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Potential Health Benefits and Side Effects of Poke Root

Poke root is a flowering shrub that is native to the Southwest and Eastern regions of the US. There are a lot of health benefits as well as side effects of this poke root. Let us read further and explore some of the potential health benefits and side effects of Poke root.

Poke Root: An Overview

Poke root or Phytolacca Americana, is a flowering shrub having red-pink stems and black-purpler colored berries. This is native to the Southwest and Eastern regions of the US, however, it grows throughout the country. One can also find Poke root in South America, Asia, and Europe.

This plant is usually seen as an annoying weed and can be found in the wild, along with the suburban and urban areas. Sometimes, the plant is also grown for decorative and culinary purposes. There are various names for Poke root, such as Pokeweed, Pokeberry, Inkberry, American Scoke, American Nightshade, Red Plant, Pigeonberry, and Pocan.

Poke root is used in medicine, food, and dye for fabric and wine for ages. But, despite these traditional uses of this plant, the whole plant is toxic to people. It requires to be properly cooked in a specific way to make it safe.

Poke root, as an herbal remedy, displays some important medicinal benefits in laboratory and animal studies. However, there is a lack of much human research. But still, some believe that Poke root has got some potential health benefits.

Potential Health Benefits Of Poke Root

Potential Health Benefits Of Poke Root:

Let us read some of the potential health benefits of Poke Root.

Poke Root Might Treat Cancers:

There is a presence of PAP or a protein called “Pokeweed Antiviral Protein” in Poke root. This PAP is known for anti-tumor effects. It is now being studied for its anti-cancer properties, and some studies have also shown that specific formulations of PAP might be helpful against certain types of cancer cells that depend on hormones to grow like breast cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Moreover, as per one animal study, it has been found that PAP has demonstrated anti-cancer effects in rodents. One more study has found that Pokeweed Antiviral Protein or PAP, when combined with TP-3 or an immunotherapy drug, holds promise as a potential treatment for advanced osteosarcomas and also certain soft tissue sarcomas.

Apart from these, certain studies have found that poke root might inhibit the expression of certain cancer genes.

A lab animal study of 2003 has suggested that PAP might be cytotoxic to breast cancer cells. This might work by targeting cells that have receptors for GnRH or Gonadotropin-releasing hormone.(1) Such type of cells includes human breast cancer cells.

One more lab study of 2004 has found similar results.(2) However, both studies are outdated and the results of the studies have not been replicated in humans.

We must also mention that there is conflicting research. In a laboratory study of 2012, scientists failed to find that poke root can actually work against breast cancer.(3)

New human research is essential for proving if poke root can help in treating breast cancer or the symptoms of breast cancer.

As per a study of 2014, it has been found that poke root extract might work against colon cancer cells by altering gene expression.(4) One more study of 2015 has found that the seeds of poke root have anti-tumor activity against human colon cancer cells.(5)

It Might Be A Natural Anti-HIV Treatment:

Poke root might be a natural anti-HIV treatment. The plant might have specific properties that help in strengthening the immune system by interacting with the proliferating T-cells and also by inhibiting the production of HIV viral proteins.

Poke Root Can Treat Mastitis:

Poke root is sometimes used for treating inflammation and breast conditions, such as mastitis. Mastitis occurs when there is inflammation in the breast tissue. Typically, this condition affects breastfeeding women.

Some users claim that poke root can help in treating mastitis because it has anti-inflammatory properties. It is believed that these anti-inflammatory properties are because of the plant’s saponins, which, which are anti-inflammatory compounds.

But, a study of 1976 is the only experiment that has shown this benefit. So the research is quite outdated and more recent research is required.(6)

Poke Root Can Be Used As A Natural Arthritis Relief And Topical Treatments:

The herb is specifically known as an effective treatment for swelling and pain from Rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been used as a topical treatment for treating skin ulcers, sore, skin rashes, infected breasts, and fungal infections, such as acne, ringworm, and scabies.

Poke Root Can Be A Natural Blood Purifier:

Poke root is also a potential blood purifier and lymph cleanser and increases the action of lymph glands throughout the body.

Poke Root Can Treat Oral Diseases:

Poke root might also have several antibacterial properties. In a lab study of 2014, it has been shown that extracts of poke roots destroyed bacteria responsible for cavities and periodontal diseases.(7) The researchers of the study speculated that poke roots work by inhibiting important enzymes in the bacteria.

Some Unproven Health Benefits Of Poke Root:

There are also some unproven health benefits of poke root. These conditions include sore throat, tonsillitis, bone pain because of syphilis, diphtheria, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, fibroids, eczema, boils, acne, enlarged thyroid, and infections.

Side Effects of Poke Root:

The whole poke root plant is poisonous to humans. The poke root’s berries are the most toxic part of the plant. Poke root is also poisonous to various animals.

Poke root can also cause several side effects in humans when taken topically or orally. These side effects are vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, weakness, vomiting blood, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure. High doses of poke root can also cause difficulty breathing, muscle spasms, convulsions, bloody diarrhea, and severe nausea. In rare cases, high doses of the plant might even cause death.

If you are breastfeeding do not apply poke root products on your breasts. This is unsafe for your baby to consume the plant product.


Poke root is an extremely traditional herbal remedy that might treat cancer, inflammation, and infection. However, more research is required to prove the benefits for humans.

Again, raw poke root is toxic to people and can cause several side effects. So, one should use the plant or plant extract with caution. It is not a good idea to experiment with raw poke root for treating any health condition on your own. It is good to use only prepared formulations from reputed or trusted sources and from which the toxins have been removed, leaving only the good things.


Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 13, 2021

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