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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nightshade (Solanum Nigrum)

Family Solanaceae
Solanum nigrum (European Black Nightshade or locally just "black nightshade", Duscle, Garden Nightshade, Hound's Berry, Petty Morel, Wonder Berry, Small-fruited black nightshade or popolo) is a species in the Solanum genus, native to Eurasia and introduced in the Americas, Australasia and South Africa. Parts of this plant can be highly toxic to livestock and humans, and it's considered a weed. Nonetheless, ripe berries and cooked leaves of edible strains are used as food in some locales; and plant parts are used as a traditional medicine. There is a tendency in literature to incorrectly refer to many of the other "black nightshade" species as "Solanum nigrum".


The toxicity of Solanum nigrum varies widely depending on the variety, and poisonous plant experts advise to avoid eating the berries unless they are a known edible strain. Toxin levels may also be affected by the plants growing conditions.

All parts of the plant can be poisonous, containing toxic glycoalkaloids at 0.524% (dry weight), including solamargine, solasonine and solanine. The toxins are most concentrated in the unripe green berries, but also occur in ripe berries. Solanine levels in S.nigrum can be extremely toxic and potentially fatal. Poisoning symptoms are typically delayed for 6 to 12 hours after ingestion. Initial symptoms of toxicity include fever, sweating, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, confusion, and drowsiness. Death from ingesting plant parts results from cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory failure. Children have died after eating unripe berries, and consumption has caused livestock fatalities. Livestock have also been poisoned from nitrate toxicity by grazing the leaves of S. nigrum.

Although numerous texts state that the cooked ripe fruit of black nightshade is safe to eat, detoxification cannot be attributed to normal cooking temperatures because the decomposition temperature of solanine is much higher at about 243 C. There are ethnobotanical accounts of S.nigrum leaves and shoots being boiled as a vegetable with the cooking water being discarded and replaced several times to remove toxins.

Some of the uses ascribed to Solanum nigrum in literature may actually apply to other black nightshade species within the same species complex, and proper species identification is essential for food and medicinal uses (See Taxonomy section).

Ripe berries of the "Red Makoi" variety of Solanum nigrum are edible.
Culinary usage
S.nigrum has been widely used as a food since early times, and the fruit was recorded as a famine food in 15th Century China. Despite toxicity issues with some forms (see Toxicity section), the ripe berries and boiled leaves of edible strains are eaten. The thoroughly boiled leaves - although strong and slightly bitter flavoured - are used like spinach as horta, in fataya pies and quiches. The ripe black berries are described as sweet and salty, with hints of liquorice and melon.

In India, the berries are casually grown and eaten; but not cultivated for commercial use. The berries are referred to as "fragrant tomato." Although not very popular across much of its growing region, the fruit and dish are common in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Southern Andhra Pradesh and Southern Karnataka.

In Ethiopia, the ripe berries are picked and eaten by children in normal times, while during famines all affected people would eat berries. In addition the leaves are collected by women and children, who cook the leaves in salty water and consumed like any other vegetable. Farmers in the Konso Special Woreda report that because S. nigrum matures before the maize is ready for harvesting, it is used as a food source until their crops are ready. The Welayta people in the nearby Wolayita Zone do not weed out S. nigrum that appear in their gardens since they likewise cook and eat the leaves.

In Ghana, the unripe green berries are called "kwaansusuaa" or "abedru", and are used in preparing various soups and stews, including the popular palm nut soup commonly eaten with banku or fufu.

In South Africa, the very ripe and hand-selected fruit (nastergal in Afrikaans and umsobo in Zulu) is cooked into a beautiful but quite runny purple jam.

In Greece and Turkey the leaves are called "istifno", and in Crete known as "stifno". They are one of the ingredients included in the salad of boiled greens known as horta.

In Indonesia, the young fruits and leaves of cultivated forms are used and are known as "ranti" (Javanese) or "leunca" (Sundanese). The fruit and leaves are eaten raw as part of a traditional salad lalapan, or the fruit is cooked (fried) with oncom.

It was imported into Australia from Mauritius in the 1850's as a vegetable during the gold rush, but S. nigrum is now prohibited for trade as a food by the Australian New Zealand Food Standards Code.
 Medicinal usage
The plant has a long history of medicinal usage, dating back to ancient Greece. "...In the fourteenth century, we hear of the plant under the name of Petty Morel being used for canker and with Horehound and wine taken for dropsy." It was a traditional European medicine used as a strong sudorific, analgesic and sedative with powerful narcotic properties, but was considered a "somewhat dangerous remedy". Internal use has fallen out of favor in Western herbalism due to its variable chemistry and toxicity, but it is used topically as a treatment for herpes zoster.

 S.nigrum is an important ingredient in traditional Indian medicines. Infusions are used in dysentery, stomach complaints and fever. The juice of the plant is used on ulcers and other skin diseases. The fruits are used as a tonic, laxative, appetite stimulant; and also for treating asthma and "excessive thirst". Traditionally the plant was used to cure tuberculosis. It is known as Peddakasha pandla koora in the Telangana region. This plant's leaves are used to treat mouth ulcers that happen during winter periods of Tamil Nadu, India. It is known as Manathakkali keerai in Tamil nadu. In North India, the boiled extracts of leaves and berries are also used to alleviate liver-related ailments, including jaundice. In Assam, the juice from its roots is used against asthma and whooping cough.

S. nigrum is a widely used plant in oriental medicine where it is considered to be antitumorigenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, diuretic, and antipyretic.

Chinese experiments confirm that the plant inhibits growth of cervical carcinoma.