Human exposures to Phytolacca americana in Kentucky

Jordan A. Woolum, Peter Akpunonu, Meredith Johnson, Ashley N. Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Phytolacca americana, known more commonly as “pokeweed”, is a large perennial plant found ubiquitously throughout the United States. Despite known toxicities, characterization of pokeweed exposure demographics, symptoms, treatments, and outcomes is currently limited. The objective of this study is to describe human pokeweed exposures, treatments, and outcomes, in the state of Kentucky, between 2000 and 2019. The National Poison Database System was queried for all Phytolacca americana exposures in the state of Kentucky between 2000 and 2019. After the removal of non-human cases, investigators independently reviewed data to ensure all coding was appropriate per the standards set forth by NPDS. The primary objective of this study was to describe pokeweed exposure demographics within the state of Kentucky during the previously established timeframe. Secondary objectives included characterizing pokeweed treatment trends and evaluating their affiliated medical outcomes. 1669 cases of human pokeweed exposure were reported. Patients were predominantly young in age, with a median age of 3 years reported. The majority of patients were male (54.9%), with unintentional exposures representing most exposure reasons (97.2%). Oral ingestion of plant material represented the bulk of the exposure route (98.3%), with pokeberries most often implicated in these cases (93.9%). Exposures were generally well tolerated. 239 total adverse events were noted during the timeframe. Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea were most common. Dermal exposures resulted in cutaneous edema, pain, and swelling. Treatments were mainly supportive, with no deaths reported during the study timeframe. In conclusion, Phytolacca americana is commonly encountered in the United States. In this observational study, patients most heavily implicated in pokeweed exposures are young males. Oral ingestion was most commonly reported, with berries most often implicated. Exposures are generally well tolerated, with gastrointestinal symptoms most frequently reported. Cutaneous exposures represent an underappreciated exposure route. Treatments are largely supportive in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106962
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd


  • Inkberry
  • Natural poisons
  • Phytolacca americana
  • Phytolaccatoxin
  • Pokeweed

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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