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Common Name: Indian Poke
Flowering plant in the Botanical Gardens of Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Photograph by: Karelj
Phytolacca acinosa is a perennial plant that can grow up to 1.50 metres tall.
It has edible, medicinal and miscellaneous uses.
The leaves are poisonous. They are said to be safe to eat when young, the toxins developing as they grow older. According to another report it is only a form with reddish purple flowers and a purple root that is poisonous[
E. Asia - China to India.
Valleys, hillsides, forest understories, forest margins and roadsides at elevations of 500 - 3400 metres[
]. It is also found in cultivated land houses, moist fertile lands and as a weed[
An easily grown plant, succeeding in most soils[
], though preferring a moisture retentive fertile soil in full sun or partial shade[
]. Plants can be grown in quite coarse grass, which can be cut annually in the autumn[
This species is not hardy in the colder areas of the country, it tolerates temperatures down to between -5 and -10°c[
]. The young growth in spring can be damaged by late frosts.
Often self sows when in a suitable position[
Cultivated for its edible leaves in India[
]. It is said that there are two forms of this plant, one with red flowers that has a poisonous root, whilst another with white flowers that has a white edible root. This white form is said to be cultivated for its edible root in parts of China[
] (I wonder if this is a mis-identification for another species? It could also be P. esculenta, which according to one report is a synonym of P. acinosa esculenta and is said to have an edible root[
Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits[
Leaves - they must be cooked, and are then used as a spinach[
]. Only the young leaves should be used since the leaves become toxic with age. The young shoots are used as an asparagus substitute[
]. They have an excellent flavour[
Root - cooked[
]. Must be leeched first[
]. Only the white root of the white flowered form (if it exists![
]) should be eaten. See notes above.
The root is antiasthmatic, antibacterial, antidote, antifungal, antitussive, diuretic, expectorant, laxative and vermifuge[
]. The plant has an interesting chemistry and it is currently (1995) being investigated as a potential anti-AIDS drug[
]. It contains potent anti-inflammatory agents, antiviral proteins and substances that affect cell division[
]. These compounds are toxic to many disease-causing organisms, including the water snails that cause schistosomiasis[
]. The root is used internally in the treatment of urinary disorders, nephritis, oedema and abdominal distension[
]. Externally, it is used to treat boils, carbuncles and sores[
]. The roots are harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[
]. All parts of the plant are toxic, this remedy should be used with caution and preferably under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
A red ink is obtained from the fruit[
Seed - sow autumn or spring in a cold frame[
]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.
If you have sufficient seed, it might be worthwhile trying an outdoor sowing in a seed bed in early spring. Grow the plants on in the seedbed for their first year and plant them out the following spring.
Division in early spring or early autumn. Use a sharp spade or knife to divide the rootstock, making sure that each section has at least one growth bud. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.