Pokeweed is a species of plant that is found in South Central America. It is common throughout the US, Mexico, and parts of Latin America. It is a broad-leafed shrub that can grow to a height of about 9 feet. It is perennial and has wide tolerances for climatic conditions. It, however, prefers loose soil and is found growing as a weed in mud that has been turned over.
Pokeweed has been used both as an ingredient in fresh green salad and as medication by Native Americans. The berries were used mostly as a dye, and were rarely consumed. Regardless, pokeweed herb is not very important either as a medicinal herb or as a food plant, and only recently, studies are being done to determine its use for medicine.
Poke Root Benefits
Many people consider the root of the pokeweed plant to be of medicinal value.
It is thought that different preparations of the poke root are useful to cure tonsillitis, laryngitis, swollen glands, and other inflammations. Traditionally, however, pokeweed root was very rarely, if at all consumed.
The most common use of pokeweed root in Native American medicine was as a laxative or to induce vomiting. Another common use for pokeweed was by dairymen who made a tincture that reduced swellings in cows’& udders.
The berry was also used as a coloring agent for food and is, in fact, still used today in the food industry. What many people do not realize is that the pokeweed herb is actually toxic, and most animals are affected by eating it, starting from cattle that graze on it by mistake to wild pigs that tear up and eat its root without knowing. Thus, if pokeweed leaf is consumed as a salad, it should be boiled twice, with the water from the first boiling thrown out to remove all the toxins.
When eaten raw, certain enzymes produced by the plant such as lectins can cause the red blood cells to clump up. In fact, lectins are the active ingredient in many of the most toxic plant enzymes known to man.
Recent studies have, however, showed that the pokeweed herb does have some benefit. Laboratories have managed to extract what they call PAP (Pokeweed Antiviral Protein), which has been found to depurniate virus. Depurination stands for anything that causes the deletion or extraction of molecules from the DNA of a cell. Depurination is not very uncommon and happens regularly in living cells. Most animals, however, have a mechanism by which those portions of the DNA that have undergone depurination will be added in. When this is not done, any mitosis of the cell can lead to mutation because of a missing strand in the DNA. It is believed that when depurination happens in virus, it will cause the virus to die or mutate as they do not have any mechanism for replacing lost DNA. Studies are currently being conducted on the benefits of PAP, and invitro tests have confirmed that PAP does act against viruses such as HIV.
All studies are at a very early stage as of now and the effectiveness of PAP against common viruses such as the ones that cause the common cold is only now being studied. Thus, it is still too early to comment on the effectiveness of PAP as an antiviral agent.
Side Effects of Using Pokeweed Extract
Pokeweed extract is sold in many herbal shops and online as both herbal medication as well as a supplement. Yet, very little is known about how this extract is taken. Any extract from the plant is just as toxic as consuming the plant as long as the toxins remain. PAP is extracted through a long-drawn chemical process that isolates only certain enzymes that are useful to us. PAP is, therefore, not just an extract from the pokeweed plant. Pokeweed extract should therefore be used with caution as it can induce nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, convulsion, rapid heartbeat, and heart blocks (causing the electrical impulses that trigger the heart beat to stop), resulting in death. Small children who have consumed pokeweed by mistake have died even from consuming small quantities, although larger doses are required for grownups.
There is no history of topical application of pokeweed for skin. Many sites tout pokeweed extract as an anti-inflammatory agent which when applied topically can be used to treat eye infections; remember that none of these have been proven scientifically, nor is there any historical evidence to its use as a topical agent. This does not necessarily mean that pokeweed extract will be ineffective as the effects could be either positive or negative. The use of the herb is therefore left to the discretion of the person. This is, in fact, part of the warning that will be printed on any extract that you get.