Is Pokeweed Poisonous to Touch?

Recently, Uncle John fell bite on Pokeweed berries, mistaking them for grapes on Halloween eve. It did not take time for us to listen to a commotion. 

Thankfully, he spat as soon as it reached his tongue and rushed toward me to ask about it. I observed the bitten fruit and told him about its toxicity. 

Generally, Pokeweed consists of toxins like phytolaccatoxin, phytolaccine, and phytolaccigenin, which can invade the skin cells and enter the body. When touched by any part of the plant, the person undergoes skin, respiratory and digestive issues.

A vine of purple berries of Pokeweed
Berries of Pokeweed are less toxic than roots and stems.

Though Pokeweed plants are toxic, I grow them for Mike, my pet raccoon. These plants are natural wildlife feeders, which Mike munches all day. 

Usually, I care for my safety when working with Pokeweed. 

So stay with the article till the end to know the precautionary steps to avoid possible Pokeweed symptoms and re-growing them.

Is Pokeweed Poisonous to Touch?

Once recognized as traditional medicine, Pokeweed has become a poison for humans, pets, and livestock.

Every part of Pokeweed, from the rootstock to the stem and leaves, is poisonous even without getting into your stomach.

According to an article published in Palomar, Pokeweed contains phytolaccatoxin, phytolaccine, and phytolaccigenin as major toxins.

These substances can easily enter the bloodstream of humans even when touched.

The toxins can form a chain reaction inside the body and hamper the digestive and respiratory systems.

These poisonous substances are present in the roots, berries, and seeds.

A person is holding a seedling of Pokeweed that is poisonous to touch
Young seedling of Pokeweed is less poisonous to touch than mature ones, but better to avoid them.

Comparatively, mature plants have higher toxins levels than young ones.

According to a research from NC State Extension, Phytolacca Americana var. rigida has high poison severity, possessing toxicity class 1, 2 while Phytolacca Americana has medium poison severity in humans.

And if you are a pet lover, you need to remove the Pokeweed as soon as you notice them since they are poisonous to touch. 

What are the Symptoms of Touching Pokeweed?

Also known as American nightshade, Pokeweed is omnipresent in the United States, and any of us can encounter them unknowingly.

Inkberry or Pokeweed is not a fast reactor, so the reactions are visible only six to eight hours of ingestion.

The common symptoms of touching Pokeweed include skin irritation and respiratory and digestive issues. 

However, look at the symptoms below to be sure if the discomfort is really from Pokeweed.

SymptomsWays of Checking
Convulsions (Seizures)You will have a sudden difficulty in breathing due to drop in blood pressure and lack of oxygen in brain.
Skin IrritationThe exposed part to the toxin feel itchy and turn to red rashes.

In mild cases, skin become blotchy and prickling discoloration occurs.

In severe cases break out of spreading blisters take place.
Muscle SpasmsYou will have cramps in different body parts like hand and feet due to lack of blood circulation to the muscles.
Inconsistent HeartbeatThe blood pressure and heartbeat decreases at first.

After some movement, you will feel your heartbeat increasing due to adequate blood flow.
HeadacheYou will feel gradual pain on the both side of your heads.

The pain increases with time and might hamper your vision.
Nausea and VomitingYou will feel discomfort in your stomach and feel like throwing up.

Lack of appetite may be triggered and salvation increases.
DiarrheaLiquid stool

In severe condition, blood is seen along the stool.

The roots, stems, leaves, and berries of Pokeweed cause an allergic reaction similar to the toxic behavior of oak or ivy. 

What to do if You Touch Pokeweed?

The poisonous symptoms may take at least 2-6 hours to appear, so you can have plenty of time to prevent them and save pets and humans from undergoing severe conditions. 

Here are some treatments that can help to lessen the impact to a certain extent.

1. First Aid Treatment

First, be calm! The initial stage of poisoning may not be deadly if noticed earlier and can be cured with first aid knowledge.

  • Immediately contact the local Poison Control Center on their Poison Helpline number  (1-800-222-1222) from any location in the United States.
  • Do not make the person vomit until recommended by the control department.
  • Avoid scratching the skin area even if you feel itchy, as that can spread the poison over the skin.
  • If the rash is mediocre, wash off the affected area with soapy water, and better to use lukewarm water.
colored hand with berries-of-pokeweed
Keeping a first aid kit alongside for the worst-case scenario is always helpful.
  • Immediately apply a topical cream rich in corticosteroids like hydrocortisone and avoid using antihistamines or benzocaine as they may worsen the situation.
  • Try using an ice pack over the rashes for about twenty minutes until you see the rashes dissipate.

However, if the situation has worsened than your expectation, seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

2. Medical Treatment

Even after the first aid treatment, the reaction might not subside in some severe cases. And that is when professionals have to enter.

The procedures in the health center and hospitals include treatments based on the symptoms.

  • The doctors or professionals will assign the infected person Blood Tests, Urine Tests, Chest X-rays, and an examination of ECG.
  • If the person suffocates, they arrange an oxygen mask.
  • Also, they will inject IV Fluid into the body. 
  • The person also needs to engulf Laxatives if they have constipation issues. 

In most cases, recovery takes about 24-48 hours for mild toxicity discovered in the early stage. 

How to Grow Pokeweed with Safety Measures?

Although each part of Pokeweed has toxicity, Europeans or Americans love growing it for its shiny berries and reddish stems.

If you also like to grow Pokeweed, consider the points below for tips with the utmost safety.

  • Firstly, wear gloves to prevent direct contact with the plant berries, as you need to collect seeds from the berries, or you can buy Pokeweed seeds.
  • Do a water test on the seeds and throw away the seeds that float as they are non-viable and soak for two days.
  • Drain out the water and let the seeds dry on a paper towel.
  • Place the Pokeweed seeds in a plastic zip bag and put it inside the refrigerator for cold stratification at a temperature of 40ºF for at least three months.

Know clear steps on how to germinate seeds successfully on a Paper towel.

  • After the seeds have germinated, choose a location that receives both direct sun and partial shade, preferably in the backyard, to prevent children from touching them.
  • Soil can be of any type since Pokeweeds can thrive on any land but try to keep the pH within the range of 4.7-8.0 and should be compost-rich.
  • Now, plant the germinated seedlings in the time of early spring.
Seedling of Pokeweed is growing on the ground.
Thin the seedling and plant at a distance of 3 feet.
  • Keep the row distance about four feet apart and plant to three feet. However, plant the seedlings closer if you only use young leaves.
  • Cover the seed lightly with the soil to enhance germination.

You can multiply the Pokeweed even from the roots, but I would not recommend that, as the roots have the highest level of toxicity.

How to Get Rid of Pokeweed?

Pokeweeds can be your ally if the growth is limited and foe at the same moment if it goes as an invasive weed.

And at the time of invasiveness, it is better to remove the Pokeweed entirely. For that, follow the steps given below.

  • Mature Pokeweeds tend to have a deep-rooted system, so it would be a bad option to pull it out.
  • However, you can pull out young seedlings of Pokeweed, but before pulling, wear gloves and full-sleeve clothes, as Pokeweed is poisonous even to the touch.
  • Dig out the roots using a spade and completely pull out the tap root.
  • Also, check out any ripe berries in the cultivation areas to prevent re-infestation of Pokeweed. 
  • Check under the tree canopies, rows of fences, and the areas below perches for early detection.
  • Do foliar spray using weed killer containing at least 61% active ingredient of Triclopyr like Brushtox Brush Killer, mixing 1-1.25 ounces of total product in a gallon of water.
  • Alternatively, you can mix 6.5 ounces of Triclopyr of 61% active ingredients with 13 ounces of seed oil per gallon of water.
A gallon of glyphosphate herbicide.
Avoid applying Glyphosphate to the cultivated plants as they can kill the entire plant.
  • Spraying 2.5-4 ounces of 41% of Glyphosate as the active ingredient per gallon of water can control the Pokeweed to the most extent.
  • But be cautious not to spray the glyphosate solution on nearby plants and grasses as it can kill them too, and choose a sunny day.


Pokeweeds seem attractive for their grape-like and beautiful purplish berries and have therapeutic effects in treating rheumatism, tonsilitis, and anxiety.

However, Pokeweed is poisonous if you are not handling them carefully and can severely affect you from the touch.

And in most cases, the toxicity can be lethal, causing gastrointestinal discomfort, vomiting, and headache.

So do not hurry to touch the Pokeweed, and adhere to the required precautions.

If you are a fur parent, know whether Corn plants, Lilies, Gardenia, and Alocasia are toxic to cats or not?

Safe Gardening!

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