Phytolacca americana

Phytolacca americana

Cladus: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Divisio: Magnoliophyta
Classis: Magnoliopsida
Ordo: Caryophyllales
Familia: Phytolaccaceae
Genus: Phytolacca
Species: Phytolacca americana


Phytolacca americana L.

Vernacular name
Ελληνικά, Κυπριακά: Μελανιές
Türkçe: Şekerciboyası


American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a large herbaceous perennial plant growing up to 10 feet (3 meters) in height native to eastern North America. It is also known as American nightshade, cancer jalap, coakum, garget, inkberry, pigeon berry, pocan bush, poke root, pokeweed, redweed, scoke, red ink plant and chui xu shang lu (in Chinese medicine). Parts of this plant are highly toxic to livestock and humans, and it is considered a major pest by farmers. Nonetheless, some parts can be used as food, medicine or poison.

The plant has a large white taproot, green or red stems, and large, simple leaves. White flowers are followed by purple to almost black berries, which are a good food source for songbirds such as Northern Cardinal, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.


Plant Type: Perennial herbaceous plant which can reach a height of 10 feet, but is usually four to six feet. The stem is often red as the plant matures. Upright, erect central stem early in the season. Changes to a spreading, horizontal form later in the season with the weight of the berries. Plant dies back to roots each winter. Stem has chambered pith.

Leaves: The leaves are alternate with coarse texture with moderate porosity. Leaves can reach nine inches in length. Each leaf is entire. Leaves are medium green and smooth with what some characterize as an unpleasant odor.

Flowers: The flowers have 5 regular parts with upright stamens and are up to 0.2 inches wide. They have white petal-like sepals without true petals, on white pedicles and peduncles in an upright or drooping raceme, which darken as the plant fruits. Blooms first appear in early summer and continue into early fall.

Fruit: A shiny dark purple berry held in racemous clusters on pink pedicels with a pink peduncle. Pedicles without berries have a distinctive rounded five part calyx. Berries are pomes, round with a flat indented top and bottom. Immature berries are green, turning white and then blackish purple.

Root: Thick central taproot which grows deep and spreads horizontally. Rapid growth. Tan cortex, white pulp, moderate number of rootlets. Transversely cut root slices show concentric rings. No nitrogen fixation ability.[1][2]

Habitat and Range

Broadly distributed in fields and waste places, and usually found in edge habitats. The seeds do not require stratification and are dispersed by berry-feeding birds. Adapted to coarse or fine soils with moderate moisture, high calcium tolerance but low salinity tolerance, pH tolerance from 4.7-8. Grows well in sun or shade and readily survives fire due to its ability to resprout from the roots. In recent years the plant appears to have increased in populated places. Found in most of the United States except the Mountain States, Alaska and Hawaii.[2][3]

Known constituents


Triterpene saponins: Phytolaccoside A,B,C,D,E,F,G (esculentoside E), phytolaccagenin, jaligonic acid, esculentic acid, 3-oxo-30-carbomethoxy-23-norolean-12-en-28-oic acid, phytolaccagenic acid, oleanolic acid.[5]

Tripertine alcohols: alpha spinasterol, alpha spinasteryl-beta-D-glucoside, 6 palmityl-delta7-stigmasterol-delta-D-glucoside, 6 palmytityl-alpha-spinasteryl-6-D-glucoside.

Other: phytolaccatoxin, canthomicrol, astragalin, protein PAP-R, mitogen (a series of glycoproteins), caryophyllene, lectins, tannin, starch.

Nutritional Information per 100 grams dry weight of shoots:[1]

* Protein: 31g; Fat: 4.8g; Carbohydrate: 44g; Fibre: 0g; Ash: 20.2g;
* Minerals - Calcium: 631 mg; Phosphorus: 524 mg; Iron: 20.2 mg; Magnesium: 0 mg; Sodium: 0 mg; Potassium: 0 mg; Zinc: 0 mg;
* Vitamins - A: 62 mg; Thiamine (B1): 0.95 mg; Riboflavin (B2): 3.93 mg; Niacin: 14.3 mg; B6: 0 mg; C: 1619 mg.

Standardization: Phytolacca is not generally standardized since it is not marketed to public and various properties are being considered for standardization for different uses. For example Phytolaccoside A,B, C et al. from leaves are being considered for antiviral use and Pokeweed antiviral protein, with subtypes taken from leaves in different seasons for AIDS. Oleanolic acid would be the constituent of choice for standardizing for the purposes of cancer since it is present in an ethanol root extract and has significant anticancer properties, for several types of carcinoma as well as leukemia.[6][7]


Traditional medicinal uses

Historically used for syphilis, diphtheria, conjunctivitis, cancer, adenitis and emesis or as a purgative.[8] Used topically for scabies. Heroic and toxic class herb which requires professional training.[9]

Physiologically, phytolacca acts upon the skin, the glandular structures, especially those of the buccal cavity, throat, sexual system, and very markedly upon the mammary glands. It further acts upon the fibrous and serous tissues, and mucous membranes of the digestive and urinary tracts. Phytolacca is alterative, anodyne, anti-inflammatory,antiviral, anti-cancer, expectorant, emetic, cathartic, narcotic, hypnotic,insecticide and purgative.[8][9]

Tincture of the Root: Alterative, for lymphatic disorders including breast lumps and skin conditions (especially when accompanied by a poultice on the lesions.) Also for arthritis, rheumatism, conjunctivitis, tonsillitis, infectious disease, edema, and cancer.[8][9][10]

Root poultice: the root roasted in ashes and mashed is used as a poultice for breast abscesses. Also used for rheumatic pains, and swellings.[10]

Root wash: used for sprains or swellings.

Root infused oil: The freshly dried root can be steeped in oil for breast abscesses and is often used in cancer protocols.[8][10]

Berries: eaten without biting into the toxic seeds for arthritis. One is taken the first day, two the second, up to 7 and back down to one.[11] The berries can also be soaked in water and the water drunk for rheumatism and arthritis. Juice has been topically applied for cancer, hemorrhoids and tremors.[8]

Leaves: Cathartic and purgative.

Ash from plant: Potassium rich, used in cancer salves.[12]

Anti-cancer: The anticancer effects appear to work primarily based upon anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties, along with immune stimulant functions. Additional support for fighting cancer may come from antiplasmodial or cytotoxic fractions of the phytolacca toxin. And, although it has not been confirmed as a cause or factor of cancers, the antimicrobial, antiviral and antithelmetic properties of certain constituents might also play a part in anticancer activity. Further there are aromatase inhibitors and antioxidant properties that may affect cancer. Anti-cancer, antileukemic or anti-tumor constituents include: ascorbic acid, astragalin, beta carotene, caryophylline, isoquercitin, oleanolic acid, riboflavin, tannin and thiamine. Of the constituents known to fight cancer, oleanolic acid appears to be the most significant with its anticarcinomic; anticomplement, antihepatotoxic; antiinflammatory, antileukemic; antileukotriene, antinephritic, antioxidant, antiperoxidant , antiPGE2, antiplasmodial, antisarcomic; antiseptic, antiTGFbeta, antitumor (Breast, Colon, Kidney, Lung, Pancreas); antiviral, aromataseinhibitor; cancer-preventive; hepatoprotective; immunomodulator;leucocytogenic; NF-κB-Inhibitor; phagocytotic; and prostaglandin-synthesisinhibitor properties.[13][14]

Anti-inflammatory constituents include saponins in poke root and triterpenes in the berries: alpha spinasterol, ascorbic acid, calcium oxalate, caryophylline, isoquercitin, jialigonic acid, and oleanolic acid.[13]

Immune stimulant constituents include astragalin, ascorbic acid, beta carotene, phosphorus and oleanolic acid.[13]

Antiviral: PAP, oleanolic acid, ascorbic acid, tannin, mitogen.[13]

In addition: Betanin and oleanolic acid are antiperoxidative and the vitamins plus caryophylline and oleanolic acid are antioxidant. Astragalin, isoquercitin and caryophylline are aldose-reductase-inhibitors.[13]

Modern pharmacological research

Anti-AIDS: Pokeweed antiviral protein (a Single Chain Ribosome Inactivating Protein or SCRIP) is being considered as a potent inhibitor of human immunodeficiency for AIDS There are also well-known three different pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP)isoforms from leaves of Phytolacca americana (PAP-I from spring leaves, PAPII from early summer leaves, and PAP-III from late summer leaves) that cause concentration-dependent depurination of genomic HIV-1 RNA.[1][15]

Food uses

Although the seeds are highly toxic, the berries are often cooked into a jelly or pie, and seeds are strained out or pass through unless bitten. Cooking is believed to inactivate toxins in the berries by some and others attribute toxicity to the seeds within the berries. The leaves of young plants are sometimes collected as a spring green potherb and eaten after repeated blanchings. Shoots are also blanched with several changes of water and eaten as a substitute for asparagus. They become cathartic as they advance to maturity.[8] The cooked greens are sold commercially in the South, but any food use of the plant is controversial because of toxins in the plant.


Pokeweed poisonings were common in eastern North America during the 19th century, especially from the use of tinctures as antirheumatic preparations and from ingestion of berries and roots that were mistaken for parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke, or horseradish.[16] Deaths are currently uncommon, although there are cases of emesis and catharsis, but at least one death of a child who consumed crushed seeds in a juice has occurred.

The toxic components of the plant are saponins based on the triterepene genins phytolaccagenin, jaligonic acid, phytolaccagenic acid (phytolaccinic acid), esculentic acid, and pokeberrygenin.[5] These include phytolaccosides A, B, D, E, and G, and phytolaccasaponins B, E, and G. Phytolaccigenin causes hemagglutination.[17][18]

Other uses

A patent has been filed to use poke toxins to control zebra mussels.[19]


1. ^ a b c Phytolacca americana - Plants For A Future database report
2. ^ a b c Phytolacca americana information from NPGS/GRIN
3. ^ PLANTS Profile for Phytolacca americana (American pokeweed) | USDA PLANTS
4. ^ Chinese Herbal Medicine, Materia Medica 3rd Edition. Bensky, Dan; Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger. Eastland Press, 2004.
5. ^ a b Kang SS, Woo WS (1980). "Triterpenes from the berries of Phytolacca americana". J Nat Prod 43: 510–3. doi:10.1021/np50010a013.
6. ^ Barbieri L, Aron GM, Irvin JD, Stirpe F (April 1982). "Purification and partial characterization of another form of the antiviral protein from the seeds of Phytolacca americana L. (pokeweed)". Biochem. J. 203 (1): 55–9. PMID 7103950.
7. ^ HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council.
8. ^ a b c d e f [1] Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd 1898. King's American Dispensatory.
9. ^ a b c [2] Felter's Materia Medica.
10. ^ a b c [3] Finley Ellingwood 1919. The American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy.
11. ^ David Winston/ Cherokee Herbal MedicineMedicines from the Earth 2001
12. ^
13. ^ a b c d e Farmacy Query.
14. ^ Jeong SI, Kim KJ, Choo YK, Keum KS, Choi BK, Jung KY (February 2004). "Phytolacca americana inhibits the high glucose-induced mesangial proliferation via suppressing extracellular matrix accumulation and TGF-beta production". Phytomedicine 11 (2-3): 175–81. doi:10.1078/0944-7113-00291. PMID 15070169.
15. ^ Bodger MP, McGiven AR, Fitzgerald PH (August 1979). "Mitogenic proteins of pokeweed. I. Purification, characterization and mitogenic activity of two proteins from pokeweed (Phytolacca octandra)". Immunology 37 (4): 785–92. PMID 315368.
16. ^ Lewis WH, Smith PR (December 1979). "Poke root herbal tea poisoning". JAMA 242 (25): 2759–60. doi:10.1001/jama.242.25.2759. PMID 501875.
17. ^ Tang W, Eisenbrand G. Chinese Drugs of Plant Origin: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Use in Traditional and Modern Medicine . New York, NY: Springer-Verlag; 1992:765
18. ^ Suga Y, Maruyama Y, Kawanishi S, Shoji J (1978). "Studies on the constituents of phytolaccaceous plants. I. On the structures of phytolaccasaponin B, E and G from the roots of Phytolacca americana L.". Chem Pharm Bull 26: 520–5.
19. ^ US 5252330 Method of controling zebra mussels with extract of Phytolacca dodecandra

* Elvin-Lewis, Memory P. F.; Lewis, Walter Hepworth (2003). Medical botany: plants affecting human health (2nd ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons. p. 82. ISBN 0-471-62882-4.
* "Complete Pokeweed Information" from professional

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