S. nigrum subsp. nigrum
Solanum nigrum (European black nightshade or locally just "black nightshade", duscle, garden nightshade, "garden huckleberry", 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 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".
S. nigrum is recorded from deposits of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic era of ancient Britain and it is suggested by the botanist and ecologist, Edward Salisbury, that it was part of the native flora there before Neolithic agriculture emerged. The species was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD and by the great herbalists, including Dioscorides. In 1753 Carl Linnaeus described six varieties of Solanum nigrum in Species Plantarum.
Black nightshade is a common herb or short-lived perennial shrub, found in many wooded areas, as well as disturbed habitats. It has a height of 30 to 120 cm (12 to 48 in), leaves 4 to 7.5 cm (1.5 to 3 in) long and 2 to 5 cm (1 to 2.5 in) wide; ovate to heart-shaped, with wavy or large-toothed edges; both surfaces hairy or hairless; petiole 1 to 3 cm (0.5 to 1 in) long with a winged upper portion. The flowers have petals greenish to whitish, recurved when aged and surround prominent bright yellow anthers. The berry is mostly 6 to 8 mm (0.3 to 0.8 in) diam., dull black or purple-black. In India, another strain is found with berries that turn red when ripe.
Sometimes Solanum nigrum is confused for the much more toxic deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna, in a different Solanaceae genus altogether. A comparison of the fruit shows that the black nightshade berries grow in bunches, the deadly nightshade berries grow individually.
1. S. nigrum L. subsp. nigrum — glabrous to slightly hairy with appressed non-glandular hairs
2. S. nigrum L. subsp. schultesii (Opiz) Wessley — densely hairy with patent, glandular hairs
The Solanum nigrum complex — also known as Solanum L. section Solanum — is the group of black nightshade species; characterized by their lack of prickles and stellate hairs, their white flowers and their green or black fruits arranged in an umbelliform fashion. The Solanum species in this group can be taxonomically confused, moreso by intermediate forms and hybridization between the species. Some of the major species within the Solanum nigrum complex are: Solanum nigrum, S. americanum, S. douglasii, S. opacum, S. ptychanthum, S.retroflexum, S. sarrachoides, S. scabrum, and S. villosum.
There is a lot of mythology surrounding the toxicity of these plants. Much 'evidence' is anecdotal, and there is far more evidence for the medicinal benefits, and the plants history of consumption as a food source for hundreds of years, than there is for poisoning. The toxicity of Solanum species varies widely depending on the species, and due to the possibility of confusing varieties, some poisonous plant experts advise to avoid eating the berries unless they are a known edible strain. Some people believe that the toxin levels may also be affected by the plant's growing conditions. It is known that cooking the berries and leaves deactivates the toxins. The plant has been used as a vegetable for centuries and proper preparation is important. It should not be consumed raw. The plant does not appear to be toxic at all times, and toxicity may be restricted to certain stages of growth, be influenced by particular growing conditions, or be a characteristic of only certain strains of what is a somewhat variable species. Most cases of suspected poisoning are due to consumption of leaves or unripe fruit.
The toxins in Solanum Nigrum species are most concentrated in the unripe green berries, There is no recent study that has found the toxins occur in ripe berries. This suggests that the previous studies were conducted on other species, which at the time were all classified as "Black Nightshade".
Solanine levels in S.nigrum may be toxic but no documented fatalities have been recorded since the 1800s, when cases of reported poisoning from ripe black nightshade berries almost completely cease; the last documented case in the English language occurred in Ireland in 1952 (Towers, 1953). This suggests that there was mislabelling of species, especially as the cases all occurred in countries where the distantly related but similar looking Deadly Nightshade (Atropa Belladonna) is naturalised. Many other species of Solanum are also toxic to varying degrees and this may result in confusion, especially as many other species now listed separately were once all listed as Solanum Nigrum. Symptoms attributed to many early cases seem likely to be atropine poisoning rather than solanine. In Australia it is considered only mildly toxic, causing mild gastroenteritis if eaten in large quantities. 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 large amounts of the plant results from cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory failure. There are several old reports of children having died in the 1800s and early part of the 20th century, after eating unripe berries, and consumption has caused livestock fatalities where other forage is unavailable. Livestock have also been poisoned from nitrate toxicity by grazing the leaves of S. nigrum, They will usually avoid it as it is not particularly palatable, though sheep may eat the berries. In South Australia, Black(1965) considers the ripe fruit are harmless. Fruits from NSW were not toxic when tested. Analysis of European berries show them nontoxic (Bruneton, 1999). Gerarde and Dioscorides call them harmless (Defelice, 2003). Couplan (1998) claims that the ripe berries are eaten raw or cooked in parts of southern Europe Immature fruit should however be treated as toxic.. 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).
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. In South India, the leaves and berries are routinely consumed as food after cooking with tamarind, onion, and cumin seeds. 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 (மணத்தக்காளி in Tamil), 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 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 1850s 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.
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 treat 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 and Kaachi Soppu in Karnataka, and apart from its use as a home remedy for mouth ulcers, is used in cooking like spinach. 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.
Black nightshade is cultivated as a food crop on several continents, including Africa and North America. The leaves of cultivated strains are eaten after cooking. A garden form with fruit 1.27 cm (0.5 in) diam. is occasionally cultivated.
Black nightshade can be a serious agricultural weed when it competes with crops. Black nightshade has been reported as a weed in 61 countries and 37 crops. Herbicides are used extensively to control it in field crops such as cotton.
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