Pokeweed,  or Phytolacca americana  is native to North America.   Until this morning I had never actually seen Pokeweed outside of my herbal books. My children and I were taking a nature walk along the walking and biking path near our home.  I saw beautiful plant with big droopy berries that looked kind of familiar. But I really couldn’t place the plant. I took a few photos and we continued our walk. About a mile up the path there were 3 or 4 of these plants standing together. I snapped a few more pictures while the kids and I talked about what it might be, and I reminded them not to eat any plants they find even if they think they know what the plant is. As we turned to leave I noticed a Parks & Recreation truck on the path behind us.

The driver pulled up right behind us. “Do you guys know what that is?” he asked my kids.

“No,” they both answered.

Pokewood bush
Pokewood bush

“It’s poke berries, or poke weed, ” he told them.

My kids immediately asked, “Is is edible?”

“Nope. Or at least not for people. If you look carefully you can find the seeds inside scat on the trail.”

While he was talking to my kids, I mentally went through my herbals. Pokeweed was familiar, and I knew it had medicinal properties. My first thought was is used to treat cancers, and helps boost the immune system.

As soon as we got home, I consulted several of my herbals and found the guy from Parks & Recs was correct, the plant in question was pokeweed. I also learned that my memory of what pokeweed is used for was also correct.

So.. complied from several sources is a quick rundown on the properties of pokeweed.

Names throughout North America

  • Pokeweedpokeberriesinyard
  • Cancer root
  • Poke salad
  • Poke Sallet
  • Poke berry
  • Poke
  • Virginia poke
  • Inkberry
  • American nightshade
  • pigeon berry

Properties recognized by herbalists

  • Alterative –
  • Antinflammatory
  • Emetic                                                                                            pokeleafcloseup
  • Cathartic
  • Antirheumatic
  • Antibaterial
  • Antiviral
  • Ahang lu

Pokeweed is most commonly used for cancers of the lung, spleen and kidneys, swollen glands, cysts in the breast, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

Pokeweed is a key ingredient in the well-known cancer treatment Hoxsey Formula.

Recent Research

According to the American Cancer Society recent research shows there is a protein in pokeweed which has anti-tumor properties. Scientists are calling this protein “pokeweed antiviral protein” or PAP. This same protein has shown itself effective against Herpes and HIV, as well.

In a future post, I’ll give you few recipes for Pokeweed.  If you decide to experiment on your own, be sure to do adequate research both on-line and using at least two good herbal references.

Used incorrectly, pokeweed may be toxic.





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