Study reveals the antiviral potential of pokeweed
05/12/2019 // Ralph Flores // Views

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) could either be a toxic plant or a dietary staple, depending on where and who you ask. The brightly colored plant has been dubbed as "the vegetarian's puffer fish," owing to the wild edible's poisonous properties. Researchers from India have even found that pokeweed can be used together with antivirals to treat severe infections, including Japanese encephalitis, based on a case study they published in the Journal of Herbal Medicine.

The team investigated the effects of using pokeweed tincture against an infection caused by the Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV). The disease, which is spread through mosquito bites, can lead to life-threatening swelling around the brain and coma. People who travel to Asia, especially those going to tropical and sub-tropical climates and rural areas, are at most risk of getting the disease. Japanese encephalitis has high mortality and morbidity rates: A third of patients infected with JEV die, and nearly half of those who survive will continue experiencing psychiatric, neurologic, or cognitive symptoms.

In the report, the researchers looked at the case of a 42-year old male patient undergoing intensive care for Japanese encephalitis. The patient had already stopped responding to conventional drugs prior to the study; therefore, pokeweed tincture was added to his therapy, with it being administered thrice daily. The patient gradually improved he was discharged two months after the treatment. A computer simulation of the biological activity of pokeweed against JEV revealed that the phytochemical compounds in the plant can inhibit its replication and disrupt communication signals, which makes spreading throughout the body impossible.


"Considering the possibilities of both direct and indirect interferences of pokeweed phytoconstituents with JEV proteins, it can be suggested that pokeweed mother tincture can be a good complementary antiviral therapy against JEV infection," the researchers wrote in their report.

A healthy green, if you get it right

Despite its potential toxicity, pokeweed has been used in many medical systems around the world. In traditional Chinese medicine, the roots of the pokeweed, known as shang lu, is used to treat mastitis, edema, swelling, and even kidney damage. However, due to its toxicity, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to avoid taking it, especially for treating mastitis.

In the U.S., pokeweed is native to the South, where Native Americans use it to stimulate bowel movement. Records of the plant being used in folk medicine can be found in a 19th-century book titled "King's American Dispensary," which indicates its use to treat skin diseases and joint pain. It's also used by healthcare professionals for throat relief, treating acne and scabies, and alleviating pain during menstruation, among others.

Here are just some health conditions where pokeweed is beneficial.

  • Tonsilitis. Many homeopathic treatments for treating tonsilitis contain pokeweed, capsaicin, and lignum vitae. This helps in lubricating the mucous membrane of the throat to relieve pain, inflammation, and scratchiness.
  • Skin conditions. Pokeweed is an important herb in folk medicine, especially when it comes to treating psoriasis and eczema. It's a risky treatment, however, if it isn't done right since contact with the root, stem, and leaves can cause a blister-like rash similar to poison ivy.

TCM practitioners, on the other hand, combine pokeweed with other plants to get the most benefits.

  • Adzuki beans. A combination of pokeweed, adzuki beans, and carp is effective in treating edema coupled with shortness of breath.
  • Gan sui. Together with pokeweed, this combination is used to treat 10 types of edema.

If you're interested in trying out the benefits of pokeweed, harvest it in early spring -- the shoots are only a few inches tall and can be cooked without any adverse effects. Getting them in the fall, when the plant is in full bloom isn't advisable, as these bright stems are loaded with toxins. Learn more on how to safely forage for pokeweed by reading this article.

Read for more stories about medicinal plants.

Sources include: 1 2

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