Pokeweed

Pokeweed_jpgRoots, seeds and mature stems and leaves are poisonous.  The 1998 edition of the Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines reports that the presence of saponins, an irritate to mucous membranes, is responsible for the toxicity.  Symptoms of poisoning include: diarrhea, dizziness, hypotension, severe thirst, sleepiness, tachycardia, and vomiting.  In severe cases death (rarely reported) may result from respiratory failure.  The root has medicinal use as an emetic (medicine to induce vomiting), due to its saponinan content.  In Native American medicine, a pokeweed poultice was used for cancers, tuberculosis, the “itch”, rheumatism, and in small doses for syphilis. People have boiled the young shoots (up to 6 inches) and served them like asparagus. The name pokeweed comes from the Virginian Indian “pokan” which meant any red-juiced plant used as a stain or dye.  “Pokan” came from “pak” which meant blood. During Polk’s presidential campaign (1845) pokeweed twigs were worn by his followers and some latter claimed the plant got its name from the President. However, Pokeweed, had been pokeweed long before James Polk arrived on the political scene.

OtherCommonName:

American Nightshade, Bear’s Grape, Crowberry, Cancer-root, Poke Berry, Jalap, Pigeonberry

ScientificName:

Phytolacca americana

Community:

Edge

PlantStatus:

Native

LifeSpan:

Perennial

PlantHeight:

to 9 feet

FruitingTime:

Mid-August to November

Distribution:

Maine to Gulf of Mexico ~ Statewide in NJ; Frequently a weed

FloweringTime:

Late June to October

IdentifyingCharacteristics:

Course, widely branched ~ Large leaves ~ Smooth reddish stems ~ Flowers clusters long-stalked, often paired with leaves ~ Fruit clusters drooping, berries glossy, purple-black with red stems