Poke RootBotanical Name: Phytolacca decandra (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Phytolaccaceae
Synonyms: Phytolacca Root. Phytolaccae Radix. Phytolacca Berry. Phytolaccae Bacca. Phytolacca Vulgaris. Phytolacca Americana. Blitum Americanum. Branching Phytolacca. Phytolaque. Garget. Pigeon Berry. Méchoacan du Canada. Bear's Grape. Poke Weed. Raisin d'Amérique. Red-ink Plant. American Spinach. Skoke. Crowberry. Jalap. Cancer-root. American Nightshade. Pocan or Cokan. Coakum. Chongras. Morelle à Grappes. Herbe de la Laque. Amerikanische scharlachbeere. Kermesbeere. Virginian Poke. Poke Berry.
Parts Used: Dried root, berries.
Habitat: Indigenous to North America. Common in Mediterranean countries.
Description: This is regarded as one of the most important of indigenous American plants, and one of the most striking in appearance. The perennial root is large and fleshy, the stem hollow, the leaves alternate and ovate-lanceolate, and the flowers have a white calyx with no corolla. The fruit is a deep purple berry, covering the stem in clusters and resembling blackberries.
The young shoots make a good substitute for asparagus, and poultry eat the berries, though large quantities give the flesh an unpleasant flavour, also causing it to become purgative, when eaten.
In Portugal the use of the juice of the berries to colour port wines was discontinued because it spoilt the taste. The stain of the juice is a beautiful purple, and would make a useful dye if a way of fixing it were found.
A decoction of the roots has been used for drenching cattle.
As found in commerce the roots are usually sliced either longitudinally or transversely, are grey in colour, hard and wrinkled. The fracture is fibrous. It is inodorous, and the taste is acrid and slightly sweet.
It is often used to adulterate belladonna, but may be recognized by the concentric rings of wood bundles in the transverse section. The leaves are used for the same purpose, requiring microscopical identification.
Constituents: Phytolaccic acid has been obtained from the berries, and tannin. In theroot a non-reducing sugar, formic acid, and a small percentage of bitter resin have been found. The alkaloid Phytolaccin may be present in small quantities, but it has not been proved. A resinoid substance is called phytolaccin. The virtues are extracted by alcohol, diluted alcohol, and water. The powder is said to be sternutatory.
Medicinal Action and Uses: A slow emetic and purgative with narcotic properties. As an alterative it is used in chronic rheumatism and granular conjunctivitis. As an ointment, in the proportion of a drachm to the ounce, it is used in psora, tinea capitis, favus and sycosis, and other skin diseases, causing at first smarting and heat.
The slowness of action and the narcotic effects that accompany it render its use as an emetic inadvisable. It is used as a cathartic in paralysis of the bowels. Headaches of many sources are benefited by it, and both lotion and tincture are used in leucorrhoea.
As a poultice it causes rapid suppuration in felons. The extract is said to have been used in chronic rheumatism and haemorrhoids.
Authorities differ as to its value in cancer. Great relief towards the close of a difficult case of cancer of the uterus was obtained by an external application of 3 OZ. of Poke Root and 1 OZ. of Tincture used in the strength of 1 tablespoonful to 3 pints of tepid water for bathing the part. It is also stated to be of undoubted value as an internal remedy in cancer of the breast.
The following prescription has been recommended: Fluid extracts of Phytolacca (2 OZ.), Gentian 1 OZ.) and Dandelion 1 OZ.), with Simple Syrup to make a pint. One teaspoonful may be taken after each meal.
Infused in spirits, the fruit is used in chronic rheumatism, being regarded as equal to Guaicum.
It is doubtful if the root will cure syphilis without the help of mercury.
Dosages: As emetic, 10 to 30 grains. As alterative, 1 to 5 grains. Of fluid extract of berries, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Of fluid extract of root, 1/4 to 1/2 drachm; as an emetic, 15 drops; as an alterative, 2 drops. Phytolaccin, 1 to 3 grains.
Poisons and Antidotes: In the lower animals convulsions and death from paralysis of respiration may be caused. Overdoses may produce considerable vomiting and purging, prostration, convulsions and death.
Other Species: Phytolacca drastica of Chile is a violent purgative.