Herbaceous perennial growing to 10 ft (3 m). Has alternate lance-shaped leaves, spikes of greenish white flowers, and clusters of fleshy, purple berries.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to North America, pokeweed is now naturalized in the Mediterranean region. It thrives in damp woodland and in open areas. The root is unearthed in late autumn.
Pokeweed contains triterpenoid saponins, lectins, lignans, resin, and mucilage. The triterpenoid saponins are strongly anti-inflammatory, the lignans are antiviral, and the lectins are mitogenic (break up chromosomes).
History & Folklore
Pokeweed was widely used by Native Americans and European settlers as a poultice for skin diseases, sores, ulcers, and tumors. It was also given internally to relieve pain and to induce vomiting.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Pokeweed is taken internally as a tincture in small amounts to treat rheumatic and arthritic conditions. The root has also been used to treat respiratory tract infections, such as sore throats and tonsillitis, as well as swollen glands and chronic infections.
The herb is sometimes prescribed for pain and infection of the ovaries or testes, and as a lymphatic “decongestant,” stimulating the clearance of waste products. As a poultice or ointment, it is applied to sore and infected nipples and breasts, acne, folliculitis, fungal infections, and scabies.
The plant is highly toxic in overdose. Use only under professional supervision. Do not take during pregnancy.