- Family Phytolaccaceae
- Phytolacca decandra-americana
- Pokeweed, American Nightshade/Spinach, Bear's Grape, Branching Phytolacca, Cancer-root, Coakum-Chongras, Cokan, Crowberry, Inkberry, Jalap, Phytolacca Berry/Root, Pigeon Berry, Pocan, Poke, Poke Berry, Red Weed, Red-Ink Plant, Scoke/Skoke, Virginian Poke, Fitolaca (Spanish)
The plant is highly toxic in overdose. Therefore, it should be used only under professional supervision.
The leaves of many species are edible when cooked, but are extremely poisonous when raw. Therefore, it is vital that the right species be identified.
Do not take during pregnancy.
Indigenous to North America but common in Mediterranean countries, the plant is an herbaceous perennial, growing to ten feet, having alternate lance-shaped leaves, spikes of greenish white flowers, and clusters of fleshy, deep purple berries. There are about forty species of this genus, with the majority found in the US thriving in damp woodlands and open areas. Both the roots and the berries can be used medicinally although the roots have a stronger action and are unearthed in the late autumn.
The plant was widely used by Native Americans and early European settlers in poultices for skin diseases, sores, ulcers, and tumors. It was also given internally to relieve pain and to induce vomiting.
The berries yield a strong red dye which, in the past, was added to confectionery items and alcoholic drinks.
- immune stimulating
- lymphatic decongestant
- triterpenoid saponins
- The triterpenoid saponins are strongly anti-inflammatory.
- The proteins are antiviral.
- The lectins mitogenic, meaning they break up chromosomes.
The root is used for such respiratory infections as sore throats and tonsillitis and for swollen glands and chronic infections.
It is sometimes prescribed for pain and infection of the ovaries or testes and as a cleanser for the lymphatic system to stimulate the clearance of waste products.
As a poultice or ointment, the herb is applied to skin ulcers, sore and infected breasts, acne, folliculitis, fungal infections as ringworm, and scabies. It is also used for dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, catarrh, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, syphilis, mumps, conjunctivitis, scabies, ringworm, and constipation.
Homeopathic remedies include that of inflammations of the mucous membranes, particularly of the respiratory tract, feverish infections, mammary gland inflammations, and rheumatic or arthritic conditions.
In Vermont especially, the anti-inflammatory properties are prized as a valued remedy for rheumatism.
In Canada, it has been successfully used to to treat psoriasis.