Answer: Yes. Pokeweed has been shown in nonhuman studies to have anti-tumor properties and to have activity against herpes viruses and HIV.
All parts of the mature pokeweed plant contain toxins, but the root is most toxic. The effects of this plant on biological systems are many due to the large number of toxins present. These include:
- Alkaloids: betanidine, betanine, phytolaccine, and prebetanine
- Lectins: pokeweed mitogen glycoproteins
- Saponins: phytolaccosides, jaligonic acid, phytolaccagenic acid, and aesculentic acid
- Isoamericanin A
- Pokeweed antiviral protein (PAP)
- GABA phytolaccatoxin and related triterpene saponins
Ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, blurred vision, confusion, dermatitis, dizziness, and weakness. Convulsions, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, heart block, and death may occur. Children have been poisoned by eating raw pokeweed berries, and although rare, death may occur.
Used by Native Americans as an herbal cure, pokeweed has been found to contain PAP, which has anti-tumor effects in mice and laboratory studies.
Pokeweed mitogen (mitogens are substances that stimulate cell division, or mitosis) is a lectin that causes both an increase in the numbers of lymphocytes and erythrocyte agglutination (clumping). These glycoproteins are used to study white blood cell function.
In test tube studies, PAP has also shown action against viruses such as herpes and HIV. Clinical trials have not yet determined whether these effects are seen in humans.
Young pokeweed shoots, which contain very low levels of toxins, are eaten as poke salad (poke salat) in traditional southern U.S. cuisine. It is thoroughly boiled in water that is changed twice during cooking to remove the toxins.
Pokeweed is found growing wild throughout many areas of the United States.
It goes through a rainbow of colors during its maturation. Young fruiting stems are initially white with green buttons. Fruits become mottled and finally turn black while the stems turn a striking red-pink color. All of this is contrasted by deep green leaves.