A large erect strong smelling glabrous perennial herb with a large poisonous root. It bears its small white flowers (which lack petals) in a raceme that later bears the charactistic shiney purple berries pictured here.
The berries are believed to be toxic to humans, but are eaten by birds. It is a native of northeastern North America where it is a common weed of disturbed, usually fertile, soils. The closely related Indian pokeberry, P. acinosa, is quite similar in appearance.
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. immortalized in the 1960's hit song "Poke Salad Annie". 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.