Pokeweed is a flowering plant. Pokeweed poisoning occurs when someone eats pieces of this plant.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Poisonous ingredients include:
The highest amounts of poison are found in the roots, leaves, and stems. Small amounts are in the fruit.
Cooked berries and leaves (cooked twice in separate water) can technically be eaten. However, this is not recommended because there is no guarantee that they are safe. The roots should never be eaten.
Symptoms most often appear within 6 hours of ingestion.
Symptoms may include:
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Diarrhea, sometimes hemorrhagic (bloody)
- Loss of consciousness (unresponsiveness)
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid pulse
- Slow or difficult breathing
- Stomach pain
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider.
Before Calling Emergency
Get the following information:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
- Name and part of the plant that was eaten, if known
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does not need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The provider will measure and monitor person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal
- Blood and urine tests
- Breathing support, including oxygen through a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids by IV (through the vein)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Deaths have been reported. Improper cooking of leaves or eating some of the roots with the leaves can cause serious poisoning. Eating more than 10 uncooked berries can cause serious problems in children.
DO NOT touch or eat any plant with which you are not familiar. Wash your hands after working in the garden or walking in the woods.
American nightshade poisoning; Inkberry poisoning; Pigeon Berry poisoning; Pokeberry poisoning; Scoke poisoning; Virginia poke poisoning; Poke salad poisoning
Aronson JK. Phytolaccaceae. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier B.V.; 2016:758-758.
Auerbach PS. Wild plant and mushroom poisoning. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Medicine for the Outdoors. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:374-404.
Graeme KA. Toxic plant ingestions. In: Auerbach PS, Cushing TA, Harris NS, eds. Auerbach's Wilderness Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 65.
Review Date 11/13/2021
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.