Poke, one of the many common names for Phytolacca decandra (Gr. , a plant, and Fr. lac, lake, from the color of the berries), which is also called garget, pigeon berry, co-cum, scoke, and mechoacan. The genus gives its name to a small apetalous family, the phy-tolaccacem, of which it is the only representative in the Atlantic states, where it abounds; it also grows in North Africa, the Azores, China, and the Sandwich islands. It has a large, branched, fleshy root, from which arise numerous herbaceous, branching stems, 6 or 8 ft. high; the pith of the stems, especially late in the season, is curiously arranged iu horizontal plates; the large, petioled leaves are alternate; the flowers, borne in long racemes opposite the leaves, have a white calyx of five rounded sepals; 5 to 30 stamens, and a pistil the ovary of which consists ef 5 to 12 carpels united in a ring, and which ripens into a flattened, dark-purple berry filled with a crimson juice. The plant is found on the borders of fields and clearings; its roots are very tenacious of life, and it sometimes becomes a weed; it is but little esteemed in this country, but in Europe it is valued as an ornamental plant.
All parts of the plant possess active properties; it gets one of its popular names from the use of the root to cure an inflammation of the udder in cows called garget. The old leaves partake of the properties of the root, but the young shoots, as they start in spring, and before the leaves are developed, are by many highly esteemed as a table vegetable, cooked in the same manner as asparagus. The berries yield a remarkably rich crimson juice, but the color is fugitive and has not been fixed. Death has resulted from eating the raw berries, and severe purging has followed from eating the flesh of pigeons which had fed upon them; and though pies have sometimes been made from them, the heat of cooking probably destroying their poisonoils qualities, they should be looked upon with suspicion. A tincture of the berries has long been a popular remedy for chronic rheumatism. The root is emetic, acting usually only some time after the dose is administered, and then continuing to act for a long time upon the stomach and bowels. Drowsiness, vertigo, and dimness of vision have been observed after its use, and when large quantities have been taken, great prostration and convulsions. Infusions and ointments made with it have been used externally in cutaneous diseases.
Its reputation as a remedy for cancer, which it shares with so many other vegetables, undoubtedly rests on erroneous diagnosis. - Indian poke is a name often given to the American hellebore (vera-trum viride), which has very different properties. (See Hellebore).
Poke (Phytolacca decandra).