Pokeweed, American (Phytolacca americana): The Jekyll and Hyde Plant

If a nice-looking plant could attract scads of birds, make a great mess of greens, treat cancer, AIDS, herpes, bad breath and more, and revolutionize the solar energy industry on the side, wouldn’t you want it in your backyard?

All of these claims and more have been made for the American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), an imposing perennial common in disturbed, fallow and edge areas, routinely growing taller than 6-8 feet, with large, oblong leaves and reddish stems at maturity.  It’s also known as poke root, poke salad (or poke sallet), poke berry, poke, inkberry, cancer root, American nightshade, pigeon berry and other names. The starring feature of Pokeweed is the flower cluster, which can host flowers, immature green berries and mature, shiny red berries all on the same clump, and there are many clumps per plant, flowering from May on into the fall.  It dies back to its very large taproot each winter and re-emerges each spring.  It is very insistent about that.

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)

With all this going for it, what’s not to like?  Well, for one thing, it’s poisonous.  For another, it’s persistent and somewhat aggressive and difficult to eradicate.  Pokeweed has its passionate defenders, implacable enemies, and some in between, who might wish it wasn’t there, but have no qualms about using it for its good qualities.  We have several healthy specimens in our yard, mostly around the edges in the fence or up against the house, and we appreciate it because birds find it irresistible.  We never planted it.  It showed up on its own, probably from the hard little seeds passing through a bird and being deposited with a handy little packet of fertilizer.  It seems to generate a couple more plants each year, and we will soon have to control its spread.  We pull it or chop it in places where we don’t want it, but this might be only semi-effective, since it will try to come back from the root each spring.  There are chemical treatments, if you’re really desperate, including glyphosate.  At least one online gardeners’ forum has had a lively debate on the merits of this plant in gardens and its control.

Pokeweed is one of the signature edible native plants of America, with a strong role in Native-American, African-American and Southern cultures and cuisines.  The key is caution.  Young leaves and stems in the spring, before any red has crept into them, are harvested by legions of foragers and boiled in at least two changes of water, discarding the water afterwards.  Some, in Southern style, saute the greens with bacon drippings and crumbles, alone or mixed with other wild greens.  Some also cook the young stems like asparagus, to which their flavor is compared, or cut them into rounds, like okra, coating them with cornmeal and frying them.  Some just saute them in butter, with salt and pepper.  They are sometimes used in making pickles.  Just remember to blanch them in water first!  Twice!

Never eat the roots!  Never.  Too bad, too, because they’re big and juicy.

The toxins in Pokeweed, depending on what source you’re working from, range from deadly to mild.  They are usually concentrated in the roots, berries and seeds and include an alkaloid (phytolaccine), a resin (phytolaccatoxin), and a saponin (phytolaccigenin). Their effects can range from embarrassing to very nasty, including diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, and much more, up to and including death.  Blanching in changes of water eliminates most of the toxins from young leaves and stems, but caution is called for.  Also, since the berries are a very tempting looking bright red, you might want to think twice about having this plant in places frequented by young children, because I remember what I was like as a kid.

Flowers, immature and mature berries on one cluster

Flowers, immature and mature berries on one cluster

Pokeweed berries

Tempting looking pokeberries. Look, but don’t eat! Leave them for the birds.









Aside from its decorative and culinary qualities , Pokeweed is useful for establishing quail habitat, since quail love the berries (birds are not affected by the toxins), and it also forms a nice shady refuge for them.  It is good for attracting pollinating insects to gardens.

Pollinator fly on Pokeweed flower

Syrphid fly on Pokeweed flower

It has been used for inks and dyes (here’s how you can make your own!), making a beautiful red color, and is being studied for potential treatments for cancer and various viral diseases, among other ailments.  Some folks still swear by eating a small number of berries to prevent arthritis, but you didn’t hear that from me.   Keep in mind that online sources of medical information often urge strong caution in using Pokeweed medicinally, or simply say “Don’t do it.”

It has even inspired a song or two along the way.  Who could forget Poke Salad Annie?

One of its newest uses is in the field of solar energy generation.  It seems a red dye made from the mature berries can be used to coat fiber-based solar cells, increasing their efficiency in converting sunlight into electricity.  Who knew?

We have it in our yard.  We’re keeping it.  Like all things, it has pluses and minuses, but, on average, we think it’s worthwhile having around.  Our birds agree, and if I ever get the money to put up solar cells on the roof, I’ll be squeezing a bunch of berries and painting the juice on them.  Or however they do that…..

115 Responses to Pokeweed, American (Phytolacca americana): The Jekyll and Hyde Plant

  1. Tom says:

    I loved your narrative about poke weed. It is a much more enjoyable read than most botanical guides.

  2. Steve says:

    Does anyone use extracts from pokeweed as a herbicide to keep other fence-line-growers under control?

    I just noticed that the areas around pokes that grow up along fences are clear of all other weeds.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Hi Steve. I have never heard of this and neither has Nadia. In our yard we have lots of plants growing around pokeweed, including tomatoes that are producing fruits. I suspect that your pokeweeds might just be outcompeting the other vegetation.

    • J says:

      I can second what he’s saying. I cut and painted all the honeysuckle on my acre. Afterwards I got an explosion of garlic mustard :(. The garlic mustard exploded everywhere EXCEPT where there was enough sunlight for pokeweed to grow. In the areas with pokeweed… no garlic mustard. In my case, I believe the pokeweed is so thick that it shades out the garlic mustard rosettes. My strategy is to let the pokeweed drown out the garlic mustard until I have the garlic mustard controlled everywhere else. Then I’ll thin the pokeberry to provide room for other natives. I think I’ll do a little test this year and dig up a pokeweed tuber and spread it around some garlic mustard rosettes and see what happens. I’d be very interested in finding an allelopathic answer to garlic mustard. My guess tho is that pokeweed provides such dense shade that it drowns out most of what grows around it.

  3. Diane says:

    I’m using boiled poke weed root juice right now on a brown recluse bite. The guy doctors send you to-a preacher, part Cherokee, promises me it will heal it. Vanderbilt gave me steroids and said I’d probably get an infection and plastic surgery… Then charged me a lot of money. Luckily, it’s spring, and I can try poke weed root free.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Well, Diane, don’t keep us in the dark on this one. Let us know how it works out. And good luck.

    • Julie says:

      I used an old remedy of garlic and fresh lemon juice and made a paste and put it on my brown recluse bite, immediately after the bite…the next day I noticed a hair coming out of the bite which was a hard area about the size of a quarter on my chest. I pulled out the hair…I then continued to put the paste on for a few days and then changed to putting lavender oil on the area. It took a few weeks to completely disappear, but I had no scaring whatsoever.

      I had never heard this from anyone else before about the hair. I am just wondering if brown recluse spiders inject a hair into the bite which then begins to fester and cause the ugly ulceration that you see on most brown recluse bites…

  4. Chris O'Neill says:

    I wonder what American Pokeweed was doing in the cobbled streets of Dragor? It’s a small harbour town on the Danish coast near to Copenhagen. It was covered in bunches of glossy black berries in August, when I was there on holiday.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Interesting. A quick Google search turned up Pokeweed self-seeding in Britain. It is listed as naturalized there, species Phytolacca acinosa or Indian Pokeweed. If it’s turned up in England, it’s not too big a stretch to suppose that birds may have spread its seeds to Denmark and elsewhere in northern Europe.

      Thanks for the info and for reading.

      P.S. A little more digging found a reference that this species is listed in Bornholm, Denmark!

  5. kaleb larsen says:

    Phytolacca americana
    not on the List of invasive species in Europe
    Pokeweed is a garden plant in Denmark

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Phytolacca acinosa was the species I found for parts of the UK and Europe. Is American Pokeweed grown in Danish gardens or this other species? Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Kat says:

    Sidenote: Can anyone verify that Diane is still alive and kicking? This past summer, my fiance and I lived at a cottage in the Catskills, and our landlords told us the pokeberries were “elderberries.” Luckily, we had the good sense to research the berries first, since my fiance (who’s from England) said they didn’t look anything like the elderberries in England… we were horrified when we found out what it really was, since we’d been harvesting the berries… PLEASE always use caution with this plant!

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Not sure, Kat, since she never came back with an update. Maybe I’ll email her and ask. Recluse bites are generally non-fatal, but can be terribly painful and disfiguring. I am very curious about whether the pokeweed treatment actually helped.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Randy Tindall says:

        Update: Diane is alive and kicking! Here is her reply about the pokeweed remedy for brown recluse bites. Note that “Nadia’s Backyard” only passes on information—we don’t recommend, endorse, advocate, etc., etc., etc., ANY treatment without checking with your doctor and doing lots of research.

        “Hi! The pokeweed root remedy came from the native Americans. It’s being studied for skin cancer and other poisons.
        One year later exactly from my brown recluse bite, there’s a scar, but doctors cannot believe how it healed. I have specialists and issues; they know me as a hot mess! The little kids I teach always come to see the preserved spider and my arm during science.
        Pokeweed root helped! I never got a big hole or had nasty dr drilling. It got somewhat yucky, but not like so many people’s bites.
        How I did it:
        I did use bentonite clay after I figured out it was a recluse. Didn’t have charcoal.
        I boiled the pokeweed roots after cleaning, soaked gauze in the “juice”, wrapped the swollen parts of my arm in that and wrapped it after I gently scuffed the bite with a soaked cloth. My arm was in a sling prior, because the venom made it look like I had arm measles when moving it. Anyway, the soaked gauze helped with pain. I used this gauze at night for about two weeks, refrigerating the left-overs and making more as needed. During the day, I tried to let it air and had a friend make a special root powder antibiotic type salve. (I’d have to ask for the recipe but remember camphor and goldenseal.) If I had to do it again, I would immediately get charcoal caps emptied into it, take benedryl, then start the process and not even bother with Vanderbilt ER, who was of NO help with their 2 cortisone tablets. For people who don’t know American Pokeweed (we have loads in TN!), you can now get root powder at mountain rose herbs.
        By the way, now is the time of year spiders are out, so be aware!”

        • Laura Harrison says:

          I just saw this and so very happy Diane responded. Interesting.
          I came by this site b/c we just bought a small place in the country in TN. The previous owner was bitten by a recluse twice (said our new neighbor)
          But I have TONS of this pokeweed growing on the property and I found your site when I was trying to find out more about it.

  7. Zoe says:

    Are other animals, such as cats, dogs immune to the toxicity of the berries, roots, et al?



    • Randy Tindall says:

      This is what I found: “Cattle and sheep are the most susceptible species but poisoning occasionally occurs in horses, goats, and pigs. Animals may feed on poke plants, especially in the spring, when the plants are succulent. Where grass is short, the animals may browse so close as to get the top parts of the poke roots. Unless green herbage is very scarce later in the summer, animals will avoid the tops and berries.” Source: http://www.library.illinois.edu/vex/toxic/poke/poke.htm. Here’s another: “Poisonous to: Cats, Dogs, Horses, Cows

      Common signs to watch for:

      Inappetance/refusal of food
      Possible tremors

      All parts of this perennial contain saponins and oxalates which cause severe gastrointestinal irritation. Excessive salivation, vomiting, inappetance/refusal of food, diarrhea, possible tremors, and a drop in blood pressure may occur. The berries are generally not known for being very poisonous, and often may pass through the gastrointestinal tract intact (without being broken down).” Source: http://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/pokeweed/

      So the answer is no, they are not immune. I can’t imagine a dog or cat eating pokeweed, but you never know! Thanks for reading!

      • Mike Blanche says:

        How about a cat eating a bird that had eaten the berries? I just discovered one of our outdoor cats eating a mockingbird that had a lot of purple mixed in with the viscera, and I’d bet it was eating from one of the few pokeweeds I haven’t eradicated.

  8. Jessica says:

    Do they attract insects like Mosquitos? I didn’t see anything about insects in here.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Hi Jessica. I’m not aware that pokeweed or any other native plant attracts mosquitoes, but they do attract good pollinators like bees and pollinating flies. To control mosquitoes keep open water under control, like water in bird baths or plant dishes. Look for “wrigglers” every couple of days—they are probably mosquito larvae. Dump out the water and replace it with fresh water. But you probably knew this already.

  9. William chares says:

    I just googled this poke salad which I have ate all of my life I am 52 my best recipe is to boil over t just a couple of times then put it a cast iron skillet with some bacon grease and plenty of eggs and left over rice and season to your liking what a treat I still enjoy this meal to day but like greens I’d does take quite a bit its name poke comes from the name of poke cause you used poke which is a sack you know a poke sack I remember so well my mother would tell me to go get a poke sack lol I was raised like the show the Walton’s remember the show from the 1970 as most of you who have read this article on this plant we lived on and ate off the land I didn’t know we we ever poor as I nev r wend with out my grandma canned and pickled every thing and buchtered all our meat I eat better than most of others of those times one day I wish to write a book of those days gone by which when I reminisce it put a great big smile on my face ear to ear cutting hay laying in the hay loft and drinking freash milk which we owned a dairy farm wel I guess this enough lol for nowor I could go on for hours kids these days think its was such a hard life not to me I enjoyed every day well letter I hope you all enjoyed reminiscing with me and Randy glad to read your article but m reason how I came across your article was I am do some research on ways of stacking small plaints that don’t require a wide area nor a lot of head room in which to grown which would have require as many acreage I have my devised designed which would allow me to reclaim the would and reuse the would with out any fertilizer by knowing what plaints need I know that which plants and weed and other organic materials would make the channel value that the plants would need I plan on making prototype which would allow me me to grow beets for example purposes five acres of beets on just half of a arces with out bringing in soil all my soil I will make my on soil even having excess soil I know this has nothing to do with your article but I am just exside in being able to grow more and using less acres and no fertilizer or any chemicals and way less the labor and back bending which will decrease labor and the cost of preparing the field well talked to much I would really like to share the ideal with others who may be interested please fill free to email wdcharles63@gmail.com thanks for your time

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Thanks for the information, William! My mistake was not boiling the poke a couple times before eating it, and it gave me a little stomach ache. I knew better, but I got lazy. We are trying to grow food in our little backyard now, but poke is already there. I need to use it more and better. We also have lamb’s quarters, stinging nettle and cup plant, which all give good greens (make sure you boil the nettle first!). \

      Please let us know of your other native food plants. We would like to hear from you.

      • Kathy says:

        No offense to anybody, but I never boil through two waters, I just fry it in bacon grease with a little water…I make small servings, freeze in snack bags. I had a friend with colon cancer…while sitting at dr. Office waiting on chemo…an old man approached with a recipe, it was poke root tea. He told her two tablespoons a week had kept him going for twenty years. There has to be something to it, so I eat small amounts…not boiled through two waters. Dearly love it with fried potatoes and corn bread…

  10. Shannon says:

    I eat poke salad throughout the year, even with the stems purple. I was raised like that and continue to do it. I only eat the smaller leaves and always cut out the stem that runs down the center of it, though. And, I boil and drain at least twice. Never got sick. As a kid though I loved “accidentally” coloring my clothes with the berries when I played outside. 🙂

  11. Cindy says:

    This is listed as one ingredient on product I have used during a weight loss effort. Does anyone have knowledge of this used for weightloss. If so, would it be purchased in 6x, or 12x dosages? Thanks for reply

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Cindy, I have heard that this plant is sometimes used to stimulate weight loss, but remember that all parts of this plant are toxic. I cannot recommend it for any medicinal purpose. We keep it for the birds to eat and they love it, seemingly being immune to the poisons in the plant. People who eat the leaves as a vegetable stress boiling the them in two to three changes of water to help get rid of the toxins. Thanks for reading!

  12. Teresa says:

    My dad’s grandmother was native american and he said if he was able to visit her before school started she would have him eat this plant. Every time he did he did not get sick that school year (flu, colds, etc). His mother would never cook it for the kids due to the side effects, but she used it to kill rodents. With that being said, I have always been interested and fearful of trying it. I need to know how to cook it right the first time. This is not a plant I want to cook using the trial and error method.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Great story, Teresa! The safest thing to do with pokeweed is to boil the young leaves in two or three changes of water. This should remove the toxic portion of the leaves. I don’t know how this affects the nutritional value, but I suspect it can’t be good for retaining good vitamins and minerals, but it’s better than getting sick. I have noticed mild stomach upset on two or three occasions when I have eaten pokeweed boiled only once. Never, ever eat the roots! There should be lots of cooking instructions online for this plant, because it has been a staple in some parts of the country historically. Good luck and thanks for reading!

  13. Vicki lynn Joplin says:

    I grew up eating poke and wild mushrooms. My Mom , nor have I ever boiled them twice before eating. Put them in a pan boil eat, or put bacon grease in skillet with diced onions, add fresh picked washed poke. When it has sufficiently wilted down eat. I am now 56 and still alive. I knew a lady who ate one poke berry a day for arthritis and I have eaten one berry, it did not taste good so I never ate another one.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Vicki. I believe you, but I can tell you that I have had mild stomach systems more than once after eating poke leaves cooked the way you describe. I suspect that individuals react differently. You’re lucky!

  14. Nancy says:

    I’m happy so many people have benefited from pokeweed.after mistaking it for giant warthog, I tried to cut it down and possible something was released into the air.I ended up twice in the er- never ate it or touched it without gloves.it only affected my head.swelled one eye completely shut and I was in trouble breathing.Iit laser about three weeks even after two courses of iv steroids.I am highly allegic (er time) to poison ivy, so maybe I’m more susceptible, but I looked like a monster and when my breathing became labored,it was time to return to er.they dismissed it as poison ivy though there was not a bit of itching and it was confined to my face and lungs (as far as I know).There is always an exception to most things,just putting this out there.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Wow! Sorry that happened to you! I’ve never heard of pokeweed having this kind of effect on anybody before. It’s possible that it actually was poison ivy or something else that got you, but it’s good to know that some people might be to be extra cautious. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Heather says:

      May have been stinging nettle that made you react.

    • Dilys says:

      It could be that the plant actually was giant hogweed which could be what caused your problems. Giant hogweed causes extreme photo sensitivity which can lead to burns and some horrific blisters. In some cases children who got the sap near their eyes were actually blinded.

      • Randy Tindall says:

        Thanks, Dilys. I’ve never heard of this, but I think I’ll check it out.

      • Fred says:

        Dilys: Except that photo sensitivity, burns, and blisters were none of the symptoms Nancy had, she mentioned serious trouble breathing and her eye swelled shut, so your comment is irrelevant to her experience. :O)

  15. Miguel says:

    Great info about Phytolacca americana. I’m in northern Portugal and my backyard has lots of it. We call it tintureira for its dye-related atributes. I was considering giving the berrys to chickens. I supose that if quail can eat them without problems, with chickens won’t be diferent, right?

    • Randy Tindall says:

      I am not aware that there is any problem with chickens eating these berries, although they are not recommended for human consumption. Many wild birds eat and love them. Let us know how it works, and thank you for reading!

  16. Rona P. says:

    Thanks to all for the insightful posts on Pokeweed. We had two plants pop up this year on opposite sides of the garden. One got yanked out early in the season, as it was growing in a path. The other is at least 6′ tall and full of flowers and berries. I’m tempted to try a berry, or investigate the tea, as I had colon cancer 5 years ago (runs in our family). I will definitely add this beauty to my Garden Picture collection.
    Thanks again!!

  17. Sue says:

    Thanks for all this info. I had no idea what I have in my yard. It’s been there for four years and is spreading. I’m allergic to many things. I think I will leave it alone. Your site was very informative.

  18. Justin hixon says:

    does anybody know about these green caterpillars I keep finding on my pokeweed? I’d love to know what they are called 😸

  19. Nyx says:

    Hi there! I was glad to find your post. I let pokeweed grow really tall for the birds this year, but now it is already wilting and dying back. It seems kind of early, because even though it’s September, it’s still getting up to 95 degrees in the afternoon here (Georgia)! Do you know if it’s normal for it to be dying like this already?

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Ours is just starting to wilt a bit here in central Missouri. I don’t know all the factors that go into triggering a dieback of this plant, but we have had a wetter than normal summer and quite warm weather. I suspect its photoperiod, temperature, rainfall and other factors all working together. I’m sure your birds appreciate it anyway!! Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Nyx says:

        Thanks for your reply! that makes me feel better.:) We went muscadine picking today and I paid more attention while we were out “in the country.” I saw lots of others wilting away too! There was ONE which was in amazing shape. It was in the shade! So I guess the full sun might kill it off faster. That other one wasn’t very big at all, so I guess the sun-shade thing is a bit of a trade off for the plant. the big one was much nicer! it could hold lots of birds.:)

  20. Arthur Radely says:

    Ive been researching this berry for a while, and I was wondering if the berries could be refined into a juice.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      I’m sure it can be done, but I’ve never heard of it. I expect juice can be made from pretty much any berry or fruit. Just curious—what would you do with this juice? Thanks for reading and commenting.

  21. Aunt Peach says:

    My son and I go on nature walks every day for his home-schooling. We came across this plant and wondered if it was poisonous. We always draw something new and then come home to research it. Your article was so informative and amusing. My son liked the music video reference about Poke weed Annie. Thank you.

  22. Cindy Bolduc says:

    I live in new Hampshire I have these berries which I thought were elderberries. Come to find out I have been told they are poke berries. They said they are poison to us. Not sure if a state makes a difference on these berries but I was told not to pick or eat them.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      If they are actually pokeberries, I don’t recommend eating them. Some people do, but others can have bad reactions. To me, it’s not worth it. Thanks for reading and commenting, Cindy.

  23. Howard Shirk says:

    My father-in-law suffered from skin cancer due to constant exposure to creosote at a post and cross-tie plant. His face and head were covered with cancerous lesions, and his ears were literally rotting off. He got tired of the local doctor cutting the cancers off and followed a friend’s advice to use crushed poke berries as a topical dressing. Before he died every cancerous lesion was completely gone, and the cure began immediately. My daughter had chemo and radiation for lung cancer and thymus cancer and was told that she likely would get skin cancer later as a result of her treatments. A lesion appeared on her face a few weeks ago, and she had me collect poke berries for her. Within two weeks, the lesion disappeared. Many local people swallow two or three dried poke berries for arthritis. DO NOT CHEW THE SEEDS! They are toxic. They just pass through without being digested. This site is very good : http://www.quantumagriculture.com/node/203

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Very interesting stuff. My caveat to these types of anecdotes is that, in the case of serious diseases like cancer, especially when life-threatening, the first alternative should always be going to your doctor. I don’t know if poke berries have anti-cancer properties, but I doubt if they would hurt anybody UNLESS a person tried poke berries first and waited for the results before seeing their physician. Time is of the essence in cancer diagnosis and treatment. That said, thank you for the fascinating comments and for reading!

  24. Don says:

    Hello Folks, Poke is what it is. There are some methods to eat the leaves that would make one person sick and another have no impact. Some of the perceptions drill down to what you may be use to. Some days I take a dose of Miralax to move things along… never if I have poke or some other foods the day before. It does cleanse more than my lymph. But I don’t see that as ‘getting sick’. I have taken 3ml twice a day of poke tincture that I make myself. It is about the same as 15-20 berries a day with a bit of root added. I learned how to prepare the root and berries to make this from a fellow that lived in the Appalachian hills of Alabama. He’s gone now but his apprentice Darryl Patton still teaches about the traditional mountain medicine. Anyway, if used correctly there is good medicine all around us. I never eat the seeds from poke and the root has to be processed properly to make it safe to consume. What most folks don’t know is that this is not unlike some other foods we don’t think twice about eating. Consider the sweet-potato pie you have with the November feast… those sweet-potatoes are poisonous if you were to take them right from the garden and eat them. Learn from them that know and go slow. That is how I have approached every new food or herb.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Thanks for the comments, Don. Interesting stuff. I never heard of anyone eating the root before!

    • Barbara says:

      I sure would like to know the proper way to use poke weed for medicine and food , like what parts ect…

      • Clarissa says:

        Me too 🙂 been eating the young greens all my life but recently discovered diagnosed with those nasty itis brothers. I don’t want to deal with the side effects of the Rx so looking into more holistic approach

    • momof4spoiled1s says:

      Don, I know this is a year old post but would you be interested in sharing your tincture recipe?

  25. Nacho barrientos says:

    My name is nacho,I live in Nebraska . last year this pokeweed grew in my back yard and what a very nice looking plant it is, I checked it out with our extension service here and they said it was posies but she kept the stem I took to them, the women said she was going to toss it in the trash but I ever saw her do that I was there for ten minutes. Any way I pull some berries saved them and cut aalso trim the plant bare handed I never got sick by the touch, I also tried to pull up a new one growing in my front yard, it was no bigger then a pencil, “how strong it is that young ” what is the root demention that young of a plant I could not pull it out.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Hi, Nacho. Pokeweed won’t make you sick by touching it, so no worries. The root of this plant can be very large and the plant can be hard to pull, especially since the “skin” can slip off when you try. I don’t recommend eating the berries, but some people do without any problems. Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Ann Risdon says:

        We had a strange plant suddenly start growing in a planting barrel on our patio. It got big fast, then flowered. We had a hard time identifying it but finally sent a photo to a sight that immediately labeled it as pokeweed. It is exactly like your photos. We are in Lacey, Washington, and from what I have read, it really is fairly rare on the west coast. It has been fascinating to watch it grow bigger and bigger, and now it is loaded with ripening berries. We have a lot of birds so we are waiting to see how they like it. Obviously that’s how we got the plant in the first place. We were a bit worried keeping it because of the poisonous features, and because we read it was a pest, and we weren’t sure how to dispose of it once it had died back. Your information is much more positive than some others, so I feel better about letting it run its course. It has been fascinating watching it grow, bloom and produce berries. It is now very wilty, but the berries are still mostly green.

        • Randy Tindall says:

          Here is a Forest Service site that shows the pokeweed’s range. Washington is included, so I imagine a bird planted that poke in your barrel. Regarding its toxicity, some sites (including one Wikipedia entry) make it sound absolutely lethal, but it has been a serious part of ethnic and regional cuisines since, well, forever. Just remember to boil the young leaves in at least two changes of water (when I neglected to do this on two occasions, I got a mild stomach-ache), and I would avoid the berries and DEFINITELY the roots! But the birds and quite a few pollinating insects truly love this plant! Save some seeds and you can plant it next year, too! But be aware that it will spread if planted in the ground. Disposal of the dead plant isn’t an issue that I know of. We take ours to our city compost site. Thanks for reading and commenting!


  26. Tom Borden, 63 years of age. says:

    I grew up on a farm in Northeast Louisiana. Eating poke salad, boiled twice, then cooked in a skillet with scrambled eggs and bacon grease is one of my favorite early springtime meal memories. We rarely ate them other than springtime, and I have never eaten them prepared any other way. There is an annual Poke Salad Festival in Oak Grove, the seat of West Carroll Parish, the home of Tony Joe White, Poke Salad Annie writer and singer. I understand folks prepare the plant many ways however, I’ve never attended the festival. Work keeps getting in the way. The plants grew in our community along the many fence rows, between the stacks of black locust fence posts, up past the tool bars and through the frameworks of idled farm equipment, and along the tree lines and between the branches of fallen tree tops, any where a mower couldn’t reach. I would often pick a fresh mess and haul them to the house for my mother to cook. I moved away from the farm years ago which is still owned by my sister and brother. Poke salad isn’t found in my neighborhood, so I’m always tickled to get a plate full when I return for a visit.

  27. Hoke Currie says:

    Just thought I’d chime in here. I’m a technological person, and when I was in my twenties, I worked in a cytogenetics lab at Johns Hopkins.

    Most of the job of a cytogenetics lab is to create medical karotypes, which are pictures that capture the number and appearance of chromosomes in human tissues (usually blood). Here’s a picture of one, from a male, since you can see that the 23rd pair are mismatched (XY instead of XX). https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/53/NHGRI_human_male_karyotype.png/1200px-NHGRI_human_male_karyotype.png

    Anyway, you can only photograph chromosomes through a powerful microscope when they contract because the cell they’re in is splitting into two new cells via a process called mitosis. When the cells are not in the process of splitting, the chromosomes are all spread out like threads, and can’t be identified.

    If you’ve hung in with me this far, here’s the pay-off. The most significant medical effect of the pokeweed proteins is to stimulate production of blood cells, including both red blood cells (the ones that carry oxygen from your lungs to your body tissues) and white blood cells (the ones that fight infection). We would add a pokeweed extract to our blood samples, and then wait a few hours for the blood cells to begin dividing, so that we could catch them in the middle of the act and take pictures. This extract is called “pokeweed mitogen” since it generates mitosis in blood cells.

    Anyway, the point is that pokeweed mitogen, in small, sensible, amounts, stimulates human blood cells to reproduce, increasing the number of infection-fighting white blood cells. In too large amounts, it creates too many white blood cells (or too many red blood cells), which cause problems that can seem like Leukemia.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Interesting! This is news to me. It seems that every time I turn around someone is pointing out some new, fascinating property of pokeweeds. I appreciate the comment and thanks for reading!

    • momof4spoiled1s says:

      Any new information on your research? It’s is so interesting to see positive medical information on pokeweed.

  28. Patrick roberson says:

    I have an article from Knoxville News Sentinel I found about research done by the university of Tennessee on the medical benefits of Polk. I can’t figure out to copy it to this post. Shoot me an e mail and I can send it to you. Being in the medical field for over twenty years I found this interesting. I also had bad outbreak of poison ivy one spring. After starting to pick Polk I noticed the rash burning. After several hours the rash stopped itching where the leaves had contacted. Thinking there was a connection I rubbed crushed Polk stalk on another area. It also stung but stopped itching within a few hours. Rubbed down rest of rash and noticed it healing up the next morning on third day of rash.

  29. Shu says:

    Loved your article on the Pokeweed Plant. I discovered I had one next to my flower garden. Since it was outside of the garden I was going to pull it. Then I decided to see what I was pulling first and found your article. So, since it is a beautiful plant and the birds and butterflies do love it so much, I decided to keep it. It has been in the same place for at least 4 years and hasn’t spread, so I’m just going to build my flower garden barrier longer to include this little (4 1/2 foot tall) guy.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article (and your pokeweed)! I’m surprised that it hasn’t spread, since ours can be aggressive and require some pulling each year. Thanks for reading.

  30. Adrienne says:

    I have a 6 foot pokeweed in my back yard, just next to a fence full of ivy. Normally, I can’t sit very long on my back porch because of all the mosquitos, who live quite happily in the ivy. This year, no mosquitos! I was wondering if the pokeweed deters mosquitos? Anyone heard of this?

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Hmmmm. News to me. We have pokeweed AND mosquitos, so I doubt it, but I’d be interested in hearing from others on this. Thanks for reading!

  31. Kristina Whittle says:

    My husband grew up on a farm. He told me that when the chickens were sickly his mom dug pokeweed roots up and put them in the chicken’s water. He said it perked the chickens right up. I cannot remember if or how she processed the roots before adding to water.

  32. Kristina Whittle says:

    Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia is the name of the moth that uses Pokeweed for its larvae. It’s a beauty!

    • Randy Tindall says:

      I’m not sure we get that species here, but I checked Bugguide and it really is a beautiful moth. Thanks for the information!

  33. Steve says:

    I have these plants growing in wooded areas near my home. Until I googled the plant’s description and came upon your article, I didn’t know what they were, although I knew of “poke salad”. Personally, I think they are a beautiful plant, and until I read your piece, I had planned on digging one up and trying to grow it in a large pot. Do you think that could successfully be done?

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Not sure about the pot, because pokeweed spreads a lot through rhizomes. Nadia suggests trying it with a very small pokeweed before it has developed a really big root system. She thinks that might work. Thanks for reading and adding your thoughts!

  34. genetee says:

    I’ve got a friend with a 5 ft poke weed plant against her house, has shade till about 2 pm then shade again at 4 till night does well its’ several years old. It has spread to a couple of pots by seed and grows well but smaller.
    Now as far as poison ivy try attaching a small lead fishing weight to some sort of string where the lead will touch the skin while you are working around the poison ivy, use as a necklace or wrist ornament. My guess is that the lead neutralizes the poison ivy. also I have recommended lightly rubbing the lead once infected. Don’ knock it until you’ve found it doesn’t help, lead has a residual effect and a little shouldn’t hurt if it helps. have a son who contracted poison ivy when the pollen was in the air and the wind was right, especially around his mouth and nose, terrible looking, the only thing that stopped it was a little lead cross given by someone who treated with prayer, I’m sure the prayer did not do any harm and now I recommend the lead and one always needs the prayer, an ‘Our Father’ seems sufficient.
    My daughter works in the plant beds at a college in South Louisiana, she has a degree in plant science from ULL, she swears by this lead necklace thing (no prayer that I know of but one never knows)and that even if the prevention is not complete the infection is way less and of shorter duration. I only show a reaction when scratched by the vine never spreads, yet! have the same happen sometimes with white or red oak bark.

    Have a cousin whose father told him to stuff a bunch of poke weed leaves in his pocket for the heat rash in his crotch area (he is a farmer and worked in the sun all day), he claimed it worked well. wish I could have used this myself

    I’ve eaten the ripe berries with no side effects so thanks for the warning about the leaves and root might try some though as my heart rate is around 90 bpm, will get back to you all about that

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Interesting information! You can actually find this on the web as a home/folk preventative for poison ivy exposure. As for me, I’ll let somebody else try it out. Thanks for sharing.

  35. John C. Kovalo says:

    We live on a hillside that is mixed field and woods. I try to routinely “patrol” the area to eliminate undesirables, which would include poison ivy [that our cats bring in on their fur] and also Phytolacca where it shades out more desirable native plants or flowers. I use a 4 gallon backpack sprayer usually half-full of glyphosate solution. I pump with one hand and carry a machete in the other, so I can handle saplings, etc. Poke is very easy to control by slashing the stems down to within a few inches of the ground, then poking the pith down to root level with a small stick. By filling the now-hollow stem with solution, it gets to the root and kills it without affecting adjacent plants. Simple! This also works for any hollow-stem plant. I try to get to the plants before the berry stage to avoid spread. However, in more marginal areas I leave them alone as there are enough invasive species around here to keep me busy!
    We never eat the shoots but, here in Appalachia, know a few people who do so every spring and consider them a delicacy.
    BTW maybe this is off-topic but the undesirables around here also include Japanese and creeping honeysuckle, Conium Maculatum [hemlock], Johnson grass, Canada thistle, and also cup-plant [Silphium] which we introduced around here only to find it TOOK the place, was very aggressive, and shaded out more desirable native plants! A few drops of undiluted glyphosate in one of its “cups” is very effective and, again, leaves adjacent plants alone. Apply low down, preferably in the weeds, so the birds won’t drink it, early in the season before the bugs chew up the leaves. In areas where Silphium is NOT aggressive it makes a very desirable plant.
    Final note: “Canada” [actually Mongolian] thistle demands special treatment. as it’s very stubborn and will spread aggressively. I use Forefront, which is a sort of 2-4-D on steroids VERY diluted and will kill it out in a couple of days. It’s a broadleaf so the grasses will take over but I only use such a drastic measure hand-spraying each plant, considering it the lesser of two evils. I close by saying that there is no harm in hand-spraying individual weeds if you are conscientious about it. The REAL danger nowadays are the “Roundup-ready” crops that are planted after the farmer sprays THE ENTIRE FIELD with glyphosate. This unconscionable practice is promoted by the Big Ag companies to offer farmers a near-foolproof method of growing a successful crop with minimal effort, but what the cost? A better method MUST be found.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Thanks for the info. We have so far avoided using any herbicides, but, truth be told, there may be times when careful and limited use of these chemicals may be called for.

  36. Debi Coish says:

    WOW! This amazing beast has grown by the walkway to my house, and I’ve had to cut it back. My friends think it’s from the Little Shop of Horrors, ‘fraid it might be man-eating! It’s well over 10 feet now, and now I finally know what it is. Fascinating! I think I’ll keep it!

  37. Anonymous says:

    Im thankful for Nancy’s and Hoke’s posts on this subject.
    Im Surprised at the positive endorsements of pokeweed use often online. Through my famiy’s experience, at least three generations worth, we have been EXTREMLY allergic to pokeweed. A slight touch of the plant to skin, nevermind the roots, causes striated blister type rashes that proceed to spread for days and weeks on one (long after any possible oils remain topically). I find the effect worse than posion ivy and markings remain on skin for months after the blistering heals. I will not even stay in the vacinity while a non-allergic person cuts it down for fear of breathing in the particles. Please inform your guests if you cook it or serve it!

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Wow! This is the first case I’ve heard of concerning pokeweed allergies. Thanks for the passing this cautionary note along.

    • Susan Reeves says:

      Your reaction sounds more like you came in contact with giant hogweed, which is often mistaken for pokeweed? // Giant Hogweed is a public health hazard that ranks up there higher than poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac in respect to its potential to harm humans. The reason for concern is that the sap from this plant can cause a severe skin reaction known as photo-dermatitis or photo-sensitivity. The reaction can happen up to 48 hours after contact. After coming in contact with the sap, the skin blisters when exposed to sunlight. Contact with the eyes can lead to temporary or possibly permanent blindness.// Hogweed is considered a “look a like” to poke according to my research.

  38. John kudia says:

    I’ve eaten up to three ripe berries without so much as a tummy ache. John Kudia (Illinoi Naturalist)

  39. Darla says:

    Not only was your article delightful, but I’ve really enjoyed reading through everyone’s comments. I’m trained in Homeopathy so have been using Phytolacca in potency for almost two decades, but, until moving back to Missouri a couple years ago — and finding Poke growing in a large patch next to our woods — I hadn’t thought much about the plant itself. Oddly, my brother and I do recall grandma (they had a farm up in Lebanon, MO) fixing Poke greens for us, so next spring, I do intend to cook some up (gonna boil & rinse three times, though, just to be sure — and, yes, your comment about loss of minerals etc may be true to some extent but obviously quite a bit remains). I found it intriguing to read how varied individual responses and experiences with ingestion were, not because I’m skeptical, but because I *do* concur that we are all quite individual and some are more sensitive than others (with the possibility of early childhood exposure maybe also having an influence). This has been great – thanks!

  40. Bobby L. Williams Sr says:

    I took a photo of it and sent it off to Clemson for identification. No one new what it was since the berries had not shown yet. I decided today to try again after seeing the berries had grown out. It is a pain trying to get rid of something which comes back again and again after chopping at the root. I have a lot of black birds in the yard once in a while. Now I know why, thanks to your article. It’s also nice to know the danger of such a plan for children. But for now it will stay for a while longer. Thanks again.

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Thanks for commenting, Bobby. Pokeweed is very persistent and will spread underground by rhizomes. Even if you get rid of it, chances are that it will be planted again by birds. We think it’s worth having around, but we do have to control it. Good luck!

  41. Michael Lawrence says:

    I’ve used this along with jewel weed for bites scrapes and as a salve.
    I prefer jewel weed when possible.

    however for most bites or stings it dose tend to ease them. has a number or topical medicinal uses. however not as effective on poison IVY as Jewel weed.
    has mild antiseptic/analgesic topical properties.

    • Roblyn Brown says:

      I bought what I thought was Milkweed about three years ago, but
      I have never found a single Monarch butterfly come near it. Now tonight while googling pics of my plant, I discovered it’s a Polk weed plant that I have. I don’t wish to eat any part of this wild and very berry plant. I have Gregs Blue Mist bush that has the Monarchs stopping bye on their way south! Do butterflies lay larva on Polk weed?

      • Randy Tindall says:

        Pokeweed flowers feed many pollinators, and the plant is one of the hosts of the Giant Leopard Moth. Not sure how popular it is with monarchs, though.

  42. Judi says:

    Sooo…. I’m an author and I’m looking at poke berries in a blueberry pie to kill off a character. Are the berries potent enough to kill an adult man? Would cooking the berries “kill” the toxin? (FYI, I provided my website url for the admin of this thread to prove I am actually an author… I get a lot of weird looks with some of my research–understandably so, hence the reason for my disclaimer here.)

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Not sure about deactivating the toxin by cooking, but I think you would need an AWFUL lot of pokeberries to actually kill someone. You’d be more likely to get them really sick. Some folks actually eat one to a few berries a day for things like preventing arthritis. I wouldn’t do it and I don’t recommend it, but some swear by it. Good luck with the plot of your tale, but I’d pick another poison! Thanks for reading!

  43. Marta Eagl says:

    I grew up in NW Louisiana, Blanchard to be exact. I don’t know about about current events there, but they used to have a Poke Salad Festival every year. My husband’s grandmother (from the Arkansas hills) taught me to prep poke – boil 3x in fresh water before sautéing in bacon fat for a finished dish. Crazy, but when you are poor, you learn to live off the land. And it is good. Never underestimate the strength, savvy and fortitude of the American rural community. I am forever blessed.

  44. Deb says:

    I had a pokeweed appear this past summer. thanks for your info. Should I worry about my dog since it can be toxic?

    • Randy Tindall says:

      Nah. I doubt if a dog would touch it. I’d worry more about kids being attracted to the pretty red and purple berries. Thanks for reading!

  45. Bill High says:

    Poke leaves are a staple here in the south, especially the young tender leaves. Poor folks often used it as a spring tonic. BUT! there is a process that is necessary to eat the leaves. Here is how we eat the leaves of the poke plant. 1. We pick and clean the leaves, wash them. 2. Then we cook them in water until tender 3. Pour off the first water and cook them a second time. 4. Pour off that water and rinse with cold water. 5. Add a little beacon fried crisp and cook the poke, turning it over several times. 6. Crack an egg into the poke leaves and cook until the egg is cooked.
    Taste a lot like spinach.

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