For medicinal purposes, use dried polk root only in very small doses. Dried polk root is sometimes used as a lymphatic cleanser but can cause vomiting. The dried root is considered a strong purgative and must be used with caution. Never eat polk berries or mature leaves -- they are poisonous. There are only a few really dangerous herbs and polk is one of them. Overdose of polk can cause death.
Polk berries grow on Payne Mountain Farms -- photo by Janice Boling
Dried polk root is sometimes used to reduce phlegm in the lungs. It is occasionally used to cause vomiting. The dried root is known to help heal inflammation and to stimulate the immune system. It is a mild analgesic and can be useful in the treatment of glandular fever, mumps, laryngitis, sore throat, and tonsillitis.
Dried polk root is used externally to treat skin diseases such as ringworm and scabies. It may also be applied to old wounds to reduce scarring. A poultice of dried polk root can be applied to skin ulcers, hemorrhoids, and aching joints to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Dried polk root poultices are also very helpful when treating mastitis.
Studies show that dried polk root may be useful in the treatment of certain cancers of the breast and uterus. Properties in dried polk root are thought to boost the immune system and may help reduce the size of tumors. More research is needed.
Old timers combined tincture of dried polk root with Echinacea, indigo, or cleavers and used the mixture for treating rheumatism and gastric ulcers. Tinctures are always made from dried root (fresh polk root is toxic).
Native Americans used dried polk root to stimulate the heart, to ease arthritis, and to rid the body of parasites. They called the herb “pocon” and considered it a valuable part of their healing rituals. They also used the berries as a colorful dye.
Young polk leaves are considered a “spring green” and are often eaten as a vegetable. The leaves and sprouts are harvested when young and tender. They are boiled, drained, and boiled again. Then they are sauteed with a little bacon grease (and maybe an egg is scrambled in for texture). Some folks even slice the young stems, coat with flour or cornmeal, and fry them like okra.
Young leaves contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Never use polk as a vegetable once it begins to bloom.
Polk plants are common in the North Georgia area and are considered to be a weed by most people. Polk can be found growing in damp fields, dry meadows, wooded areas, and along the highways. The plant is tall with leafy branches. Clusters of dark purple berries appear during the summer and fall.
Polk root is harvested during spring or late autumn. The roots are dug up, cleaned carefully, and then each root is split lengthwise before being dried for storage. Dry for a month before using.
* Fresh mature polk plant, berries, and root are considered toxic (although young leaves and sprouts can be boiled and eaten as a green). Overdose may produce vomiting and purging, convulsions, and death. Always consult with a healthcare professional before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicine.
"The only way to really learn about herbal medicine is to touch and smell herbs, taste them, use them daily, and grow them if possible. Herbal medicine is a way of life. It is not a quick fix." ... Janice Boling, herbalist, web designer, writer, photographer
* Note - the information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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