There is a huge Poke (Phytolacca americana) bush in our field that I have honored all summer and allowed to grow as big as it wants to be. I’ve been focusing on this plant this year, learning all I can about it.
From my vantage point, it has a tough, stoic, decidedly male, personality, sort of dark and a little dangerous, infinitely mysterious and intriguing. It also has many medicinal gifts stored in its starchy roots, vibrant leaves, and bright berry juice. It vibrates life energy. It has more than enough to share and generously gives to those in need of its help. Every part of it smells earthy, ancient and wise. Its strength is sure. Its root is solid and hefty and firmly embedded. It branches are flexible and bendable but very difficult to break. It has a touch femininity in its sweet white flowers and delicately scalloped pink base from which the berries emerge, but even these are manly in their firmness. It is a plant friend that you can go to for quick, effective help with serious problems. But be careful. It’s power is dangerous when not respected.
I’ve used poke medicinally in a lot of different circumstances by now, and I’ve never failed to be amazed at how quickly and effectively it works. This plant gets things done! I’ll be writing a series of articles over the next month or two on the different ways I have used Poke.
I want to start by telling you all about my poke leaf salve.
Poke is very effective for relieving the itching and inflammation of psoriasis. Before I knew to use Poke for psoriasis last winter, I made a salve for this condition from burdock root, comfrey leaf, red clover blossoms, and calendula. It worked well to sooth the psoriasis, but I thought the effect wasn’t very much different from daily moisturizing. A few months after making it, I learned of Poke’s use for psoriasis, so, I reheated the salve and added a few droppers-ful of poke root tincture, as that was the only form of Poke I had in the house at the time.
The new salve that resulted was just brimming with magic! Wonderfully soothing, and with a little extra something that gets right to the psoriasis and promotes a deep healing. The Poke eliminates the inflammation and itching and thins the thick skin plaque, and the other ingredients do their wonderful work to eliminate the flakes, heal the tissues, and promote soft new baby skin to grow. Poke has an effect on inflamed skin that is very similar to that of a cortisone cream.
Can Poke help to really heal a patch of psoriasis, and not just eliminate symptoms? Maybe so… I am very bad at being consistent about using my wonderful salve, so I haven’t really given it a good chance yet. I tend to only apply it for a few days at a time when I have a flare-up that makes my psoriasis feel itchy and aggravating. The salve will calm it down after the first day of using it, and after a couple more days, it will *almost* completely heal so it looks like I don’t even have psoriasis at all. But then, since it is not bothering me, I’ll start forgetting to use the salve. I won’t remember again until the next flare-up, and then I’ll start the whole routine all over again. I think if I could just discipline myself to keep using it for a while longer, this one patch on my knee that I’ve had since my early twenties would be history.
My magical winter creation is nearly gone now, so I’m making a new batch right now using the leaf. I’ve been researching a bit over at Henriettes Herbal, and the leaf salve is reported by at least one of the 19th century herbalists to be excellent for these types of skin conditions. I hope it will be just as potent as the root tincture was! Lard is recommended as a menstrum, but I have not been able to find any good quality lard or other animal fat I can render around here, so I’ll be using extra virgin olive oil. (If you think lard is gross to use for a salve base, read this and this. As soon as I can find some, I’m going to try it!)
I’m using all the same herbs again for this batch since they worked so well together before, and the same ratios — about 1 handful of each dry herb, give or take a little, and about 1/3 to 1/2 that amount of the Poke. (The Poke is fresh, so it looks like lot, but if it were dried, it would be a lot less than a handful here).
Yesterday, I harvested the tender young leaves from branches that had berries just beginning to ripen. (I also harvested a bunch of ripe berries — more on those soon). I let the leaves wilt over night, and just started my oil infusing this morning. I poured olive oil over all the herbs, and stirred and poked to get out air, then covered with a little more oil. I’m using a hot infusion method, letting them steep in the crock pot on low heat for a day or two. After I strain it, I’ll add some beeswax and turn it into salve.
As soon as I’ve had a chance to use it, I’ll post an update here. More soon!