Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, contain phytolaccatoxin which is the cause of food poisonings. Apparently when poke is properly cooked this substance is destroyed. Young plants have little of this compound. The plants also have mitogens (vegetable proteins that cause fundamental changes in cell membranes). These mitogens are absorbed through abrasions in the skin and cause serious blood abnormalities. The book, "Medical Botany" by Walter H. Lewis and Memory P.F. Elvin-Lewis, recommends that Phytolacca species should not be handled except with caution and one should always wear gloves. Compound in poke cause changes in both T and B cells (white blood cells). Such changes can induce white blood cells to divide and mature and to elevate immune responses.

Dr. Gillian Newberry
USC-Upstate Herbarium
November 2006