweeten. It tastes like root beer, which I have never liked, so I'm not crazy about the tea.

The stems have a pleasant taste when broken off and chewed. When I was a child, some of the older women used a sassafras stick to put snuff in their mouths.

Large doses of sassafras given to lab rats have indicated cancer causing ingredients. If there are rats reading this, please do not try this tea!

You get a great thrill out of being in nature. The reason that I love to be in herbs is on account of it's such a natural getting down close to the good Lord and what He made.
Tommie Bass, the Herb Doctor of Shinbone Ridge, as told to Darryl Patton

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Sometimes, I just feel defeated.

You have been there. You do the best you can, but it is never good enough.

I know we live in an evil world. I know that I am not part of this world.

Still, the load gets heavy.

I have childishly threatened to run away, somewhere no one knows me.

But I know better.

It's the same world everywhere you go.

David knew this. He had failed, he had felt unloved, he had fallen into a pit.
But he knew, just like I do, that God was there.

God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.

I'm an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I'm thinking.

You know when I leave and when I get back;

I'm never out of your sight.

You know everything I'm going to say before I start the first sentence.

I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too--

your reassuring presence, coming and going.

This is too much, too wonderful--

I can't take it all in!

Psalm 139:1-6

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Celebrate Saturday: Cookin' Up Some Poke Salet

Turn on your "gathering" instinct.

Pokeberry weed, or poke salat, can be found growing wild where there is sunlight and friable ground. I have found the best sites are edges of fields or older construction sites.

Gather more than you think you will need.

This is too small.

This is too big.

This is just right!

Go through your bounty and pick out all the things that are not poke salet.
Rinse in a colonder.

Put in large bowl. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of salt, then cover with water. We aren't the only organisms who like it, and the saline solution will cause the little fellows to turn loose and rise to the top.

Let set for an hour or so, then drain and rinse.

Put in a pot. Add water until it about half full. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer.

During cooking, the poke salet will lose its bright green color and shrink dramatically. Some find the odor while cooking a little strong.

It is done when you can cut it easily with a fork.

Are you surprised at the amount you have now?

Heat a saute pan, and put a tablespoon of oil in it (Bacon drippings are better if you have some!)

Saute the cooked poke salet for a minute.

Add two beaten eggs.

Stir gently until eggs are done.

It is finished!

You might want something to go with it (this may appear in a later blog).

You have to have some cornbread to go with it, or it wouldn't be the same.

The plants are getting too big now in my area of North Alabama. If you want to try this, do it SOON.

"Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest-I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm." Psalm 55:6-8

Friday, April 23, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Poke Salet

Phytolacca Americana, or pokeweed plant, grows prolifically in the Southeast. One of the first wild plants to appear in the spring, it is prized by birds and some people like me. Generally considered toxic overall, only the tender shoots are good to eat.

The plants will grow to ten feet tall in the summer, producing berries that turn purple in the fall. Birds love these berries, and you may find the splatters on your car tinged a nice magenta during that time. The berries can be used for dye, and almost every little girl in my generation made pokeberry pie, a lovely creation that, alas, could not be eaten.

My mother was a teenager during the Great Depression of the 1930s. She told of one winter when there was no cash, no jobs to be had. My grandfather worked for a farmer who produced molasses, and was paid with the product they made. Using ground corn from the previous year, her family consisted throughout the winter eating cornbread and molasses three times a day. They were thrilled when the poke salet shoots appeared above ground; it meant fresh greens full of the vitamins and minerals they had lacked all winter. I love finding and cooking it because I love tradition; not because I'm hungry. To my mom's family, it was manna from heaven!

My daddy claimed that eating three good messes of poke salet would clean you out and you would be good to go for another year. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, ask someone. It would be gauche for a fine Southern lady like me to talk about such unpleasantness.

Come back tomorrow and learn how to cook up a pot of poke salet!

Then God said, "I've given you every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth and every kind of fruit-bearing tree, given them to you for food. To all animals and all birds, everything that moves and breathes, I give whatever grows out of the ground for food." And there it was. Genesis 1:29-30 Message

Friday, April 16, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Mayapple

Anything posted here is for education and entertainment. I am not a doctor, just someone who loves folklore and learning about how people coped before
modern medicine. You are entirely on your own if you want to experiment.

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, is all those green umbrellas you see on the roadside, and they are abundant this year.  Common names are mandrake, ground lemon, hog apple, love apple, umbrella plant, wild lemon.

Male plants have a single leaf.

Female plants have two leaves.

The blossom and fruit is produced where the leaves split.

The mature fruit is about the size of a small egg. I have found it tasteless, although some say it is lemon flavored, and some say they have made jelly from it.

The plants colonize, and sometimes, it looks like a green rug covering the woods.

Every part of the plant except the fruit is toxic. Folklore claims the dried roots were used as a purgative to remove worms in the intestines. In earlier days, mayapple was used as an ingredient for preparing laxative and sold over the counter as a medicine known as "Carter's Little Liver Pills", which is now banned by the FDA. Mayapple is used today externally by some herbalists for removal of warts and skin cancer.

Mayapple is one of the first wildflowers I learned to recognize. When my mom would take us for walks in the woods, she would point it out to us. She told us how during the depression, she and her siblings would dig the long, skinny roots, dry them, and sell them to a druggist in town to earn a little cash.

Mayapple is being researched and used today by doctors to treat certain kinds of cancer.

If you are wanting some herb tea today, don't use mayapple. Look for some sassafras instead!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Emily Dickinson's Spring

A little madness in the Spring

Is wholesome even for the King,

But God be with the Clown —

Who ponders this tremendous scene —

This whole Experiment of Green

As if it were his own!
Emily Dickinson

Photos by WSR
But Thou, O LORD, art a shield for me: my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. Psalm 3:3

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Curiosities: Have a Seat

The news came that time was short. My father’s brother’s wife, a sweet gentle lady who constantly had snuff juice in the corners of her mouth, was in the last stages of colon cancer. My father asked Hub and me to take him and my Mom over to Georgia, about two hundred miles, to see her one last time.

It was a hot, dry summer, one where plants or patience did not prosper. Come early Saturday morning, we packed up our two sons, picked up my parents, and headed for Georgia. About five hours later, we found the hospital, the biggest building in the small Southern town. Hub stayed downstairs with the boys, and I went with my parents to locate my Aunt’s room.

Southern rituals seem to illuminate an obsession with death, where friends and kin gather around the bedside to see the dying one breathe their last. When we arrived at the small, stuffy room, it was packed. The weariness of the trip must have shown on my face, because the preacher, there to do his duty, rose from his seat and kindly offered it to me. I made my way across the room to where he was and to the seat he offered.

The offered seat was a potty chair. The preacher and I both looked at it, then at each other, and crimson flooded his already sweating face. He did not know if he should apologize, sit back down, or whatever. He just turned and left the room. I did the thing that any true Southern lady would do…had me a seat on that potty chair! At least until I had stayed a respectable amount of time. Escaping the sauna-like room, I joined my family where we rolled with laughter, a safe distance away from the ugliness of imminent death. We’re still laughing about it, some thirty years later.
A merry heart doeth good like a medicine. . . . Proverbs 17:22

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber or sleep.

The Lord is they keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil; he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.
Psalm 121

Friday, April 9, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Bridal Wreath

Some say it may be the oldest cultivated shrub.

Speria, common name 'bridal wreath', is not as common as it used to be.

It may be because they can grow to be quite large, taking up too much room. Also, their blooming time is short; the blossoms can come and go in a few days.

But, oh, those few days!

One of the first shrubs to blossom in the spring, they are quickly covered with black bumblebees. Soon, their white petals makes the ground beneath the shrub look like a light snow has fallen. There are new varieties now that are more compact and hold their blooms longer, but I love the old fashioned ones better.

This lovely shrub may have gotten its name when its flexible twigs were woven together to adorn a bride's head. It is said that the white wreath of flowers symbolized the bride's purity and virginity.

At old "home places" in the country, one can find bridal wreath, sometimes struggling among weeds and other shrubs that have been unattended for years. They can be easily dug up and moved, and were often shared with neighbors in a time when there was no money to buy landscape plants, even if one could find some available.

The Bridal Wreath that is growing in my yard came from some roots dug from the yard of my grandmother's first home, probably there since somewhere around 1915. I don't know where she found it, but I'm sure it was from someone's yard. A part of it has moved every time my family did, and it is thriving today.

Sometimes, the old things are the best things.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Old Man River

Ol' man river, dat ol' man river
He mus' know sumpin', but don't say nuthin'
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along

Ah gits weary an' sick o' tryin'
Ah'm tired o livin' an' skeered o' dyin'
But ol' man river
He jes' keeps rollin' along!

Old Man River
lyrics (not complete) by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, from Showboat

Photos by WSR

Near Knoxville in East Tennessee, the Holston and French Broad Rivers join to become the Tennessee River.

It flows south toward Alabama, then follows the curve of the Nashville Dome until it empties into the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky.

On its journey to the Ohio, then on to the Mississippi before it flows into the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, it kindly passes through the beautiful little city of Florence.

We are extremely blessed to live just a few minutes from its banks.

..And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. Psalm 1:3

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Loving the Sunshine

The sun, with all those planets revolving around

it and dependent upon it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had


else in the universe to do. . . . .Galileo

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:16-18