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Pokeberry is a smooth, shiny plant arising from a large perennial rootstock. Its stalks become purple-red with age and are usually 5 or 6 feet tall but may be as tall as 10 feet. The large leaves, up to 4 inches wide and 10 inches long, are entire (the edges have no notches or indentations) and alternate. The small white or pinkish flowers are arrayed in drooping spikes and give rise to juicy, purple-black berries.
Wichita Forest Park
The fresh and very young spring-time greens of the pokeberry were boiled, drained, and boiled again to make "poke salad" the traditional rural dish in the southern U.S. The plant is generally poisonous so this, and all other uses of this plant are not recommended without the guidance of a seasoned expert. This plant contains chemicals called the "pokeweed mitogens" that are being studied for use in treatments of autoimmune diseases including AIDS and rheumatoid arthritis. Mitogens are substances that promote cell division and may activate mitosis in animal cells that normally would not divide. Some lectins, e.g. those in pokeweed mitogens, can activate mitosis in white blood cells; it is this property that is of interest to AIDS researchers. Pokeweed is also being studied as an agent to combat fungal infections. The berries of the Indian pokeberry have been used for dye production.