Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dangerous Plant: Pokeweed

I recently discovered that our garden contains the pokeweed. Not that I didn't know it was there but rather that we (my family hand I) thought that it was a mole/castor bean plant. The more I researched the mole/castor bean plant for my previous article, the more I realized that the plant we that we thought we had in our yard, was NOT the Castor Bean plant but rather the Pokeweed.

The Pokeweed is a poisonous weed that grows a bit like a tree with one central root that branches off into branches which can grow from 4 to 12 feet tall, with white flowers, and grows purple berry bunches shaped like mini grapes, will stain clothing forever (supposedly), and are deadly to eat. The pokeweed favors rich, gravelly, lightly tilled soil, and will flourish even in droughts. Is native to the eastern half of the United States.

Root and berries are poisonous however, both are used in the preparation of certain medicines. The young shoots are edible if fully cooked. To prepare for food, boil once and discard the water. Boil again in fresh water and drain off the water again, then eat.
Muenscher, Walter Conrad. Weeds, Second Edition. United Kingdom: Cornell University Press, 1955. p. 197. ISBN: 0-8014-1266-8

The poke weed has several medical uses:
"Very good in enlargement of the glands, particularly the thyroid gland. Very good for hard liver, biliousness, inflammation of the kidneys, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, tonsillitis, canker sores, enlarged lymphatic glands. It is effective in goiter, either taken internally or applied as a poultice or liniment. Excellent in skin diseases, old wounds, old ulcers, sores, boils, relieves difficult urination, scrofula, and eczema. If a tea is made of the root and applied to the skin, it will cure itching. Poke weed is most commonly used as a laxative." 

Pokeweed tincture has been used to relieve breast tenderness, uterine fibroids, endometriosis. The root can also be infused in oil and then rubbed on the afflicted area.

If using a tincture begin with one to two drops. Dosage can slowly increase but should never exceed more than 10 drops a day.

If improperly prepared, pokeweed poisoning symptoms include burning sensation in the mouth, salivation, gastrointestinal cramps, vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Recovery is one to two days. However, if larger amounts are comsumed, much more severe symtoms will be present such as anemia, altered heart rate and/or respiration leading to convulsions and death. 

For general uses, the berries were commonly used as a textile dye. It was also once used to dye cheap red wine.


Do not drink juice
Do not eat raw

Do not eat berry seeds
Overdose can cause vomiting, convulsions, and death

Other Names:

Phytolacca decandra, American cancer, American nightshade, American spinach, bear's grape, cancer-root, coakum, garget, inkberry, inkweed, pigeonberry, poke, pokeberry, pokeroot, pokeweed, red-ink plant, skoke berry, Virginia poke.

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