poke - Phytolacca americana
poke plant grown on OurHerbFarm

Botanical: Phytolacca americana

Family: Phytolaccaceae

parts used: root

actions: alternative, anodyne, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antitumor (cancer fighting), cathartic (bowel evacuation), emetic, immune stimulant, laxative, lymphatic, decongestant

common names: pokesalet

Poke was first judiciously utilized and known in 19th century medicine as a emetic and cathartic. Those were the days when our medical physicians highly relied on the process of purging body toxins via both the mouth and anus as a routine method of achieving lost health. Such body evacuations have long gone out of fashion which is why I think Poke has been dismissed as a valuable medicinal herb. It was the Eclectics of the last century that saw in Poke (Phytolacca) something much more valuable than its purging properties.[1]

John King’s American Dispensatory[2] reviews the other virtues of Poke. It says Poke is an important therapeutic aid in skin conditions. It will kill scabies infestations, sooth inflamed skin, and aid in healing dermal abscesses/ulcerations/boils. Phytolacca is indicated in chronic eczema, psoriasis, varicose veins, syphilitic types of eruptions, fissures, and painful lymphatic enlargements. It can be employed both internally and externally for such conditions. King’s text further praises the usefulness of Poke in diseases of the mouth and throat: laryngitis, tracheitis, influenza, diphtheria, tonsillitis, stomatitis, follicular pharyngitis, and ordinary sore mouth. It will stimulate the mucous membranes of the mouth and promote glandular activity. Sore, irritated, inflamed throats have been cured by it. The Eclectics held Poke in the highest esteem in glandular conditions of the mammary. It shines as a remedy in acute mastitis. It has further been shown of value in treating granular conjunctivitis and other eye inflammations. It holds relieve for certain rheumatic conditions. King describes the use of the root and leaves: “The root, roasted in hot ashes until soft, and then mashed and applied as a poultice, is unrivaled in felons (purulent infection) and tumors of various kinds. It discusses them rapidly, or if too far advanced, hastens their suppuration.” He goes on to tell that an infusion of the bruised leaves may be applied to indolent ulcers with the best of results. Phytolacca has had a long history as a cancer fighting herb. One of its name is Cancerroot.

The benefits of Poke Root as an immune stimulant and lymphatic decongestant is a more modern revelation. Simon Mills in his text, Principals and Practice of Phytotherapy, describes the immunological stimulating properties of Poke. He cites PWM (poke weed mitogen) as the factor which stimulates lymphocyte production and increases the number of blood plasma cells. Poke, also, contains LSF (lymphocyte stimulating factors) which induces lymphocytes to differentiate into lgM-secreting cells and multiply as such. Further, LSF causes polyclonal B-cells to differentiate into lgM-secreting cells. Lastly, there seems to be an antiviral protein present showing laboratory activity against many plant and animal viruses.

Polk root and yellow dock root are both powerful herbs to aid in cleansing the blood and lymph, inciting and increasing the action of lymph glands throughout the entire body. Not surprisingly, both herbs are staples of many traditional herbal anticancer formulas.

Phytolacca americana is used as a folk medicine and as food, although all parts of it must be considered toxic unless, as folk recipes claim, it is “properly prepared”. The root is never eaten and cannot be made edible.

Green Deane calls Poke a Prime Potherb. He writes more on eating Pokeweed than I ever knew, so if you want information on how to eat it, check his info out.

Key Actions

  • lymph cleanser (and has a special affinity for red, inflamed mammary glands, testicles and throat)
  • detoxifies
  • diuretic
  • mild laxative
  • stimulates bile flow
  • tonic

To support wellness, look at the root. Poke root is safe for herbal use. Poke leaf is not. Eating poke leaves can cause gastroenteritis with intense vomiting and frothy diarrhea.

An herbalist’s cheat-sheet for poke:

Parts used: fresh root, fresh berries (young shoots and leaves are also a “spring tonic” food, boiled in two changes of water).

Actions: alterative, lymphatic, antifungal, possible thyroid stimulant.

Affinities: lymph, breasts, testes, skin, joints.

Taste: acrid, slightly sweet, root slightly bitter.

Vitalist energetics: root slightly cooling and drying; berries slightly warming.

Michael Moore energetics (highlights): lymphatic, immune, skin/mucosa, hepatic, parasympathetic stimulant; cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, CNS sedative; berries for thyroid depression, root for adrenalin stress.

Tongue indications: swollen, with a white coating; sometimes foamy saliva (Michael Moore).

Specific indications: Hard, swollen lymph nodes. “Hurts to stick out tongue” (Matthew Wood).

Homeopathic mental indications: “Loss of personal delicacy, disregard of surrounding objects. Indifferent to life” (Boericke).


  • To be used only under the supervision of an expert qualified in the appropriate use of this substance. Not to be used while pregnant. Not recommended for internal use. Not to be taken if you have severe liver or kidney disease. Do not apply to broken or abraded skin.

“In a January 17th 2014 interview with music journalist Ray Shasho, Tony Joe White explained the thought process behind the writing of “Polk Salad Annie” and “Rainy Night in Georgia.” …”I heard “Ode to Billie Joe” on the radio and I thought, man, how real, because I am Billie Joe, I know that life. I’ve been in the cotton fields. So I thought if I ever tried to write, I’m going to write about something I know about. At that time I was doing a lot of Elvis and John Lee Hooker onstage with my drummer. No original songs and I hadn’t really thought about it. But after I heard Bobbie Gentry I sat down and thought… well I know about Polk because I had ate a bunch of it and I knew about rainy nights because I spent a lot of rainy nights in Marietta, Georgia. So I was real lucky with my first tries to write something that was not only real and hit pretty close to the bone, but lasted that long. So it was kind of a guide for me then on through life to always try to write what I know about.”
– Tony Joe White


  • http://racehorseherbal.com/Wild_Herbs/Poke/poke.html
  • King’s American Dispensatory, 1898. | Henriette’s Herbal Homepage. http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/index.html. Updated April 14, 2017. Accessed April 14, 2013.
  • Rebecca Hartman, Crabapple Herbs
    Iowa Cooperative Extension Service publication Pm-746 “POKEWEED”
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