Poke Root

Phytolacca pokeweed berries garden background
Categories: Medicinal Plant

Phytolacca americana
Pokeweed bush in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.JPG
Scientific classification edit
P. americana
Binomial name
Phytolacca americana
  • Phytolacca decandra L.
  • Phytolacca rigida Small

Phytolacca americana, also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, poke sallet, dragonberries is a poisonous, herbaceous perennial plant in the pokeweed family Phytolaccaceae. This pokeweed grows 4 to 10 feet (1.2 to 3.0 m). It has simple leaves on green to red or purplish stems and a large white taproot. The flowers are green to white, followed by berries which ripen through red to purple to almost black which are a food source for songbirds such as gray catbird, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, and brown thrasher, as well as other birds and some small animals (i.e., to species that are unaffected by its mammalian toxins).

Pokeweed is native to eastern North America, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast, with more scattered populations in the far West. It is also naturalized in parts of Europe and Asia. It is considered a pest species by farmers. Pokeweed is poisonous to humans, dogs, and livestock. In early spring, shoots and leaves (not the root) are edible with proper cooking, but they later become deadly, and the berries are also poisonous. It is used as an ornamental in horticulture, and it provokes interest for the variety of its natural products (toxins and other classes), for its ecological role, its historical role in traditional medicine, and for some utility in biomedical research (e.g., in studies of pokeweed mitogen). In the wild, it is easily found growing in pastures, recently cleared areas, and woodland openings, edge habitats such as along fencerows, and in wastelands.

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