Is Pokeweed Poisonous To Touch? What Happens If You Touch It?

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A herbaceous plant suddenly grows in your garden or allotment. It comes with enticing-looking purple berries that “invite” you to take and eat them.

You discover that the plant is pokeweed, yet you are wondering, “is pokeweed poisonous to touch?”. Can you eat those eye-catching ripe berries?

Do not be fooled by its appearance! This attractive plant is among the most dangerous wild plants to humans, pets, and livestock in the natural world. Contact with it can cause rash and some possible adverse effects.

Let’s follow our article from to discover details about this invasive species, its toxicity, and how to heal when accidentally touching or eating it. 

Is it safe to touch pokeweed

What Is Pokeweed?

Before discovering details for your question, “ Is it safe to touch pokeweed?”, let’s grasp the basic information about this wild plant.

Pokeweed (or Phytolacca americana) is a poisonous, herbaceous plant native to eastern North America, the Midwest, and the South.

It is also known as American nightshade, red ink plant, inkberry, and pigeon berry. When cooked by Native Americans, it gets the name poke salad (poke sallet), a popular dish in Appalachia and the American South.

Other characteristics that allow you to identify this plant are its simple leaves, green-to-white flowers, and large white taproot. It can grow up to about 6 to 10 feet tall when mature.

Besides, the most attention-grabbing parts of the plant are the berries staying on the green to purplish stems. Those green berries will turn red or dark purple when ripe.

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Is Pokeweed Poisonous To Touch?

This wild plant looks very attractive, right? So, is pokeweed poisonous to touch?

Unfortunately, yes. It contains several poisons, causing mild-to-severe effects on humans and mammals when touching and eating.

Why Is Pokeweed Poisonous?

Now, let’s discover some of the poisons inkberry includes.

The first substance is phytolaccine, a powerful gastrointestinal irritant. It can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms in humans and mammals.

Moreover, it has a toxic protein called “glycoprotein” or  “lectin”. This poison might initiate changes in the immune system, altering T- and B-lymphocytes. 

Which Parts Of The Plant Are Unsafe To Touch?

All parts of the pokeberry plants are harmful to touch except the above-ground leaves that grow in the early spring. With proper preparation, those leaves become one of the staples of the American South.

The other parts are toxic to touch with bare hands. Among the toxic parts, the pokeweed root contains the greatest number of poisonous components, whereas the berries include the least. The rest of this plant falls in between.

On the other hand, its toxicity levels vary depending on the actual age of the pokeweed plant itself (the toxicity goes up with maturity). The only exception is the berry juice which is more poisonous when it is raw.

Since almost all the plant parts are harmful, be careful when contacting or using them.

What Happens When You Touch Pokeweed

What Happens When You Touch Pokeweed?

What happens if you come in contact with this wild plant’s sap?

If that situation occurs, you might suffer from skin irritation and a spreading, blister-like rash similar to the poison ivy rash.

Sometimes, the chemicals in the Phytolacca americana can spread through the irritated skin and affect the blood, causing a secondary infection.

Be sure to wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants when handling this wild plant. Furthermore, always wash your clothes thoroughly after contacting this plant to eliminate any sap that might stick to the fabrics.

What about digesting the pokeweed berries or leaves?

Without proper preparation, eating any part of this herbaceous plant can cause mild to adverse reactions.Common reactions are sore mouth, tongue, throat, or thirst. The poisons can also lead to nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and low blood pressure.

Fortunately, most illnesses are not life-threatening for adults consuming small amounts of toxins.

They usually last for hours or up to two days. Nevertheless, you should immediately contact the doctor if you struggle with any serious effects.

How Do You Get Rid Of Pokeweed Rash? 

How Do You Get Rid Of Pokeweed Rash?

What to do to get rid of the skin rash quickly?

It would be best to wash your hands with cool water and antibacterial soap to remove toxins. If you struggle with the irritation on larger parts of the body, go for a lukewarm bath.

Apply a cool compress on the skin to reduce inflammation and use anti-itch cream to ease the tingling sensation. You can also use calamine lotion for drying and healing the injured skin.

Furthermore, if you feel a little pain in the irritated area, apply an over-the-counter (OTC) 1% hydrocortisone cream or nonsteroidal painkiller Advil.

Note: benzocaine anesthetic creams or topical antihistamines can lead to allergic rashes on the top of the injured skin. Thus, avoid using them for curing skin rash.

Mild cases will usually resolve on their own. More adverse cases should be treated under a healthcare professional’s instructions.

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What If You Get Pokeweed Poisoning? What Should You Do?

What should you do if you accidentally consume American nightshade’s toxic berries and get poisoned?

The first thing to do is to check the symptoms of pokeweed poisoning, such as headache, nausea, diarrhea, or stomach pain. The poisoning symptoms would appear within a few hours of eating the plant product in most cases.

Then, provide first aid following the guidance below.

  • Step 1: Call for local emergency help immediately.
  • Step 2: Provide them with as much information as you can.

For instance, you should tell them the taken compound and quantity, exposure time, and the affected person’s general health status.    

  • Step 3: Check the vital signs, including breathing rate, pulse, temperature, and blood pressure.

You need to ensure that the affected person has enough fresh air to breathe.

  • Step 4: Follow the further guidance of the healthcare professional.

Do not induce vomiting unless the medical staff instructs you to do so.

  • Step 5: Take the sample of the toxic plant product for the medical professional to inspect.
  • Step 6: Take the individual to the emergency room (ER) for further treatment.


So, is pokeweed poisonous to touch? – yes, it is. Since this herbaceous plant is toxic, you should be cautious if you identify it in your garden. It would be best to remove it before it grows mature and invades your yard.

When contacting it, always wear protective gear to avoid harmful skin conditions and any other form of its effect through ingestion.

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