Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana) ~ LuminEarth’s Guide to Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants

362858_poke_berriesPOKEWEED (Phytolacca Americana)

Other Names: American Nightshade, Cancer Root, Inkberry, Pigeon Berry, Poke, Poke Salad, Poke Sallet, Pokeberry, Pokeroot, Pokeweed, Skoke, Virginia Poke

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Pokeweed is a robust perennial potherb that usually grows 4 to 12 feet tall, then dies back to the root during the winter. It is native to eastern North America but has been grown all over the world. Pookweed is an aggressive plant and is commonly found in disturbed areas all over North America. The plant is tinged with purple-red and has oval, untoothed, stalked, alternate emerald-green colored leaves with a width between 2 to 5 inches and length approximately 8 to 12 inches long. The plant flowers are symmetrical white with green centers eventually turning into dark purple, seed filled berries approximately 1/3 inch in diameter.

We did a home school lesson one year where we harvested, cooked and then painted with the berries. If you cook them a bit they are not toxic. The Native Americans would paint their horses with the juice sometimes in addition to painting other things. We painted dried gourds and put a couple streaks on the cat.

-Jenny Dietzel, Twin Springs Wellness

My interest in pokeweed began playing as young child in the countryside of rural Pennsylvania. My brotherand I would come home with the purple berries smeared all over our faces, arms and legs. “DON’T EAT those berries!” my mom would warn, “They’re POISONOUS!” I’m sure the same scenario occurred for many others in my age group and locale. This was probably the main reason I took me so long to get around to trying this delicious wild edible. Now I am glad that I did!

Pokeweed is one of the most widely used edible plants in North America, even though it has poisonous parts. Because the toxins can kill, this is not a plant for unsupervised beginners to eat. Study it over several seasons, build experiences with other wild foods, and work with an experienced forager before attempting to survive a pokeweed dinner.

-Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill



The first shoots that grow in the spring are considered a delicacy and can be prepared like asparagus.  The young plants, under two feet tall, can also be eaten if picked before the stalk turns red.  The roots and berries are considered poisonous and should not be eaten.

Since they are easily confused with other plants, it is best to find a mature plant that you can easily recognize and work backwards, looking for it next season, so that you can easily identify the shoots. Make sure to pick the young, tender leaves that do not have any purple or red color to them.  The purplish-red color indicates poison in the plant.  Never eat the leaves raw, they must be boiled in three changes of water to remove toxins and make the plant safe for consumption.

“When preparing poke weed for consumption the first time, allow an experienced person to teach you what parts are safe to use and how to prepare it. If the wrong parts are eaten and pokeweed is not prepared properly, it can be Poisonous to consume! It is important to use only the thick, succulent new growth (3 to 4 inches at the growing tips). The rest of the plant contains so much Vitamin A that it may be poisonous unless it is boiled in water 3 times (the water must be discarded 3 times to leech out the excess Vitamin A.” –Cooks.com “Poke Salad”


Pokeweed Basic Preparation 

Boil a large and a medium-sized pot of water to a rolling boil. Boil the pokeweed in the medium-sized pot for 1 minute. Drain, using a colander. Add more boiling water from the large pot, which is your reservoir, and boil another minute. Drain, add more boiling water from the large pot again, and boil another 18 minutes. Drain again. Press the greens against the colander with a slotted spoon to remove excess water. Season to taste and serve. Good with vinegar, pepper, oil, lemon sauce, and bits of smoke-flavored foods.

–Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants by “Wildman” Steve Brill

Poke Salad

1 to 2 lbs. Poke Salad (Poke Leaves)
6 to 8 slices bacon
1 lg. onion
2 eggs

Pick and wash poke salad, bring to a rapid boil for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold tepid water. Bring to a rapid boil, starting with cold water, for a second boil for 20 minutes. Again drain and rinse with cold tepid water. Now for the third time, starting over cold tepid water bring to a rapid boil for 20 more minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let drain completely.

Meantime fry bacon and save drippings; set aside. Clean and cut onion in quarters. Take drained poke salad. Cook in fry pan that you fried your bacon. Add 1/4 cup of drippings and shortening from bacon. Add onion, 1/4 cup of water, salt to taste. Let steam fry until onions are sauteed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve and garnish with hard-boiled egg and bacon.

-Cooks.com “Poke Salad”



Pokeweed Plant in Blossom

Pokeweed Plant in Blossom

The roots and berries of the Pokeweed plant are poisonous to eat, but are often used medicinally.  Poke root has been used as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral.  It affects the glands, lungs, spleen and kidneys and has been used to treat swollen and/or inflamed glands, breast cysts, and tumors.  In folk medicine it is used for its anti-inflammatory properties to ease arthritis and rheumatism.

I keep a supply of dried poke berries on hand. One or two berries, swallowed whole with water, as if you were taking a pill, relieves the pain of rheumatism and arthritis. I always caution students to experiment with poke in the safety of their homes first. What is poisonous in large dose is often psychoactive in smaller doses, and such is certainly the case with poke.
-Herbal Adventures with Susun S. Weed

In his book “The Way of Herbs”, Michael Tierra cites pokeroot as “one of the two or three most important native herbs for treating cancer” and indicates that it should be used with “a broad-spectrum blood-purifying formula, such as the Hoxsey formula” with dosage being “no more than 5-10 drops every 3 hours”.

Information on the Hoxsey Formula and Harry Hoxsey can be found in the book Cancer Salves: A Botanical Approach to Treatment by Dr. Ingrid Naiman .

Click here to watch Hoxsey: How Healing Becomes a Crime (Free)

Tierra also recommends making a syrup of fresh pokeroot, because a syrup lessens gastrointestinal irritation.  To make the syrup add fresh green pokeroot tincture to a base of syrup or honey.  (Click Here to Learn How to Make Tinctures.)  Tierra recommends using 5-10 drops every three hours.

Some research has shown that a protein contained in pokeweed, called pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP), has anti-tumor effects in mice and laboratory studies. In test tube studies, PAP has also shown action against viruses such as herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Research has shown that pokeweed contains a compound that appears to enhance the immune system and has some anti-cancer effects in animals. According to one animal study, pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP), a protein contained in the plant, demonstrated anti-cancer effects in rodents. Another study found that PAP, when combined with an immunotherapy drug called TP-3, holds promise as a potential treatment for advanced osteosarcomas and some soft tissue sarcomas. Laboratory studies have suggested that certain formulations of PAP may be turn out to be useful against cancer cells that depend on hormones for their growth, such as cells from prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer.

PAP also acts against some viruses such as herpes and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and it is being studied as a possible antiviral. In laboratory studies, it seemed to help protect cells against HIV, and researchers are studying whether it might help protect people from HIV infection. However, even though animal and laboratory studies may show a certain compound looks promising, studies in people are necessary to find out whether the results hold true for humans.


In her book “Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies”,  Jude Todd stresses that pokeweed should be used with caution in any home remedy.  “I call it the chemotherapy of herbs, as it is it is an extremely strong purge.  It duplicates the effects of cortisone, which stimulates the entire glandular system.”  She also indicates that it should be used “only when drastic measures are called for and when all other methods have failed or not suitable.”  Ms. T0dd also explains that pokeweed is a violent laxative and diuretic that cleans the entire system.

Young Pokeweed Plant

Young Pokeweed Plant


Poke Root Tea

1 tsp powdered or cut dried pokeroot
1 cup water
Simmer pokeroot herb in water.

Recipe courtesy of “The Way of Herbs” by Michael Tierra.  Tierra recommends taking one mouthful several times throughout the day.

Poke Root Tincture

Click Here to Learn How to Make and Herbal Tinctures

Formula for Glandular System, Arthritic, and Rheumatic Complaints

Dried Poke Root
Sasparilla Root
Dandelion Root
Burdock Root
Licorice Root (1/2 part of this)

Use equal parts to make a standard decoction.

Recipe courtesy of “The Way of Herbs” by Michael Tierra.   Tierra recommends taking two or three cups daily.

My Personal Use of Pokeweed

We eat pokeweed as a boiled green in our house.  I use the leaves only from all sized plants, making sure there is no red or purple in the vein of the leaves.  I do not use the stems, flowers, root, or berries.  To prepare the greens, I boil them three times discarding the water each time.  My family and I think pokeweed is delicious.  It is very tender and mild, it reminds me of asparagus.  We eat it as Poke Salad using the recipe above and in omelettes and quiche.

I have a great poke story! When my hubby had cancer last year..all of a sudden a poke plant started growing right outside my front door. I have lived here 23 years and never had one there before. Poke berries are a natural remedy to cancer. Don’t tell me nature doesn’t know our needs!

 -Jyll Renee’, Master Herbologist

Occult Herbal Info and Medicinal Folk Properties

Folk Name: Pigeon Berry
Parts Used: leaf, shoot/stem, root, fruit/nut
Planet: Uranus
Element: Air
Gender: Masculine

Medicinal Uses: Shoots are eaten after they are properly boiled for a long period. The anti-inflammatory root is given for swollen throat glands. It is purgative and narcotic, expels phlegm, soothes arthritis, kills sperm, and, with the leaf, treats fungal infections. Further research has shown that a component of Pokeweed is useful to the immune system and has proteins that inhibit flu, herpes, and leukemia. This herb must be used with care, respect and expertise because used wrongly it can be deadly.

Folklore: The Declaration of Independence was written in fermented pokeweed berry ink. The Native Americans introduced the herb to the European settlers who loved it and took it back to the old country where it now grows wild.

Magickal Uses: Used to break hexes and curses especially during the New Moon. To break a hex/ curse make an infusion of the herb and sprinkle around the victims home counter-clockwise. You can also add a bit to the bathwater but be sure not to drink any of it! The berries of pokeweed are crushed and used to make magickal ink for writing protection spells and hex-breaking spells. The juice of the berries can also be used in placed of blood in rituals that call for it.

-Tytus Lionheart, Wiccan Folk Magician 
 Author of The Lion Heart Coursework

Click Here to Visit Our FREE Online Guide to Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants

Click Here to Visit Our FREE Online Herbal Materia Medica


Brill, S., & Dean, E. (2002). Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places. New York: HarperResource.

Cancer.org. (n.d.). Pokeweed. Retrieved July 26, 2011, from Cancer.org: http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/pokeweed

Cooks.com. (n.d.). Poke Salad. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Cooks.com: http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1650,150172-232192,00.html

Tierra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books.

Todd, J. (1995). Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications.

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Becki Baumgartner

Herbalist, Certified Tennessee Naturalist, Certified Reiki Master at LuminEarth.com
Becki Baumgartner is a certified member of the Academy of Integrated Health & Medicine. Becki graduated from Clayton College in 2011 with a BS in Natural Health, Minor in Herbology, obtained her Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Certification in 2012, and her Tennessee Naturalist Certification in 2013. She is currently enrolled in the Master Herbalist Program at the Academy of Natural Health Sciences. She has been a Lead Investigator for Volunteer State Paranormal Research since 2010 and in 2012 joined Natchez Trace Veterinary Services, an Alternative Medicine Veterinary Clinic, as Practice Manager and Herbalist. She is also a volunteer naturalist for Metro Parks and the Nashville Medical Reserve Corps, facilitates a weekly Reiki Share at Center of Symmetry in Nashville, and facilitates Reiki, Herbology and Alternative Health classes and workshops in the Nashville Area. Chat with Becki on Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook


  1. I grew up eating “poke” traditionally prepared in my area chopped and scrambled with eggs. And yes, par boiling was considered an absolute necessity for those intending to live for the next meal. As poke berries have been used as ink for centuries, we boys of course had to experiment with that aspect of the plant. It also works extremely well as permanent cloth dye as we were also able to determine much to the horror of our Mothers.

  2. Tried poke for the first time last night…it was really good! Lots of vitamin A I am told. But maybe the best thing about Poke is that is it everywhere! I’m excited to learn more about this versatile plant.

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