Written by Hayden Stebbins, FH
Genus and Species: Phytolacca americana
Common Names: Pokeweed, poke root, Phytolacca decandra
Properties: Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, immune stimulant, lymphatic (Easley, 2016)
Degree of action: 1st (cooked young shoots and leaves), 3rd (berries), 4th (tincture and poultice)
Tissue State: Heat, stagnation
Key Uses: Young shoots double boiled and eaten in the spring. “Fyfe: Enlargement and inflammation of glandular structures, mucous membranes, pallid. Impaired glandular secretion and function. (Easley, 2016).”
Used as an anti-tumor remedy, to clear the lymphatic system, antiviral, and immune stimulant (Easley, 2016). Poke root oil is used for swollen lymph noes, mastitis, or breast cancer (Easley, 2016).
History: Phytolacca americana is said to be an emetic and purgative with narcotic properties, also used for rheumatism, skin diseases, headaches and perhaps uteran cancer (Grieve, 1994). Pokeroot with kelp is “known to have the ability to dissolve tumors,” and is “excellent for the treatment of cancer, tumors, arthritis, and degenerative diseases (Tierra, 1988).” Porcher implies that its juice may “destroy cancers by eating them out by the roots,” can cure rheumatism when mixed with brandy, can be used as an emetic if one ounce of dried root is infused in a pint of wine and taken in two tablespoonfuls (Porcher, 1863). The dried root was used as an alterative for chronic rheumatism in the dose of “one to five grains,” a tincture of the berries can be used three times a day for rheumatic cases, and a strong infusion use of the leaves and root used for piles, and an ointment used for skin issues (Wood, 1849). A tincture of the ripe berries had a reputation for helping with syphilis (Porcher, 1863).
It is said to be an emetic, but too strong for emetic purposes (Wood, 1849). Blue vervain is reportedly an antidote for poke poisoning according to Joseph E. Myers (Shook, 1978).
Phytolacca americana was used in a combination with Euonymus americanus, Rhus glabra, and “two unidentified plants” to heal ga’yedi or “pain in the back” caused by eating food prepared by a menstruating woman (Cozzo, 2004). It was also combined with Chamaesyce maculate for cancer, and used for swelling of the body, which is similar to its use as a lymph mover (Cozzo, 2004).
Clinical Uses: Increases the bodies elimination of waste materials (Yance, 1999). Useful against cancers of the breast, throat, and uterus (Yance, 1999). Antiviral via pokeweed antiviral proteins or phytolaccins (Yance, 1999).
Studies support the use of Phytolacca americana in the treatement of various cancers and viruses. However, most studies have been in vitro or in vivo with rats, so further study is needed.
An in vitro study showed potential for interfering with viral protein coding in HIV REV cells. PAP may depurinate REV mRNA, decreasing REV mRNA translation efficiency. This warrants further research into the use of PAP and Phytolacca americana as an antiviral.
Pokeweed antiviral protein alters splicing of HIV-1 RNAs, resulting in reduced virus production
Pokeweed antiviral protein was found in vitro to inhibit the production of HTLV-1, the deltraretrovirus that can cause T-cell leukemia. This inhibition was found to be due to depurination of the virus’s RNA and decreased amount of viral transactivator protein, Tax.
Suppression of Human T-cell Leukemia Virus I Gene Expression by Pokeweed Antiviral Protein
In vitro, 1:5 aqueous and 80% ethanol vacuum dried extracts were found to have differing effects on various genes associated with colon and other cancers. Some genes were downregulated in a desirable direction, while others were upregulated in an undesirable direction. Dosage also caused completely different gene alterations. This paper implied more research is necessary to determine how Pokeroot extracts should be used to treat cancer, at least in vitro.
Impact of Phytolacca americana Extracts on Gene Expression of Colon Cancer Cells
In vitro analysis shows cytotoxic effects on human breast carcinoma cell lines with ultra-diluted Phytolacca americana 200C. This treatment showed similar activity to Taxol, a commonly used breast cancer chemotherapeutic drug. However, this effect depends on the specific genetics of the cancer cells. The cytotoxic effects also appeared to target breast cancer cells over regular tissue.
Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells.
In vitro testing found no cytotoxic effect of homeopathic Phytolacca americana 30C on breast cancer cells. No cytotoxic effects were found for four other homeopathic treatments, though the same researchers found significant prostate cancer tumor reduction in rats injected with these homeopathic remedies in a previous study as stated in their introduction.
Homeopathic medicines do not alter growth and gene expression in prostate and breast cancer cells in vitro.
Constituents: From Dr. Duke’s Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Database:
Fruit: alkaloids (22,000 ppm), alpha-spinasterol, anthocyanin (93,000 ppm), caryophyllene, exculentic acid, isobetanine, prebetanine, isoprebetanine, quercetin-3-L-arabino-7-D-glucoside
Leaf: astragalin, isoquercitrin
Plant: caffeic aldehyde, calcium-oxalate, 3-oxo-3-carbomethoxy-24-norolean-12-en-29-oic acid, phytolaccanin, phytolaccasaponins, phytolaccatoxin, phytolaccin, phytolaccinic acid, phytolaccogenic acid, pokeberrygenin, pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP)
Root: gum, hemicellulose, jaligonic acid, oleanolic acid, oxymyristic acid, phytolaccagenic acid, phytolaccagenin,
Seed: 3-acetylaleuitolic acid, 3-acetyloleanolic acid, americanin
Shoot: abscorbic acid (1,360-16,184 ppm), betanin, calcium (530-6307 ppm), beta-carotene (52-621 ppm), iron (17-202 ppm), niacin (12-143 ppm), phosphorus (440-5238 ppm), riboflavin (3-39 ppm), thiamin (1-10 ppm)
Dosage: 1-10 drops up to 3X daily. No more than 10 ml a week (Easley, 2016).
Warnings: Do not use during pregnancy. Do not consume the raw plant (except a few berries) and do not consume more than recommended of the tincture.
Harvest: Dig up roots in the fall when the aerial parts die back.
Cozzo, David N. “Ethnobotanical Classification System and Medical Ethnobotany of the Eastern Band of The Cherokee Indians.” Dissertation for the University of Georgia. Athens. 2004.
Easley, Thomas. Horne, Steven. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory: A Medicine-Making Guide – Proof Copy. 2016.
Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Chatham: Mackays of Chatham PLC. 1994.
Porcher, Francis P. Resources of the Southern Fields and Forests, Medical, Economical, and Agricultural. Being also a Meical Botany of the Confederate States; with Practical Information on the Useful Properties of the Trees, Plants, And Shrubs. 1863.
Shook, E. Advanced Treatise in Herbology. Beaumont: Trinity Center Press. Lakemont: CSA Press1978
Tierra, M. Planetary Herbology. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press, 1988.
Wood, George, Bache, Franklin, The Dispensatory of the United States of America. Philadelphia: Grigg, Elliot, and Co., 1849.
Yance, Donald. Herbal Medicine, Healing, & Cancer: A Comprehensive Program for Prevention and Treatment. McGraw Hill, 1999.