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Poke root, also known as pokeroot and poke-root, commonly comes from a plant with the scientific name Phytolacca decandra that is native to North America. This plant is known under various names, including inkberry, pokeweed, and pigeon berry. All parts of this plant, including the root, contain toxins that can cause serious side effects if ingested, such as vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, muscle spasms, and in severe cases death. Many medical authorities and medical professionals advise against using any amount of the Phytolacca decandra plant, in any form, because of its toxicity. In spite of its toxicity, there are many medical uses of poke root in traditional folk medicine, where small amounts of dried root are ingested or applied topically to treat conditions such as skin diseases, joint pain, inflammation, and skin and breast cancer.
In traditional folk medicine, poke root is almost always used in dried form and only in very small doses to avoid poisoning. It is important to note that the medical benefits of this root are not scientifically proven. Also, pregnant women and children should never ingest the root or any other part of the plant.
The medical benefits of ingesting poke root are said to include effects on the lymphatic system that can help with swollen glands in the throat, breasts and reproductive organs. In folk medicine, it is also used to treat various types of infections, such as ear infections, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. Ingesting the dried root is also thought to help with the pain and swelling of arthritis and rheumatism. Proponents of this herb also claim that it can stimulate the immune system and clear the body of toxins. The root can also be used in the form of poke root cream and poke root oil to treat various types of skin problems, like acne, eczema, boils, ringworm, wounds, and scabies.
Poke root contains antiviral proteins that are the subject of medical research to determine if they can be used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. This research is still highly preliminary and experimental. Some practitioners of alternative medicine claim that the root and other parts of the Phytolacca decandra plant can be used to treat cancer, including breast cancer and skin cancer. However, there is no scientific proof that poke root is an effective cancer treatment. It is not advisable to use any parts of this plant to treat any medical conditions without first consulting a physician.