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Phytolacca americana

poke root

plant overview

Poke is a perennial shrub native to eastern North America that also occurs in some parts of the Mediterranean region. The plant is striking in appearance, not only because it produces clusters of dye-yielding, purple-black berries but also because its hollow stems turn deep red as the plant matures. Also known as American pokeweed Virginia poke, red ink plant, scoke, cancer jalap and various other common names, the large, fleshy root of the plant yields its alkaloids and bitter resins to both water and alcohol. As such poke root is traditionally used to produce infusions, liquid extracts and tinctures.

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Poke root
A Bit of Botany
a little botanical information on poke root

Phytolacca decandra (aka Phytolacca americana) is an ornamental plant in the Phytolaccaceae family.

This eye-catching plant can reach heights of 10 feet (3 metres), but averages a still-impressive 4 feet (1.2 metres) to 6 feet (2 metres). However, it takes a few years of growth before the root grows large enough to support this size.

Some of the poke root plant's striking appearance is due to the redness the stem acquires as the plant matures. This stem has a chambered pith and early in the season the central stem is upright and erect but becomes a spreading, horizontal form later in the year. This is due to the weight of the berries the plant eventually produces. The plant dies back to roots each winter.

The leaves are alternate with coarse texture with moderate porosity. Leaves can reach sixteen inches in length. Each leaf is entire. Leaves are medium green and smooth with what some characterize as an unpleasant odor.

The flowers have 5 regular parts with upright stamens and are up to 0.2 inches (5 mm) wide. They have white petal-like sepals without true petals, on white pedicles and peduncles in an upright or drooping raceme, which darken as the plant fruits. Blooms first appear in early summer and continue into early fall.

The poke root plant's fruit provides its other visually arresting component. The berry is shiny dark purple and is held in racemous clusters on bright pink pedicels with an equally pink peduncle. Pedicles without berries have a distinctive rounded five part calyx (the shape reminiscent of a simple cartoon flower). The poke root's fruits are round with a flat indented top and bottom and the immature berries are green. With age the berries turn white and then develop into their familiar blackish purple.

The plant has a thick central taproot which grows deep and spreads horizontally.

common names & nomenclature
Pocan—the Algonquian term for the plant—means "blood red." Its informal name, poke root or poke weed is also Algonquin in origin.

Also known as:
phytolacca americana, american pokeweed, virginia poke, red ink plant, scoke, cancer jalap, poke sallet, inkberry, pokeberry, pokebush, american nightshade, pocan

Poke Root, purple-black berries
Where in the World
habitat and range for poke root

Poke root is native to eastern North America, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast, with more scattered populations in the far West.

Cultivation & Harvesting
considerations for growing and harvesting poke root

Poke root is broadly distributed in fields and waste places. It is readily found n edge habitats. Grows well in sun or shade. The plant survives fire well due to its ability to resprout its thick deep root system.

Adapted to coarse or fine soils with moderate moisture, high calcium tolerance but low salinity tolerance, pH tolerance from 4.7-8.

Sow seeds in autumn or spring in a cold frame. Transplant into individual pots when large enough to handle and grow in the greenhouse for the first year. Plant into the garden in spring or summer. Can also take divisions in March or October.

The root is best harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use.

Store dried poke root pieces in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

The Rest of the Story
poke root history, folklore, literature & more

poke root’s practical past
Poke root is an herb that was favored by Native Americans at one time because of its many uses. And while most people use it to treat problems with the respiratory system today, its past uses were many.

Those who suffered from arthritis were able to get relief from pokeweed. It was applied directly to joints to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It could also be used to treat other types of inflammatory problems.

When it comes to the skin, poke root has many uses that once were very common. It has anti inflammatory properties that make it a good treatment for problems such as eczema and acne. It can help soothe spots and reduce redness in the skin. It can also be used to treat infections from fungus such as athlete’s foot.

In addition, someone suffering from the discomfort of scabies can get relief for that problem from using pokeweed. If you have an ingrown hair or folliculitis, poke root works to help soothe the problem and leaves your skin feeling much better.

Women who are having problems with the nipples because of breastfeeding will find that pokeweed is a good antidote. It’s also a good remedy for breast infection such as mastitis. When you’re suffering from uncomfortable breast pain, pokeweed can provide a welcome break from the pain.

In addition to helping with breast health, poke root can also assist with relieving infections of the testes or ovaries. It can relieve pain and restore you to normal function. If you have pain in these areas, you may want to give pokeweed a try.

However, the most common use for poke root is the treatment of respiratory infections. It can be used to soothe a sore throat, make a cough more productive, and reduce the swelling of the tonsils and other glands. This can be a great help for someone who’s dealing with a viral infection. It can lessen the degree of your illness and shorten it as well.

Poke root is used in modern times as a tincture. And if you’re looking for relief from skin infections, you’ll want to use poke root as a poultice and apply it directly to the affected area.

While poke root isn’t used as widely as it once was, it’s still a viable alternative to pharmaceuticals and it can naturally heal a variety of problems with the body. It must be used correctly and in a limited dose because it may become toxic otherwise. Make sure you don’t use poke root if you’re pregnant.

for educational purposes only

This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

please be advised: 
Before making any changes to your diet you should always consult with your doctor,
especially if you are pregnant, nursing or have existing conditions.