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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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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