Pokeweed (phytolacca Americana)

Pokeweed root, aka cancer root, chou-gras, inkberry, poke salat. If you’re familiar with this plant, phytolacca Americana, you probably either love it or hate it. It can arouse strong feelings and incite epic comments-section battles – about whether you should eat it, and if so how to prepare it, and whether you can/should use any part of the plant except the youngest leaves and shoots — even whether it’s safe to handle the fresh root without gloves and safety glasses.

I’ve heard of Native American tribes using it for love work, but not, I think, in this region. And I’ve heard of people using it for courage, but again, not in this region. Around here, it is and has been overwhelmingly used as pain medicine, esp. for rheumatism, and for uncrossing and protection, and then the young leaves and shoots cooked and eaten as a sort of spring tonic. (Please do not eat pokeweed without doing your research first.)

Historically, the root’s been a prized ingredient for spiritual baths to take off unnatural illness and crossed conditions. But it is true that it’s quite toxic and that some people can be esp. sensitive to the sap, and its bevy of poisons includes proteinaceous mitogens, which I don’t love, so I don’t *personally* use the root in baths for clients. Long tradition of it, though!

The purple berries make lovely ink. The internet says ferment the juice and the ink will be brown but it will stay. But you can get a decent red if you fix it with alum and it will last a while.

Part of A Bayou Hoodoo Herbal.


first draft: 10 Sep 2021


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