Kitchen Accomplice By John Kirkendall

 Tie on your asphidity bag and join the party - but keep your distance

Don’t tell me you don’t have an Asphidity bag, or, perhaps, you lost it in some confrontation?  Don’t fear: I have a prescription for you.  And, according to legend, you will be protected from myriad miasmas and humors.  Just what every lawyer needs.  Also, lawyer-like, I remind you I disavow any particular knowledge that gives me authority to dispense the information I am about to give.  You may compose your own Asphidity bag as you prefer — mind you, it may be less effective than the remedy I am about to bestow on you.  Put this in your recipe box next to the card listing the ingredients for witches brew.  They both work approximately the same anyway — as far as I can tell.

An Asphidity bag was a folk remedy most commonly found in the Appalachian region in the 18th or 19th century.

Basically, it was a bag of pungent herbs, often including ginseng, pokeweed and yellow root.  However, the exact ingredients varied by practitioner.  The vapors were supposed to ward off colds or other diseases. It will also ward off enemies and friends alike – no amount of Channel No. 5 will cover up its essence. If swarming yellow jackets have haunted you in the past, that’s over. They will never come near you again.

The trick is to get the pokeweed just as the sun rises while the plant is covered with dew.  The bag you are seeking to fill is made of muslin and, when filled, will be about the size of a silver dollar.  When it starts to smell like rotten leaves, garlic, rosemary, onion and mint, you will know you have succeeded. Another sure clue is when people keep their distance.

The smallest pokeweed leaves are the ones you want. 

Here is a recipe for Poke Sallit, so spelled because poke is not to be eaten in a fresh salad, but should only be eaten as the result of multiple fresh water boilings, at that time it becomes sallit, or sallet:

Pick and wash big bag of poke pickings

Bring to a fast boil for 20 minutes

Drain and rinse with cold water, bring to a boil again starting with clean cold water and boil again for 20 minutes

For the third time, start again with fresh cold from the well water, and boil again for another 20 minutes

This boils the evil out of the pokeweed and it will not poison you

You can add bacon grease to thrice cooked poke, and you can add onions

Eat with hot cornpone and cold butter


May 19, 1861, p. 1, There was a time when a person asked,”what in heck is asphidity?” and this is what she was told: 


Gather around my camp fire.... And I will take you back to the old days in West Virginia.... The days when the 8th Virginia Cavalry fought and died and were captured and put in Camp Chase Prison; and the 16th cavalry got all the way to Gettysburg; the 36th under McClausland and the 22nd Infantry under Patton lived and died and froze in the mountains. These are some of the forgotten ones.... The Confederates of Western Virginia. 

These are the “Home Town Boys.” If any of them were still alive today, and you asked them what in gosh blazes is asphidity, they would say, “It is that little bag of herbs on a string around my neck that I wear to ward off the colds and the flu.” 

They would know all about gensing, and yellow root and what was good for this ailment and that ailment. 

They would tell you that if all else failed, “My ma would put a poltice of onions on my chest and that would loosen up the membranous croop but I never could stand that blaim skunk oil.” 

They would also say that the best thing was the pure stuff that came from pa’s still, mixed with rock candy, glycerine, and “balm of Gilead.” (the buds from tulip poplar trees) 

They would also tell you to “watch that popskull. Thet’s thu stuff thet haint aged nuff.” 

They would also have said, “Burn some sulphur; it will drive off the vapors..” 

Have I helped you all any?” 

From a: Hillbilly from Western Virginia 

If you are still alive, I invite you to join me for the next column, which I promise will be somewhat more traditional.


Judge Kirkendall is a retired Probate Judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. I am (thankfully) past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at


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