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(Pokeweed family)


100 species in 12 genera are chiefly found in tropical America and southern Africa.

[Summary yet to be added]

Gallesia gorazema


Gallesia integrifolia

The plants smell like onions (Allium cepa L., fam. Alliaceae) (Thiébault 1965).


35 species are found in tropical and subtropical regions.

In general, the leaf of species of this genus has an acrid taste and "burns" the tongue (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Phytolacca acinosa

The oil of the plant is used externally as a rubefacient and can cause irritant dermatitis (Chopra et al. 1958).

Phytolacca americana L.
[syn. Phytolacca decandra L.]
American Pokeweed, Garget, Inkberry, Pigeon Berry, Pokeberry, Pokeweed, Virginia Poke

The plant was formerly official. An ointment made from it was applied for haemorrhoids. The dust of the dried root is irritant to the eye and produces sneezing. The symptoms of poisoning from ingesting of the plant include burning in the mouth.

Referring to Phytolacca decandra, Bigelow (1817-1820) wrote: "The external application of Phytolacca has been found useful in a variety of cases, by its action as a local stimulant. The ointment and extract have commonly been employed for this purpose. These preparations usually excite a sense of heat and smarting on being first applied. I have cured cases of psora with the ointment, and Dr. Hayward states, that he found it successful in cases where sulphur had failed. A case of tinia capitis of twelve years' standing, which had resisted various kinds of treatment, was also cured by this application." The juice or a strong decoction of the root applied to the skin when tender or abraded, causes smarting or a burning pain (Dispensatory 1884). The action of the fresh plant on workmen in a laboratory was similar to that of Podophyllum causing serious inflammation of the eyelids (Lloyd 1887 cited by White 1887).

Phytolacca dioica
Ombu, Umbu

Accidental application of the juice of the root to the eyeball produced blindness lasting as long as 48 hours (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Phytolacca dodecandra

The juice is used as a styptic but produces a marked burning sensation in wounds (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Phytolacca octandra L.
Inkweed, Pokeweed, Parramatta, Dye-Berry

"I took hold of-it with my bare hand to break it off, as it is very brittle, with the result that my arms became saturated with the juice which looked like blood. It commenced to burn, and small pimples appeared on the skin and I found relief by bathing it in water" (Hansen in Cockayne 1913). "All parts of the plant possess acrid properties." "The juice of the fresh plant, or strong decoction of the root, applied locally may strongly irritate the skin, especially if tender or abraded" (Dr Johnson in Cockayne 1913). Gardner & Bennetts (1956) include this species in a list of plants known or suspected of causing dermatitis.

The plant is referred to (Cockayne 1913) as P. octandra but the references quoted it in concerning the poisonous nature of the plant, refer to P. decandra.

The Maoris used Phytolacca octandra as ink and the plant provides a useful wood-stain (Cockayne 1913). The plant is used as a soap substitute in Mexico (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).


  • Bigelow J (1817-20) American Medical Botany. Being a collection of the native medicinal plants of the United States, containing their botanical history and chemical analysis, and properties and uses in medicine, diet and the arts, with coloured engravings, Vols 1‒3. Boston: Cummings and Hilliard [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Chopra RN, Chopra IC, Handa KL, Kapur LD (1958) Chopra's Indigenous Drugs of India, 2nd edn. Calcutta: UN Dhur & Sons [WorldCat]
  • Cockayne, A.H. (1913) Ink-weed: its value as a poison. New Zealand J. Agricult. 7: 369.
  • Dispensatory, The National (1884) Philadelphia. Stille and Maisch. Cited by White (1887).
  • Gardner CA, Bennetts HW (1956) The Toxic Plants of Western Australia. Perth: West Australian Newspapers [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Thiébault, A. (1965) Nomenclature Générale des Bois Tropicaux. L'Association Technique Internationale des Bois Tropicaux. 45 bis Avenue de la Belle-Gabrielle, Nogent-sur-Marne, France.
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: an account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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