Poke (Ink Weed) Berries in the treatment of Cancer; Rhematism, Arthritis and Bone Spurs

In 1973, I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s

Lymphoma. I left Sloan-Kettering Hospital in shock. I was

twenty-four years old and an up and rising woman

stock broker.


My heart longed for nature and I decided to

move to my parent’s summer cabin in the Blueridge Mountains

of North Georgia. I had wisely decided to fight back this death sentence.

I chose the Gerson regime and fasted on carrot and

other vegetable juices for nearly a year.


During this time I started my first ever garden. As I planted

the veggies and flowers I dug up huge, sometimes four feet

long, roots.

 I had been befriended by some local elders

who were teaching me about plants and herbs.

Unwisely I decided to put this mystery root in my juicer with carrots.

Within thirty minutes I was hallucinating and then

came vomiting and frothy diarrhea. This went on for almost

eight hours. My neighbors came and sat on the bed and

helped the best they could. Since they knew I had cancer, they

had assumed I was dying. During that time, I assumed I was

dying, in fact I felt so badly, I would have preferred death.

Well, death did not come. In fact two weeks later, I was

in better health than for the previous two years and all

my lymphatic swellings and tenderness in my spleen had

completely disappeared. My neighbors commented that

I looked and acted like a new and different person.


What was this powerful and magic root? Poke (Ink Plant) root with

the genus name of Phytolacca. This plant has become my

ally for the forty years since then. I have spent time

every year since then studying it, how to use it, how to

heal with it, how to harvest it and how to grow it.


My old time Cherokee Medicine teacher

had told me about using Poke for Bone Spurs.

In the past five years over thirty people I know have

successfully dissolved Bone Spurs in the neck, spine and

feet using three dried Pokeberries a day for one month.

Twenty people I know are currently using one dried Pokeberry

a day effectively controlling pain of arthritis and

Rheumatism. Two women I know have dissolved breast

tumors with three Pokeberries and Poke Root Poultices

daily for three months.


Poke Root is also known by the names Pigeon Berry,

Cancer Root, Red Ink Plant, Shang-lu, Congora,

Coakum, Inkberry, Scoke, and Red Weed. Poke Root

is an American perennial shrub which grows in damp

woodlands, hedges, and waste places, especially in the

South. The parts of this plant used medicinally are the

roots and the berries. The genus name Phytolacca is

from the Greek “phyton”, meaning “plant”, and the

French word “lac” in reference to the plant’s ability to

yield a “reddish dye”. The name Poke is derived from an

Indian word “pocan”, a name for any plant that yields

a red dye, and from “pak”, meaning “blood”. A dye

from the fermented berries has been used as ink and paint, and for

basket coloring. In fact, the United States Constitution

was written in Pokeberry ink.


Early Tribal healers and the 19th-century American

Eclectic Physicians who popularized Native botanicals

knew Poke as a powerful lymphatic system stimulant

and medicine for arthritis and various skin diseases.

Today, herbalists use Poke cautiously for similar conditions

and scientific researchers are investigating its

antiviral, anticancer, antifungal, anti-rheumatic, and

immune stimulant properties.

The Eclectic Physicians, a group of botanically inclined

practitioners working in the 19th and early

20th centuries, left an extensive literature on the

clinical use of Native American plants including



Phytolacca was known to the Eclectics as a powerful

remedy in cases of mastitis, breast cysts, testicular and

breast cancers as well as other types of cancers. It was

rightfully considered to be a potent medicine that was

cautiously used to help correct serious health problems.

Today, practitioners use homeopathic preparations of

Phytolacca, or small doses of the tincture, dried Pokeberries

or extract made from the root or berries.

Modern practitioners use Poke in cases of acute or

chronic infection as an immune stimulant and lymphatic

system alterative, as an effective anti-inflammatory in

rheumatoid arthritis and similar conditions, and as part

of a treatment for breast conditions including mastitis,

cysts, and cancers. It is also employed for “ringworm”

and other fungal conditions of the skin.

The berries of Poke are very interesting in that they

contain good medicine and fewer toxins than other parts

of the plant – with the exception of their seeds. Some

Appalachian old-timers will swallow one to three dried

berries whole, not crunching up the seeds, as a tonic for

“rheumatism.” They say that the seeds won’t hurt you if

you don’t break them open. Research in Italy has shown

that the enzymes in the berries effectively neutralize the

toxins in the seeds. I always recommend that the dried

berries be swallowed whole and never chewed.

The only well-documented report of a fatality from

Poke that I have yet found – after my 35 years of research – is

a case of a child dying after the ingestion of “grape juice”

made from large amounts of crushed berries – ones with

the seeds broken open.


The truth is that Poke, when properly

used, is both safe and effective. It can also be a serious

poison when ingested improperly, but is far less poisonous

than some other plants and many pharmaceutical drugs.

A study published in 1995 by Krenzelok and Provost in

the Journal of Natural Toxins analyzed information from

American Poison Information Centers over a recent tenyear

period. They found that Poke was the seventh most

frequently ingested poisonous plant, but that 65.3 % of

these exposures resulted in “no effect,” 5.8 % in a “minor

effect,” and 0.4 % in a “moderate effect”; there were no

fatalities reported.


Scientists continue to search for new uses for this

potent herb. In Africa, the plant is being investigated for its ability

to control Bilharzia, a parasitic disease contracted by bathing

in water containing certain snails. In Argentina, the

methanolic extract of the berries of Phytolacca tetramera,

an Argentinean species showed antifungal activity against

opportunistic pathogenic fungi.

Poke antiviral proteins are of great interest for their

broad, potent antiviral (including Human Immunodeficiency

Virus) and antifungal properties (P. Wang et al.

1998). Pokeweed is a  powerful immune stimulants, promoting

T- and B-lymphocyte proliferation and increased immunoglobulin


Saponins found in P. americana and P. dodecandra are

lethal to the molluscan intermediate host of schistosomiasis

(J. M. Pezzuto et al. 1984).


A study was carried out to ascertain anti-carcinogenic

effects of poke root on breast cancer cells. Poke

roots were freeze-dried and powdered. The powdered

materials were extracted three times with methanol/

water mixture and/or water. The extracts were administered

at concentrations of 0 to 1 mg/mL into human

breast (ATCC ZR-75-30) cell cultures maintained in

RPMI medium supplemented with 10% FBS and

cultured in the presence of a serial dilution of crude

extracts for 24, 48, and 72 h.

The anti-proliferative activity of crude extracts from

poke root on cancer cells was measured using MTT

assay. Methanol/water extracts of poke root significantly

reduced breast cancer cells’ proliferation and growth

at concentration of 0.6 mg/mL and above. The water

extract of poke root showed less inhibitory effect on

breast cancer cell growth. There is a need for detailed

investigation of the mechanism of modulation of poke

root extracts and based on that, a possible therapeutic

agent can be visualized and is now being used in various Chemotherapy applications.

Phytolacca IstockPoke weed Phytolacca Americana

New research has revealed that a possible cure for

Childhood Leukemia called [B43-PAP] is found in

the common Pokeweed. Anti-B43-pokeweed antiviral

protein, B43-PAP, PAP is a pokeweed toxin. The B43

carries the weapon – the PAP – to the leukemia cells. In

one study 15 out of 18 children who had participated

had attained remission.

The following is part of a report from Parker

Hughes Institute:

The two parts of this drug are the B43 antibody [or

anti-CD19] and the pokeweed antiviral protein [PAP]

immunotoxin, a natural product in the pokeweed plant.

B43 is designed to recognize specific B-cell leukemia cells

just as natural antibodies attack and recognize germs.

When the antibody finds a leukemia cell, it attaches

and B43 delivers the other part of the drug, PAP. Inside

the cell, PAP is released by the antibody and inactivates

the ribosomes that make the proteins the cell needs to

survive. With the cell unable to produce proteins, the

specific leukemia cell is killed. More than 100 patients

have been treated with B43-PAP and shown only minimal

side effects.

Pokeweed antiviral protein shuts down the ribosomal

“energy generators” in cells infected by HIV. Phytolacca

mitogens stimulate the production of B and T cells by the

immune system. They also, however, increase sensitivity to

the lectins of foods. The triterpene saponins in pokeroot

have been shown to counteract swelling and edema caused

by acute allergic response.


Pokeroot is safe for poultices and external use. Poke leaf

is edible when boiled twice. Consumption of raw poke

leaves and root can cause gastroenteritis with intense

vomiting and frothy diarrhea.

Typical Preparations

Usually used as a tincture in a dosage of one drop per

day. Three dried pokeberries for one month swallowed

whole without chewing followed by one dried berry daily

for up to one year is safe. Do not overdose. Most often

found in topical applications like creams, ointments,

and oils. Pokeroot is for treatment, not prevention.

Some take pokeroot tinctures for up to 2 weeks at a time to overcome

the symptoms of colds, flu, sore throat, mastitis, or

tonsillitis. Use 5 drops of tincture in 3/4 cup (60 ml) of

warm water to soak a 5” x 5” cloth to treat skin inflamed

by eczema or psoriasis up to 3 times a day for up to 2

weeks. Ten drops of equal parts of the juice of ripe poke

berries and alcohol may be given every thirty minutes in

membranous and spasmodic croup with great success.

Use of pokeroot to treat lymphedema, testicular

Inflammation, or ovarian pain, or as an alterative for

Cancer should be medically supervised.

Precautions: When ingested, the roots, leaves, and

fruits may poison animals, including Homo sapiens.

Symptoms of poke poisoning include sweating, burning

of the mouth and throat, severe gastritis, vomiting, bloody

diarrhea, blurred vision, elevated white-blood-cell counts,

and unconsciousness. If consumption is greater than 1/2

ounce of the berries or root or 10 berries in an infant, coma

and death by respiratory paralysis could occur. Safety has

not been established for pregnant women, nursing mothers,

or children under the age of 6. Do not use pokeroot if

you have liver or kidney disease. “Accidental exposure to

juices from Phytolacca Americana via ingestion, breaks in

the skin, and the conjunctiva has brought about hematological

changes in numerous people, including researchers

studying this species” (G. K. Rogers 1985).

Phytolacca berries Istock

Pokeweed is most easily grown in a temperate climate

such as that of eastern North America. The top dies down

in winter. The young, asparagus-like shoots are formed

in spring and can be grown from lifted roots dug in the

winter. Pokeweed blooms in the warm weather from July

to September. There is little cultivation of pokeweed in the

United States. It grows wild rather extensively and mine is

gathered from the wild. Pokeweed grows in rich pastures,

waste places, gardens, open places in woodlands, and along

fence rows. It grows on deep, rich, gravelly soils, limestone,

and sandy hammock soils in Florida. It is a perennial herb,

reproducing by seeds or from a very large taproot.

You can’t buy Poke extracts in the store, as the FDA

considers them too toxic for casual use by the general

public, but you can learn how to use this medicine under

the guidance of an experienced herbalist or naturopathic



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