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Botanical Name : Phytolacca americana
Species: P. decandra
Synonyms: Phytolacca Root. Phytolaccae Radix. Phytolacca Berry. Phytolaccae Bacca. Phytolacca Vulgaris. Phytolacca Americana. Blitum Americanum. Branching Phytolacca. Phytolaque. Garget. Pigeon Berry. Méchoacan du Canada. Bear’s Grape. Poke Weed. Raisin d’Amérique. Red-ink Plant. American Spinach. Skoke. Crowberry. Jalap. Cancer-root. American Nightshade. Pocan or Cokan. Coakum. Chongras. Morelle à Grappes. Herbe de la Laque. Amerikanische scharlachbeere. Kermesbeere. Virginian Poke. Poke Berry.
Common Name : Poke root,Pokeweed, American pokeweed, Garnet, Pigeon Berry, Poke
Phytolacca americana is indigenous to North America. Common in Mediterranean countries. (Northern and Central N. America. Occasionally naturalized in Britain ) It grows on the damp rich soils in clearings, woodland margins and roadsides. Disturbed areas, pastures, clearings, thickets, woodland borders and roadsides from sea level to 1400 metres.
Phytolacca is a handsome plant growing from 3 to 9 feet high. It is indigenous, with a perennial root of large size, frequently exceeding a man’s leg in diameter, usually branched, fleshy, fibrous, whitish within, easily cut or broken, and covered with a very thin brownish bark or cuticle. When young the stem is green, but as the plant matures it becomes more or less purple. The stem is annual, about 1 inch in diameter, much branched, smooth, stout, and hollow. The leaves are opposite, scattered, ovate, entire, 5 inches long by 2 or 3 wide, smooth on both sides, with ribs underneath. The flowers are numerous, arranged in long racemes opposite the leaves. There are no petals, but 5 rounded, incurved, petaloid sepals, whitish, or greenish-white in color. Stamens 10, shorter than the sepals. Styles 10, recurved. Ovary of 10 carpels, green, and united in a ring. The fruit is a handsome, flattened, black, or blackish-purple berry, 10-seeded, and contains a beautiful crimson juice.
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An easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils, though preferring a moisture retentive soil in full sun or partial shade. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn. Succeeds in an open woodland garden, growing well under trees. Whilst the dormant plant is hardy in much of Britain, the young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts. A very ornamental plant, it often self sows when in a suitable position. Cultivated as a dye plant and on a small scale for its edible young shoots, there is at least one named form. ‘White Stem’ has white stems and the berries yield a golden-peach dye instead of purple. It is not yet known (1992) if it will breed true from seed. This plant is an alternative host to a number of viral diseases that affect members of the Amaryllidaceae, Liliaceae (broad view, including plants recently moved into separate families) and Solanaceae. Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits.
Seed – sow autumn or spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. If you have sufficient seed, it might be worthwhile trying an outdoor sowing in a seed bed in early spring. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for their first year and plant them out the following spring. Division in March or October. Use a sharp spade or knife to divide the rootstock, making sure that each section has at least one growth bud. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.
Edible Uses :
Edible Parts: Fruit; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Colouring.
Leaves – they must be cooked and even then it is best to change the water once. They are used like spinach. Only the young leaves should be used since they become toxic with age. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity. Young shoots – cooked. An asparagus substitute, they are delicious. The shoots are sometimes blanched before using, or forced in cellars to provide an early crop. The tender clear inner portion of the stem can be rolled in cornmeal and fried. Although cultivated on a small scale in N. America for its shoots, caution is advised, see notes above. A nutritional analysis is available. Fruit – cooked and used in pies. Poisonous raw, causing vomiting and diarrhoea. Even the cooked fruits should be viewed with caution. The fruit is a berry about 12mm in diameter. A red dye is obtained from the fruit and used as a food colouring
Parts Used: Dried root, berries.
Constituents : Phytolaccic acid has been obtained from the berries, and tannin. In theroot a non-reducing sugar, formic acid, and a small percentage of bitter resin have been found. The alkaloid Phytolaccin may be present in small quantities, but it has not been proved. A resinoid substance is called phytolaccin. The virtues are extracted by alcohol, diluted alcohol, and water. The powder is said to be sternutatory.
Figures in grams (g) or miligrams (mg) per 100g of food.
Shoots (Dry weight)
*274 Calories per 100g
*Water : 0%
*Protein: 31g; Fat: 4.8g; Carbohydrate: 44g; Fibre: 0g; Ash: 20.2g;
*Minerals – Calcium: 631mg; Phosphorus: 524mg; Iron: 20.2mg; Magnesium: 0mg; *Sodium: 0mg; Potassium: 0mg; Zinc: 0mg;
*Vitamins – A: 62mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.95mg; Riboflavin (B2): 3.93mg; Niacin: 14.3mg; B6: 0mg; C: 1619mg;
A slow emetic and purgative with narcotic properties. As an alterative it is used in chronic rheumatism and granular conjunctivitis. As an ointment, in the proportion of a drachm to the ounce, it is used in psora, tinea capitis, favus and sycosis, and other skin diseases, causing at first smarting and heat.
The slowness of action and the narcotic effects that accompany it render its use as an emetic inadvisable. It is used as a cathartic in paralysis of the bowels. Headaches of many sources are benefited by it, and both lotion and tincture are used in leucorrhoea.
The Lenape chopped the root, poured boiling water over it, and prepared a liniment to reduce swellings. To reduce fever, they bound the fresh roots to the hands and feet. Other tribes made a purge from the juice of the root. The Delaware considered the roasted mashed root of Pokeweed an excellent blood purifier and stimulant. They were aware of the toxic properties of poke root, and only very small doses were administered. It was combined with bittersweet by other tribes and used as an ointment for chronic sores and the Pamunkey of Virginia treated rheumatism with preparations of the boiled berries. The Mohegans of Connecticut ate the young shoots in the spring and used poultices of the mashed ripe berries to relieve sore breasts of nursing mothers. The large root is a violent emetic and is sometimes used as a substitute for ipecac. Pokeweed was listed officially in the United States Pharmacopeia for nearly one hundred years, from 1820 to 1916, and in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1947, where it was classed as a slow emetic, purgative and alterative. A fluid extract of the dried root was prescribed for a variety of ailments. During the early 1900s, it was a major ingredient in a popular over-the-counter obesity remedy, Phytoline, taken six times a day, before and after each meal. A cancer cure was prepared by mixing the juice of the leaves or root with gunpowder, and in the Ozark Mountains, Poke was a famous remedy for a variety of parasitic skin afflictions collectively known as the itch. The root was boiled into a thick paste and reputed to work very well, but was quite painful when applied. Investigators have reported finding a mitogenic substance in Pokeweed that may prove useful in cancer research and treatment.
Poke root treats constipation and glandular and lymphatic congestion. In the latter conditions it may be taken in regular small internal doses of the tincture of the fresh root. Take only 2-5 drops two or three times daily. If it cases nausea, stop and begin again with even smaller doses. Poke is one of the best blood and lymphatic purifying herbs. It is excellent for the treatment of cancer, tumors, arthritis and degenerative diseases, but should be used with respect and preferably in combination with other herbs in a formula to offset its powerful detoxifying effects. Do not take more than 1 gm. per day.
As an external medicine, Poke root is used in a decoction as a wash or made into an ointment for various skin diseases such as eczema, ulcers, scabies, ringworm and other fungus infections. It has been used, in small doses, as an alterative to stimulate the metabolism and to help break up congestion in the alimentary canal, as well as in various organs including the lymph glands. It has also been used to treat breast cancer, and the excessive swelling of breasts after childbirth which sometimes make nursing impossible. It has often been a part of the formulas used in treating arthritis and rheumatism.
As a poultice it causes rapid suppuration in felons. The extract is said to have been used in chronic rheumatism and haemorrhoids.
Authorities differ as to its value in cancer. Great relief towards the close of a difficult case of cancer of the uterus was obtained by an external application of 3 OZ. of Poke Root and 1 OZ. of Tincture used in the strength of 1 tablespoonful to 3 pints of tepid water for bathing the part. It is also stated to be of undoubted value as an internal remedy in cancer of the breast.
The following prescription has been recommended: Fluid extracts of Phytolacca (2 OZ.), Gentian 1 OZ.) and Dandelion 1 OZ.), with Simple Syrup to make a pint. One teaspoonful may be taken after each meal.
Infused in spirits, the fruit is used in chronic rheumatism, being regarded as equal to Guaicum.
It is doubtful if the root will cure syphilis without the help of mercury.
Ink; Insecticide; Soap.
A red ink and a dye are obtained from the fruit. A beautiful colour, though it is not very permanent. It makes a good body paint, washing off easily when no longer required, though the slightly toxic nature of the berries should be remembered. The rootstock is rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute. Cut the root into small pieces and simmer it in boiling water to obtain the soap. The plant is currently (1980) being evaluated for its snail-killing properties.
Known Hazards: The leaves are poisonous. They are said to be safe to eat when young, the toxins developing as the plants grow older. Another report says that the seeds and root are poisonous. The plant sap can cause dermatitis in sensitive people. The plant contains substances that cause cell division and can damage chromosomes. These substances can be absorbed through any abrasions in the skin, potentially causing serious blood aberratins, and so it is strongly recommended that the people wear gloves when handling the plant. Avoid during pregnancy. Even children consume even 1 berry emergency poison treatment should be instituted. Up to 10 berries are considered harmless for adults
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.