Botanical Description & Habitat
American nightshade Cancer jalap Cancer root Chongrass Coakum Crowberry Garget Inkberry Pigeon berry Poke Pokeweed Red ink plant Red weed Scoke
Grows in damp woodlands, hedges, and waste places. It is native to North America and is found in other parts of the world.
Has a large, branched root covered with thin bark which produces an erect, hairless stem that grows from 9 to 12 feet in height. The leaves are light green, egg-shaped, and grow alternately along the stem. The flowers are white or green-white and grow in racemes during July and August. The fruit is a purple berry that ripens in autumn.
Root, dried or fresh, collected in autumn
Historical Properties & Uses
Young leaves are eaten as "Poke salet", on a commercial basis.
Pokeroot has long been recommended to treat scores of conditions; however, other herbs are more effective in the treatment of all those conditions.
Due to the presence of a saponin mixture known as phytolaccatoxin, many people have been seriously harmed by ingesting pokeroot. Use of the herb should be avoided completely; it is included in this database solely to discourage its use.
Method of Action
There is presently insufficient data on this subject.
Drug Interactions & Precautions
Due to pokeroot's cathartic activity, it may potentiate anticoagulant therapy by reducing absorption of vitamin K from the gut, and may inhibit absorption of dextrose from the intestines.
As a cathartic herb, pokeroot increases the intestinal transit time. Therefore, this herb may inhibit the absorption of digitalis glycosides and decrease their cardiac action. Cathartic-induced hypokalemia, however, increases toxicity and potency of absorbed digitalis, and potentiates muscle relaxants.
In addition to the specific interactions listed, the cathartic action of pokeroot tends to hasten the passage of all oral medications through the gut, thereby inhibiting their action.
The CNS depressant tendency of this analgesic may be potentiated by chlorprothixene HCl, haloperidol, and tranquilizers. Pokeroot's analgesic effects may be additive with other analgesics and anesthetics.
Conversely, these analgesic effects may be inhibited by barbiturates, despite any CNS-depressant effects which may occur. The analgesic property of pokeroot may be reversed or even eliminated by P-chlorophenylalanine, cyproheptadine HCl, and phenobarbital.
The tannin in pokeroot may potentiate the antibiotic activity of echinacea. The tannin in pokeroot tea may be inactivated by the addition of milk or cream.
Safety Factors & Toxicity
Pokeroot is a strong emetic and purgative, but these properties are signs of toxicity, not therapeutic value. Phytolaccatoxin, a saponin mixture, is responsible for most of its toxicity, but this substance has not been studied much. Pokeroot also contains a proteinaceous mitogen called PWM, which is absorbed during digestion and has produced several kinds of blood cell abnormalities.
Some toxic symptoms include diminished respiration, hypotension, gastroenteritis, and emesis. There are cases on record of deaths in children and hospitalization of adults. In one recent case, a woman drank about one cup of pokeroot tea and required intensive hospital care to recover.
The Herb Trade Association has issued a statement urging that pokeroot be removed from the shelves of health food stores; it also recommends further any product containing pokeroot be appropriately labelled with warnings concerning the plant's potential toxicity.
Preparation & Administration
The young leaves should be boiled and reboiled. Even then toxicity may occur.
Three times a day
made from 1/16 tsp of dried root
1:1 in 45% alcohol, 0.1-0.5 ml
1:10 in 45% alcohol, 0.2-0.6 ml
Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.
Am Hospital Formulary Service. Am Soc of Hosp Pharm. Wash, D.C.
Anon, Whole Foods, 2(4), 14, 1979.
Azarnoff, D. & A. Hurwitz. 1970. Drug interactions. Pharmacol Physicians.
Barker, BE et al., Peripheral blood plasmacytosis following systematic exposure to Phytolacca americana. Pediatrics, 1966, 38:490.
Beckman, H. 1967. Dilemmas in drug therapy. Saunders, Philadelphia.
Bressler, R., M.D. Bogdonoff & G.J. Subak-Sharpe. 1981. The Physicians Drug Manual. Doubleday & Co, Inc. Garden City, NY. 1213 pp.
Clark, T.H., A.H. Conney & B.P. Harpole, et.al. 1967. Drug interactions that can affect your patients. Patient Care, 1(11). pp. 33-71.
Committee on Pharmocopaeia of the Am Institute of Homeopathy, The Homeopathic Pharmacopaeia of the United States. 8th ed., Vol 1. Otis Clapp and Son, Agents, Boston, l981.
Drug package insert (FDA approved official brochure) and other labeling based on sponsored clinical investigations and New Drug Application data.
Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Apr, 1991.
Goodman, L.S. & A. Gilman. 1975. Pharm Basis of Thera. MacMillan, NY.
Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.
Hansten, P.D. 1969. Oral anticoagulant drug interactions. Hospital Form. Management, 4(1). pp. 20-22.
Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia.
Hyde, F.F. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. British Herbal Medicine Assoc: West Yorks, England, 1983
Interactions of drugs. Med Let Drugs Ther, 12(11). pp. 93-96.
Kang, S.S., Woo, WS. Two new saponins from Phytolacca americans. Phytochemistry 1987: 338-340.
Kastrup, E.K., ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Co, Phila(St. Louis).
List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
Martin, E.W. 1978. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
Melmon, K., H.F. Morelli, J.A. Oates, et. al. 1967. "Drug interactions that can affect your patients." Pat Care, Nov. pp. 33-71.
Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.
Ngai, S.H., L.C. Mark & E.M. Papper. 1970. Pharmacologic and physiologic aspects of anesthesiology. N Eng J of Med, 282 pp. 479-491.
Prescott, L.F. Dec. 6, 1969. Pharmacokinetic drug interactions. Lancet, 2. pp. 1239-1243.
Scientific Committee, British Herbal Pharmocopaeia, British Herbal Med Assoc, Lane House, Cowling, Na Keighley, West Yorks, Bd Bd220lx, l983
Stuart, D.M. 1968. Drug metabolism Part 2. Drug interactions. PharmIndex, 10(10). pp. 4-16.
Vincent, D. & G. Segonzac. 1953. Comptes Rendus des Seances de la Societe de Biologie et de ses Filiales, 147. pp. 1776-1779.
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