Wednesday, January 28, 2015


POKE ROOT:  Phytolacca Decandra, Phytolacca Americana, Phytolacca Acinosa, Phytolacca Abyssinica, Phytolacca Dioica, Phytolacca Rivinoides, etc.

Also known as:  pigeon berry, american nightshade, red weed, Virginia polk, red ink berries, pokeweed, scoke, garget, pocan bush, coakum, cancer root, etc.

Parts used:  roots, berries, leaves

Meridians/Organs affected:  lymphatic, blood, digestive, glandular, thyroid, liver, kidneys, spleen, skin

Properties:  resolvent, alterative, anti-scorbutic, deobstruent, anti-syphilitic, cathartic, laxative, depurant, anti-carcinogenic, relaxant, emetic, nutritive, anodyne, cardiac-depressant, tonic, narcotic, anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-fungal, vermifuge

Poke root is a member of the Phytolaccaceae family (also known as the Pokeweed family).  It is a large plant with soft, ovately shaped but pointed leaves that can get 5-8 inches wide.  The stalk can get as tall as 9 feet and becomes a reddish tint as it ages.  It has greenish-white flowers that manifest in a drooping spike and turn into dark purple berries near the end of the summer.  The roots can get as large as a man's arm and was once considered an edible by some early native american tribes.  It is native to the eastern united states although the Europeans liked it so much they took some seeds back and naturalized it there, where it is now considered an invasive weed.  (Go figure).  It is now largely cultivated as an ornamental plant or as a garden vegetable in some of the southern states.

Poke root is considered a poisonous plant here in the usa although it was in the United States Pharmacopea from 1820-1916 and in the National Formulary from 1916-1947.  At that time it was listed as an emetic, alterative and a purgative.  The root contains phytolaccin which can be very toxic in large amounts.  No doubt this is why it is considered a poison here (there have been fatalities attached to large doses of this herb).  Jethro Kloss said that the plant shouldn't be eaten raw but rather boiled twice before being consumed (which is how the native cultures consumed it).  The young leaves can be gathered early in the spring and eaten.  The young root is what is usually considered the most potent part of the plant.  It has been used for thyroid problems, enlarged lymphatic glands, goiter, kidney, inflammation, scrofula, skin issues, liver problems, mastitis, etc.  The seeds and fruits (which are considered to be narcotic) have been used in tincture form to treat arthritis and rheumatism.  The Native Americans used it for venereal diseases and as a de-wormer.  It has been used in poultice form for fungal skin infections.  This plant has also proven useful for auto-immune disorders, inflammation and pain management.  It has been used for respiratory complaints, tonsillitis, mumps and laryngitis.  It acts as a stimulant to the lymphatic system and has been found to boost the immune system.

There are roughly 25 varieties of poke root.  The name Phytolacca is Greek.  It stands for plant (phyton) and crimson lake (lacca).  This was in reference to its dye producing colors.  It is also referred to as inkweed as most inks back in the day were made from poke root.  It should be interesting to note that poke root was responsible for the ink that penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

This plant has MANY medicinal uses but should be used with extreme care as it is very potent.  It should be given in minute amounts over time rather than in massive doses.  It should not be taken by pregnant women.  In general it is better tolerated by the human system when combined with other alterative herbs.  It should also only be used by those who know how to use it.  Consult an alternative practitioner or integrative medical doctor who is familiar with the plant and has used it before.  

As is customary for my posts I am including some links herein.  PLEASE use them wisely and stay healthy!

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