Phytolacca Americana (poke salad, poke berry, poke root, skoke, pigeon berry, garget, coakum, cancer jalap, red-ink plant)

description: herbaceous perennial

place of origin: eastern North America

urban habitat:
grows best in deep, moist soils in full sun but can thrive in freshly disturbed ground by means of buried seeds; common in neglected landscapes, vacant lots, rubble dumps, streams, along chain-link fences, highway backs and median strips, railroad rights-of-way.

ecological function: food and habitat for wildlife; erosion control on slopes; stream and river bank stabilization.

history: Ink made from the berries of Phytolacca Americana was used to write the first copy of the Declaration of Independence, now badly faded. Pokeweed is considered an invasive species in many parts of Europe today and is also found in parts of Africa and Asia. Pokeweed has a long history of medicinal use, employed primarily in the treatment of auto-immune system diseases. The plant contains anti-imflammatory agents, antiviral proteins and substances that affect cell division and has recently been investigated as a potential anti-AIDS drug. The roots of Pokeweed shoots were commonly consumed in the 1800’s as a substitute for asparagus and its berries cooked in pies and eaten as a remedy for rheumatism. Folk remedies in the Ozarks recommended eating one pokeberry per year as preventative for arthritis. The root taken internally has been used for treatment of tonsillitis, mumps, swollen glands, bronchitis, and as a poultice for treatment of bruises. Juice from its fruit has been used to treat cancer, hemorrhoids, tremors and consumed as a tea to treat dysentery. The plant has unusually high potassium content and when burned its ashes have been used as a salve for ulcers and cancerous growths. The boiled rootstock can be used as a soap. The plant’s leaves and berries are toxic if not cooked properly, causing vomiting and diarrhea.

Georgetown University Urban Herbs