Is Pokeweed Poisonous To Touch? Risks, Symptoms, and More

American pokeweed, also known as Phytolacca americana, is a perennial plant that can grow as a small plant, shrub, or tree.

It’s native to the eastern half of North America and stands out with its purple berries, magenta stems, and tiny white flowers, which later turn into tempting berries.

But don’t be fooled. Is pokeweed poisonous to touch? Yes. Pokeweed, sometimes called American nightshade, has been long documented as one of the most dangerous plants to humans, pets, and livestock in the natural world.

This article will explain if touching pokeweed is dangerous and guide you through the effects of touching or eating pokeweed berries.

Key Takeaways

  • Touching the plant’s juices, be it from berries, roots, or cut stems, can absorb toxic phytolacca proteins into the body, causing skin irritations and potential harm to the respiratory and digestive systems.
  • Eating any part of the pokeweed plant can pose risks, including symptoms like nausea, severe stomach pain, vomiting, and in extreme cases, serious issues like cardiac problems, seizures, and even death.
  • To prevent poisoning or skin irritations, it’s crucial to wear protective clothing and gloves when handling pokeweed, especially during removal. If symptoms or skin rashes occur after exposure, seeking medical attention is recommended.

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I touched pokeweed with my bare hands, now what?

Identification of Pokeweed ( and toxicity/edibility)

Coming in contact with pokeweed juices, whether from berries, roots, or cut stems, these phytolaccine proteins can be absorbed into your body, causing a chain reaction of harm to your respiratory and digestive systems. Moreover, instances of rashes and skin irritations, similar to those caused by poison ivy, have been frequently documented.

Indeed, in the distant past, people commonly brewed pokeweed tea. While some online forums claim it’s edible and relatively safe, scientific research and real-life experiences suggest caution.

If you’re trying to get rid of pokeweed on your property, make sure to wear protective clothing to prevent sap from touching your skin. On a nature hike, if you spot pokeweed, it’s best to appreciate its interesting and colorful appearance from a distance and continue your hike.

Poisoning Symptoms After Touching Pokeweed

is pokeweed poisonous to touch

Pokeweed poisoning is defined as the accidental or intentional intake of a plant or plant product containing the aforementioned toxic proteins. These toxic proteins can also interact negatively with prescribed and non-prescribed medications, potentially leading to distressing side effects. If prolonged skin exposure or ingestion occurs, there are specific symptoms to look for that may indicate poisoning.

AspectSymptoms and EffectsToxicity LevelSafety Precautions
Skin IrritationsInflamed, blister-like rash ItchingModerate to SevereWear rubber gloves and protective clothing when handling pokeweed. 
Wash exposed skin with soap and water if contact occurs.
Seek medical attention for severe skin reactions.
IngestionNausea Severe stomach pain Vomiting Incontinence Low blood pressure Cardiac issues Seizures Death (in extreme cases)Highly ToxicNever ingest any part of the pokeweed plant. 
Seek immediate medical help if ingestion occurs.
Be cautious around small children and pets to prevent accidental ingestion.
Increased Heart RateAbnormal heart rate Increased heart rate due to oxygen deprivation Decreased heart rate due to blood pressure changesSevereMonitor your heart rate if you suspect exposure.
Seek medical attention if abnormal heart rates persist.
Muscle SpasmsMuscle spasms and contractions due to blood pressure changesSevereSeek medical help if muscle spasms occur after pokeweed exposure.
Respiratory DistressDifficulty breathing Oxygen deprivation leading to seizuresSevereSeek immediate medical attention for respiratory issues.
Safety PrecautionsWear protective gear, including gloves and clothing, when handling pokeweed.
Avoid ingestion and skin contact with any part of the plant.
Wash exposed skin immediately with soap and water. Seek medical help for severe reactions.
Educate yourself and others about the dangers of pokeweed.
Remove pokeweed from your yard, especially if children or pets are present.

For example, within 2-6 hours, the GI tract may exhibit signs of hemorrhagic loosening of the bowels, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Blood exposure may result in headaches, convulsions, muscle spasms, and low blood pressure. In the respiratory system, one may experience difficulty breathing, weakness, and a potential loss of consciousness.

Is Pokeweed A Skin Irritant? 

Yes, many people and animals have been treated for skin issues resulting from exposure to this toxic plant. As previously discussed, some cases are more severe than others, based on an individual’s tolerance for it. Toxins can cause all kinds of troublesome symptoms when they pass through the skin into the bloodstream upon exposure.

So, if you don’t know what your tolerance is for it, it is highly recommended that you wear rubber gloves and protective clothing when handling it. If skin exposure occurs, mild cases can be treated at home, similar to poison ivy or oak. If more severe, seek medical attention immediately.

Does Touching Pokeweed Cause A Rash? 

As previously mentioned, skin rashes and experiences of inflammation have been widely reported. Just as gardeners and landscapers are basking in the glow of a day’s work well done, they suddenly start to feel oddly itchy. This can happen anywhere from four hours up to 10 days after exposure.

Mild cases often look like blotchy, prickling discolorations or small hives as the skin reacts to oils in pokeweed leaves. Yet, more severe cases could develop if the skin is exposed to the plant’s root, stem, or berry juices, leading to breakouts of spreading blisters, especially if an already-existing skin wound is exposed.

Changes in heart rate

One concerning symptom of pokeweed exposure or ingestion is changes in heart rate, either increasing or decreasing, as toxins cause blood vessels to constrict. A drop in blood pressure results, followed by a decreased heart rate. As the exposed person moves around, the heart needs to work harder to maintain adequate blood flow, resulting in changes in heart rate.


Recall the chain reaction I mentioned earlier. Here’s one example. When ingesting pokeweed’s phytolaccine protein causes a sudden drop in blood pressure, which subsequently leads to difficulty breathing and cardiac distress. This kind of respiratory insufficiency is what makes seizures a possible complication of pokeweed ingestion, as the brain is deprived of oxygen.

Muscle Spasms 

The next link in that chain would be spasms in muscle tissue. Toxins induce low blood pressure, leading to the constriction of blood vessels and depriving muscles of the blood needed to prevent spasms.

How To Treat Symptoms Of Pokeweed Contact 

american pokeweed

If a rash occurs, treat it as you would poison ivy, oak, or chickenpox. Avoid scratching, as it can spread the rash.

Applying an over-the-counter, topical hydrocortisone ointment can help relieve the itch. Avoid products containing antihistamines or benzocaine, as they could worsen the rash.

First Aid Steps 

Mild cases usually improve within a few days with over-the-counter anti-itch creams and pain relievers. However, if more severe symptoms occur, taking certain precautions can help with a healthy recovery.

  1. Call local emergency help or poison control at 1-800-222-1222 right away.
  2. Provide as much information as possible, including the amount and time of exposure or ingestion and the affected person’s general health status.
  3. Do not induce vomiting unless instructed by a healthcare professional.
  4. If possible, collect a sample of what was ingested or touched for the medical professional to examine.

How Do You Get Rid of a Pokeweed Rash? 

Wash your hands with cool water and gentle disinfecting soap to absorb toxins and wash them away. If the irritation extends to larger parts of the body, a lukewarm bath is also effective.

Applying cool compresses to the skin can ease inflammation common with pokeweed rash. Topical anti-itch ointments can alleviate the uncomfortable tingling sensation and prevent the need to scratch, which could cause additional skin tears and a secondary infection.

Mild cases usually resolve on their own, but more severe cases should be treated as recommended by a healthcare professional.

What Part Of Pokeweed Is Harmful For Humans To Touch? 

what should i do if i touched pokeweed?

Every part of a pokeweed plant contains phytolacca toxin and phytolaccigenin proteins. This means that every part of the plant—roots, stems, leaves, and berries—can be harmful.


The roots of pokeweed plants have the highest concentration of toxic biochemicals. To completely remove this plant from your property, be very careful when removing it from the soil.

Some people like the look of pokeweed trees and shrubs and choose to leave them on their property. However, for health and safety reasons, this is not recommended, especially if you have young children and pets at home.

To remove small pokeweed plants, you must remove the entire taproot. Wearing gloves and protective gear, you can pull small shoots out by hand or with a weed puller, just as you would a carrot when harvesting.

For larger shrubs and trees, dig a wide circle around the plant to remove the entire root ball. Again, wear protective clothing, dig deep into the soil, and remove the large taproot. Then, continue until all roots are removed and properly disposed of.


Berries contain liquid bio-toxins that can rapidly spread through the body and cause serious harm. If you’re considering removing a flowering pokeberry, wear rubber gloves, and remove the flowers and berries first before they drop and potentially germinate. A single plant can produce tens of thousands of seeds that stay viable in the soil for 40 years. It is highly recommended not to eat and to touch pokeberries.

Leaves & Stems 

Touching pokeweed leaves and stems with bare hands can allow toxic oils to seep into your skin and affect your blood. Avoid this by wearing elbow-length rubber gloves when handling this plant.

Additionally, young children and dogs are drawn to this plant due to its color and foliage. Children touching the leaves and stems and then touching their faces could be dangerous. Dogs or other animals could also experience fatal symptoms when ingesting pokeweed leaves or stems.


The berry contains poisonous juice, and the seeds inside are nearly as toxic as the roots. Remove the seeds first before removing the plant from your property.

What Makes Pokeweed Toxic? 

Pokeweed plants are poisonous and contain toxic phytolacca toxin and phytolaccigenin proteins. Rendering every root, stem, leaf, and berry as potentially poisonous. The most severe pokeweed poisoning events occur when any part of this plant is ingested. Whether intentionally or accidentally.

Always research different plants and shrubs that you plan to remove from your property for safety and protection. Many poisonings occur when plants are assumed to be benign when they are highly toxic. You can find out all about how to get rid of pokeweed by reading my article here.

What Happens If You Touch Pokeweed? 

Touching pokeweed roots, stems, leaves, or berries can trigger an allergic reaction, similar to poison oak or ivy. Less severe cases occur when berry juice or plant sap contacts the skin. Without testing, you won’t know your tolerance for this plant, so it’s best to protect yourself when handling it or simply steer clear.

What Happens If You Ingest Pokeweed? 

Eating any part of a pokeweed plant can be hazardous to your health. Consuming only 10 small berries (green or red) can lead to nausea, severe stomach pain, vomiting, and incontinence.

When it enters the bloodstream, pokeweed constricts blood vessels, leading to a drop in blood pressure. This especially affects those taking antihypertensive drugs like ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics. Excessive consumption can result in cardiac issues, seizures, and even death.

Final Thoughts: Is Pokeweed poisonous to touch?

Pokeweed looks beautiful but hides a dangerous secret—it’s highly toxic. Yes, pokeweed is poisonous to touch. Touching the plant can cause skin irritation and, in some cases, severe symptoms.

Eating any part of this plant can be dangerous, causing nausea, stomach pain, and other problems. For safety, wear protective gear when handling pokeweed. Be cautious when removing it from your property, especially if children or pets are around.

Despite its beauty, remember that a hidden danger lurks beneath the surface. In nature, looks can be deceiving; understanding these hazards is crucial for your well-being.

FAQ About Pokeweed Poisoning

Can pokeweed kill you?

Pokeweed contains highly toxic proteins called phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin. Ingesting them can cause a wide range of symptoms, like irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and oxygen deprivation. Symptoms that if left untreated could result in death. 

 What does pokeweed do to your blood?

Once pokeweed toxins enter the bloodstream, they can cause blood vessels to constrict. Blocking the pathways by which vital oxygen reaches different parts of the body. This can lead to shortness of breath, weakness, seizures, and heart problems.

What should I do if I touch pokeweed? 

If you touch pokeweed, wash the affected area with soap and water to remove any plant residue. Seek medical attention if severe symptoms develop.

Should I get rid of pokeweed in my yard?

Yes, it’s advisable to remove pokeweed from your yard, especially if you have small children or pets, as all parts of the plant are toxic. You can remove them from the roots, or spray them with an herbicide that contains glyphosate, like RoundUp.

Can pokeweed be absorbed through the skin?

Yes, pokeweed toxins can be absorbed through the skin, potentially causing skin irritation and other health issues.

How toxic is pokeweed to humans?

Pokeweed is highly toxic to humans, with ingestion of any part of the plant leading to a range of severe symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and more.

How long does it take for pokeweed to make you sick?

Pokeweed can make you sick within hours of ingestion, depending on the quantity consumed.

How long does it take for pokeweed symptoms to appear?

Pokeweed symptoms can appear within a few hours to a few days after exposure, with skin irritation being one of the earlier signs.