pokeweed

Phytolacca americana(Synonym P. decandra)

Description

Pokeweed (formerly P. decandra) is a perennial herb indigenous to North America but now common in Mediterranean countries. Its pale flowers are followed by stalks of deep purple berries.

Parts used

The roots and berries are used in herbal preparations.

Constituents

Pokeweed contains alkaloids and saponins (compounds that have expectorant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, and stimulate the immune system by encouraging body-defending B cells and T cells to divide). Another constituent is vitamin K, which helps healthy bone growth. The roots contain lectins, antiviral proteins and lignans.

Medicinal uses

In traditional medicine, pokeweed is used as an anti-inflammatory. It is prescribed to:

  • Treat rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Induce vomiting.
  • Act as an analgesic.
  • Treat infections such as tonsillitis, flu and sinus infections.
  • Provide relief from flu and sinusitis symptoms such as excess mucus build-up.
  • Help detox the body.
  • Stimulate the immune and lymphatic systems
  • Treat fungal infections.
  • May help treat cancer.

CAUTION

Talk to your medical practitioner before taking any herbal supplements.
Pokeweed has not been studied extensively. However, significant toxicity results from oral and topical administration of the fresh herb. Adverse reactions include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, weakness, hypotension, tachycardia and, in cases of toxicity, severe vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, muscle spasms, convulsions and death. Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not take products containing phytolacca unless prescribed by your medical practitioner.

Flora Force Products containing Pokeweed

Domestic & culinary uses

Although it is said that the young shoots, when cooked, make a good substitute for asparagus, we do not recommend using pokeweed in cooking.

Cultivation

Easy to grow, pokeweed can be planted in sandy, loamy and clay soils in sun or semi-shade. It prefers moist soil. Note that the leaves are poisonous and that the plant sap can cause dermatitis – wear gloves when handling the plant. We do not recommend growing pokeweed unless you understand completely the plant and its uses.

Acknowledgements & credits

Compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer

References

  1. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Pokeweed. http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/pokeweed
  2. Plants for a Future. Phytolacca americana. www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Phytolacca+americana
  3. Van Wyk, B-E. and Wink, M. Medicinal Plants of the World. 2004. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa.
  4. Photos

  5. Pokeweed berries photo by Ted (Pokeweed)
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Information in our herb library is intended only as a general reference for further exploration. It is not a replacement for professional health advice and does not provide complete dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription medicines. Accordingly, this information should only be used under the direct supervision of a suitably qualified health practitioner such as a registered homeopath, naturopath or phytotherapist.