Medicine Woman

  (Waynesville, North Carolina)
dangerous herbs, medicinal herbs, culinary herbs
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POKEWEED   Scientific Name(s): Phytolacca americana L. Family: Phytolaccaceae

Common Name(s): American nightshade , cancer jalap , cancer root , chongras  coakum , common pokeweed, pokeberry ,  poke root, poke salad (or poke sallet),  crowberry , garget , inkberry , pigeon berry , poke , red ink plant , scoke,  Virginia poke,

USES:   to make a great mess of greens, treat cancer, AIDS, herpes

Pokeweed berries are one of the ingredients in the Hoxsey formula


Pokeweed is UNSAFE to use. All parts of the pokeweed plant, especially the root, are poisonous. The leaves and stems are next in toxicity, and the berries have the smallest amount of poison. However, children have been poisoned by eating raw pokeweed berries, and some have died. Severe poisoning has been reported from drinking tea brewed from pokeweed root and pokeweed leaves. Poisoning also has resulted from drinking pokeberry wine and eating pokeberry pancakes. Eating just 10 berries can be toxic to an adult. At doses of 1 g, dried pokeweed root is emetic and purgative.

The practice of brewing pokeweed plant parts with hot water to make tea has caused poisoning.

THE EFFECTS of eating the uncooked or improperly prepared plant can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headaches, blurred vision, confusion, dermatitis, dizziness, stomach pain and weakness, difficulty controlling urination (incontinence), thirst, convulsions, low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, heart block (a blockage of the electrical impulses that stimulate the heart to contract), and death may occur. Animals can also die of toxic effects from eating pokeweed, although it does not happen often.

The toxins in Pokeweed, are usually concentrated in the roots, berries and seeds and include an alkaloid (phytolaccine), a resin (phytolaccatoxin), and a saponin (phytolaccigenin). Their effects can range from embarrassing to very nasty, including diarrhea, vomiting, internal bleeding, rapid heartbeat, convulsions, and much more, up to and including death.  

Don’t touch pokeweed with your bare hands. Chemicals in the plant can pass though the skin and affect the blood. If you must handle pokeweed, use protective gloves.


RHUBARB   Rheum Rhaponticum  of the Buckwheat Family

This is the rhubarb that many of us are familiar use for making pies, sauces, and jams.  However, use only the stalks.

During World War I in Britain, as well as the United States, rhubarb leaves were recommended as a substitute for other veggies that the war made unavailable. Apparently there were cases of acute poisoning and even some deaths. Some animals, including goats and swine, have also been poisoned by ingesting the leaves.   Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, which is anephrotoxic and corrosive acid that is present in many plants. Humans have been poisoned after ingesting the leaves. Cooking the leaves with baking soda can make them more poisonous by producing soluble oxalates. However, the leaves are believed to also contain an additional, unidentified toxin, which might be an anthraquinoneglycoside (also known as senna glycosides).


Although most of my research came up with information on leaves and very little on the roots themselves, I don’t think that with this particular species (grown in the United States for pies, jams, etc)  the roots would be safe to consume.

SYMPTOMS OF RHUBARB POISONING:  BODY:  general  weakness, burning in the mouth, death from cardiovascular collapse.   THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM:  difficulty breathing.   WITH THE EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT:  burning in the throat.  THE GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM : abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea; and THE NERVOUS SYSTEM : Convulsions, coma.



RUE  Ruta graveolens (LINN.)           from the    Family  of    N.O. Rutaceae

A/K/A    herb of grace; herbygrass, Ruta, rutae herba, vinruta.

 In the Middle Ages and later, it was considered - in many parts of Europe - a powerful defense against witches, and was used in many spells. Talk about superstitious!   This herb goes way back in ancient history, which is where it belongs. 

It was  used for a very long list of ailments such as:  digestion problems, including loss of appetite, upset stomach, and diarrhea heart and circulation problems including heart palpitations,  hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis),  breathing problems including pain and coughing due to swelling around the lungs (pleurisy),
headache, arthritis, cramps, and muscle;  nervous system problems , epilepsy, multiple sclerosis , and Bell's palsy, fever, hemorrhage, hepatitis, “weakness of the eyes,” water retention, intestinal worm infestations, and mouth cancer. Rue was also used for snakebites, pinworms, tapeworms.   Rue is also used to kill bacteria and fungus. Some women use Rue for menstrual problems, to stimulate the uterus, and to cause an abortion.  Rue is sometimes applied directly to the skin to treat arthritis, dislocations, sprains, injuries of the bone, swollen skin, earaches, toothaches, headaches, tumors, and warts; and as an insect repellent.   WOW!  Did we leave anything out?

According to WEBMED:  “ Rue  is UNSAFE when used as a medicine. When taken by mouth, it can cause side effects such as stomach irritation, changes in mood, sleep problems, dizziness, spasms, serious kidney and liver damage, and death. When applied to the skin, it can cause rash and increased sensitivity to the sun.”

It is UNSAFE for anyone to use rue in medicinal amounts, but people with the following conditions are especially likely to experience dangerous side effects:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It is UNSAFE for both mother and unborn child to take rue during pregnancy or breast-feeding. Rue can cause uterine contractions, which can cause a miscarriage. That’s why rue is used to cause an abortion. But it also has serious effects for the mother; she can die using this stuff!

Stomach and intestinal (gastrointestinal, GI) problems: Rue can make existing GI problems worse

Kidney and urinary tract problems: Rue can harm the kidney and irritate the urinary tract.

Liver problems: Rue can make existing liver problems worse

RUE is used as an insect repellant. Topical use of Rue can cause the skin to blister.  Rubbing fresh rue leaves on the forehead to cure a headache, if one is exposed to the sun will bring on a dermatitis condition that will be much worse than the headache!





 De Milto, Lori; Frey, Rebecca."Foxglove."Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. 2005. (December 27, 2013).

The Honest Herbal   by Varro  E.  Tyler

The Complete Guide to HERBAL MEDICINES  BY Charles W. Fetrow and Juan R. Avila

Know Your Poisonous Plants  by Wilma Roberts James

An Illustrated Guide to 101 Medicinal Herbs  by Steven Foster
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