There American phytolacca it is a herbaceous plant spread spontaneously in uncultivated land, fields, gardens, along the hilly paths, in ruins and abandoned farmhouses used despite its toxicity for ornamental purposes, for food, cosmetological, pharmacological and medicinal use.
General characteristics of the Phytolacca – American Phytolacca
There phytolacca, scientific name a American Phytolacca, belongs to a vast genus of arboreal, shrubby and perennial plants of the Phytolaccaceae family. In fact, the genus includes about 35 different species native to the eastern regions of North America and the tropical and subtropical regions. The plant is naturalized in many European countries and throughout the Italian territory up to 400 meters above sea level.
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The underground part of the plant consists of a large one taproot which sinks into the ground like a spindle up to 50/70 cm.
The epigeal part generally forms bushes or shrubs that even exceed 3 meters in height.
The stem from erect and lignified at the base gradually becomes herbaceous and the various branches take on a purple red color.
The leaves several large ones are inserted on the stems by means of a short petiole. The leaf page is ovate-elliptical, the apex is pointed, the margins are smooth and the main vein is linear, very evident and purple in color. The color of the leaves is also varied: it changes from bright green to yellow and before falling to dark red. In winter, the aerial part of the Phytolacca dries up but in spring it is pushed back.
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THE flowers sthey are grouped in long (about 15 cm) and erect racemic inflorescences inserted on the branches on the opposite side to the leaves.
The flowers are very small, hermaphroditic, devoid of petals but composed of 5 sepals and 10 stamens. they are carried by short greenish-white peduncles.
THE fruits they are small berries globose and flattened (similar to small pumpkins) that from green when immature become red-blackish when ripe. The ripe fruits of the Phytolacca produce a purplish juice used as a vegetable dye and for the production of ink.
THE seeds, 10 for each fruit or berry, are black and shiny and have a lenticular shape. Berries and seeds are a good food source for birds especially blackbirds and thrushes.
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The Phytolacca blooms from July until late October.
Cultivation of Phytolacca
This plant, even if toxic and considered highly infesting, is cultivated for ornamental purposes in many European gardens, Italian also in the country ones close to separation walls or railings exposed to partial shade, sheltered from the wind in fresh and humus-rich soils.
The phytolacca is a plant that, even if it does not disdain partial shade, needs a bright exposure to develop at its best. It does not fear the cold, with the arrival of cold generally the aerial part dries up.
It is a rustic plant that grows in any soil even if it prefers the loose one, rich in humus, humid but well drained.
This rather rustic and resistant plant, although usually satisfied with the rains, should be watered in summer and in case of long periods of drought, avoiding excesses and water stagnation.
In spring, during planting, it will be necessary to feed the new specimen, inserting a slow release fertilizer or burying mature manure at the base of the Phytolacca plant.
Multiplication of Phytolacca
The plant reproduces easily by seed and by division of the tufts.
Sowing is done in autumn or spring by distributing the seeds on universal soil and at a depth of about 5 cm. Sowing can be done in seedbeds or directly planted or broadcast or in rows about 30 cm apart. The seedlings born in seedbeds, as soon as possible, should be repotted in single jars and reared in them until the moment of final planting in the following spring when the danger of night frosts is completely averted.
Propagation by division of the tufts
Alternatively, the Phytolacca can be multiplied by agamic way, in March or October, by dividing the basal suckers and planting them at the same time in well worked holes, given that with its continuous root suckers it tends to become rather invasive.
Planting or planting
The Phytolacca plants are planted in spring in the thoroughly worked soil mixed with composting soil, a little sand and mature manure.
The Phytolacca is an invasive plant so to contain its development it must be pruned at the end of the vegetative cycle by cutting the branches at about 10 cm from the ground level. Drastic pruning is also useful to favor the regrowth of new shoots in the following spring.
Pests and diseases of the Phytolacca
It is a rustic plant that does not suffer from the attacks of common animal parasites. Among the fungal or cryptogamous diseases it fears only the rot of the roots caused by water stagnation in the soil.
Cures and treatments
The Phytolacca is an existing rustic plant that does not require special care and does not require phytosanitary treatments.
Variety of Phytolacca
In addition to the American Phytolacca, another known variety is: the Phytolacca dioica.
There Phytolacca dioica, an evergreen plant native to South America spread throughout the Mediterranean area. The plant has an arboreal habit and in suitable environmental conditions it can even exceed 3 meters in height. The epigeal part is formed by superficial gnarled roots which tend to emerge from the ground near the stem. The aerial part of the dioecious Phytolacca is composed of a short and squat trunk which in the upper part is variously branched. In the trunk and branches formed by a spongy tissue that is easily cut with the blade of a knife, a poisonous sap flows. The large, expansive crown is made up of large, leathery, bright green leaves. The male and female flowers are carried on two distinct plants gathered in pendulous floriferous racemes. In Italy it blooms between spring and summer. The flowers are followed by fruits, flattened globose purple berries whose spots are difficult to remove. The seeds are small shiny and dark. Since the sap is poisonous, the Phytolacca dioica or Cremesina arborea is not recommended for cultivation near cattle pastures.
Chemical components and properties of American Phytolacca
The Phytolacca plant is a good source of carbohydrates (starch), proteins, fats; contains calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, oleanolic acid, glycosides, glycoproteins, tannin, phytolaccigenin, caryophylene, lectin.
As already mentioned, this plant despite the content of toxic principles such as: phytolaccatoxin, triterpene saponins, phytolaccin and histamines is widely used in various sectors.
Use in the garden
The Phytolacca is cultivated for ornamental purposes in many European gardens, Italian also in the countryside ones close to separation walls or railings exposed to the partial shade, sheltered from the wind in fresh and humus-rich soils.
The young leaves of the Phytolacca, in ancient times and still today, in many Anglo-Saxon and American countries are eaten boiled like spinach or always after boiling sautéed like asparagus. The fruits are used for the preparation of sweets and the juice as a food coloring.
In pharmacology, Phytolacca is used in the preparation of drugs with anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer (leukemia and carcinomas) and immunostimulating activities. From a physiological point of view, the phytolac is active on the skin, on the glandular structures, especially in the oral cavity, on the sexual system and, with particular effectiveness, on the mammary glands. It is also active on fibrous and serous tissues and on the mucous membranes of the digestive and urinary systems.
In homeopathic medicine, this plant, alone or in combination with other homeopathic remedies, is used for the treatment of a wide variety of ailments, such as: inflammation of the respiratory mucous membranes, bronchitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, rheumatic disorders, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) , inflammation of the mammary glands, infectious diseases of various kinds, pain associated with teething in children and ulcers of the oral cavity. Currently, experimental medicine uses a particular protein (PAP) isolated from phytolacca to inhibit the replication of the HIV virus in human cells.
Warnings: since all parts of the plant are also toxic to humans (excessive use causes diarrhea and vomiting) the pharmacological and health treatments obtained from the phytolacca must be taken under strict medical supervision.
Used parts of the American Phytolacca
The most used parts of the plant are the fresh and dried roots. The dried roots (harvested in autumn) are used for internal use as expectorants in the treatment of bronchitis, chronic phlegm and inflammation of the throat. As decoctions or ointments it was used in the treatment of psoriasis and ringworm and in the form of gargling in the treatment of angina and tonsillitis.
The fresh roots are also used today for external use in the form of compresses for bruises, sprains, sprains and against rheumatic pains.
In the past, the root (rich in saponins) was cut into small pieces and boiled in water to obtain soap. The dried leaves for the preparation …