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Botanical Name: Phytolacca americana
Other Names: Poke Salet, American Pokeweed, Cancer-root, Cancer jalap, Inkberry, Pigeon Berry, Pocan, Poke, Poke Root, Pokeberry, Reujin D Ours, Sekerciboyaci, Skoke, Virginian Poke, Yoshu-Yama-Gobo, Yyamilin
Common Names: poke, pokebush, pokeberry, pokeroot, polk salad, polk sallet, inkberry or ombú.
Caution : Toxic when misused. For experienced herbalists only. Can cause intense vomiting and diarrhea.In East Asia and New Zealand Pokeweed contains phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, which are poisonous to mammals.
Pokeweed is a common perennial native plant, found in Northern and Central N. America from the New England States to Minnesota and south to Florida and Texas, naturalized in Britain and other countries. Growing in damp rich soils in clearings, woodland margins and roadsides.
Description:Pokeweed is a common perennial plant. The stout erect stalk is tall, growing to 10 feet or more, smooth and branching, turning deep red or purple as the berries ripen and the plant matures. The root is conical, large and fleshy, covered with a thin brown bark. Leaves are about 5 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide, simple, alternate, ovate-lanceolate, and smooth. The flowers which appear from July to September are long-stalked clusters and each has 5 whitish petals with green centers. The fruit is a rich deep purple round berry, containing a rich crimson juice. Gather young edible shoots in spring, the roots in fall, slice and dry for later use, and berries as they ripen.
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Young pokeweed leaves can be boiled three times to reduce the toxin, discarding the water after each boiling. The result is known as poke salit, or poke salad, and is occasionally available commercially. Many authorities advise against eating pokeweed even after thrice boiling, as traces of the toxin may still remain. For many decades, poke salad has been a staple of southern U.S. cuisine, despite campaigns by doctors who believed pokeweed remained toxic even after being boiled. The lingering cultural significance of Poke salad can be found in the 1969 hit song “Polk Salad Annie,” written and performed by Tony Joe White, and famously covered by Elvis Presley and the El Orbits. Pokeberry juice is added to other juices for jelly by those who believe it can relieve the pain of arthritis. There is a poke salad festival held annually in Gainesboro, TN.
Pokeweed berries yield a red ink or dye, which was once used by Native Americans to decorate their horses. The United States Declaration of Independence was written in fermented pokeberry juice (hence the common name ‘inkberry’). Many letters written home during the American Civil War were written in pokeberry ink; the writing in these surviving letters appears brown. The red juice has also been used to symbolize blood, as in the anti-slavery protest of Benjamin Lay. A rich brown dye can be made by soaking fabrics in fermenting berries in a hollowed-out pumpkin.
Some pokeweeds are also grown as ornamental plants, mainly for their attractive berries; a number of cultivars have been selected for larger fruit panicles.
Pokeweeds are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Giant Leopard Moth.
Toxic Principle toxic constituents have been identified including the alkaloid phytolaccine ( and the alkaloid phytolaccotoxin, as well as a glycoprotein. When pokeweed is used as food, the water in which it is boiled must be discarded. The roots are particularly toxic.
A beautiful red ink and a dye are obtained from the fruit. The rootstock is rich in saponins and can be used as a soap substitute.
Medicinal Properties and Uses:Various parts of the plant have been used since pre-Colombian times to treat many conditions. It seems the berry juice has been used for pimples and boils, in some cases taken internally in other cases applied to the skin. It has also been taken for joint pain and applied to sore breasts. Leaf concoctions have been used as an expectorant, emetic and cathartic.
Pokeweed is edible (cooked) and medicinal. It has a long history of use by Native Americans and in alternative medicine. The young shoots are boiled in two changes of water and taste similar to asparagus, berries are cooked and the resulting liquid used to color canned fruits and vegetables. The root is alterative, anodyne, antiinflammatory, cathartic, expectorant, hypnotic, narcotic and purgative. It is used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, tonsillitis, mumps, glandular fever and other complaints involving swollen glands, chronic catarrh, bronchitis and diseases related to a compromised immune system it has potential as an anti-AIDS drug. Some of the chemical constituents in the plant are triterpenoid saponins, lectins, antiviral proteins and many phytolaccagenic acids, which are not completely understood.
New research has revealed that a possible CURE for Childhood Leukemia called (B43-PAP) is found in the common Pokeweed.
Anti-B43-pokeweed antiviral protein, B43-PAP, PAP is a pokeweed toxin. The B43 carries the weapon–the PAP–to the leukemia cells. It has been touted as a smart weapon. In one study 15 out of 18 children who had participated had attained remission.
The following is part of a repot from Parker Hughes Institute: The two parts of this drug are the B43 antibody (or anti-CD19) and the pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP) immunotoxin, a natural product in the pokeweed plant. B43 is designed to recognize specific B-cell leukemia cells just as natural antibodies attack and recognize germs. When the antibody finds a leukemia cell, it attaches and B43 delivers the other part of the drug, PAP. Inside the cell, PAP is released by the antibody and inactivates the ribosomes that make the proteins the cell needs to survive. With the cell unable to produce proteins, the specific leukemia cell is killed. More than 100 patients have been treated with B43-PAP and shown only minimal side effects.
Pokeweed is used as a folk remedy to treat many ailments. It can be applied topically or taken internally. Topical treatments have been used for acne and other ailments. Internal treatments include tonsilitis, swollen glands and weight loss. Grated pokeroot was used by Native Americans as a poultice to treat inflammations and rashes of the breast. These uses of pokeweed are scientifically unproven, dangerous, and may cause death.
Caution is advised as the whole plant, but especially the berries, is poisonous raw, causing vomiting and diarrhea.
The eating of limited quantities of poke, perhaps of the shoots, may cause retching or vomiting after two hours or more. These signs may be followed by dyspnea, perspiration, spasms, severe purging, prostration, tremors, watery diarrhea and vomitng (sometimes bloody) and, sometimes, convulsions. In severe poisonings, symptoms are weakness, excessive yawning, slowed breathing, fast heartbeat, dizziness, and possibly seizures, coma and death.
Colic, diarrhea, respiratory failure.
Unsteadiness, inability to rise, retching. Jerking movements of the legs. Below-normal temperature.
Same general signs plus a decrease in milk production.
Some Native American tribes used Pokeweed as a Witchcraft Medicine, believing that it’s ability to totally purge the body by causing drastic diarrhea and vomiting would also expel bad spirits. Fruit was made into a red dye used in painting horses and various articles of adornment.
Disclaimer: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.