Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > April 2014 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Do You Know What You Eat?

BONNIE'S GARDEN--Do You Know What You Eat?

Nightshades are a diverse group of herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs.  They belong to the Family Solanaceae.  Some Solanaceaes have been used medicinally for thousands of years—the Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Mandrake (Mandragora officinum), and Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).

Other members of the Solanaceae family are happily residing in our flower beds—Angel’s Trumpet (Datura), Flowering Tobacco (with its delicious evening fragrance), and Petunias!  Yet other members of the Family are some of the most important members of our backyard vegetable gardens—Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), Eggplant (Solanum melongena), Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), Peppers (Capsicum annuum) and tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica). 

What ties all these diverse plants together?  Most of them have parts of the plant which contain substances which can be toxic.  Chile peppers contain capsaicin (not toxic but stimulates pain receptors in mucus membranes—thus the tell-tale mouth-burn of chili peppers.)  Tobacco contains Nicotine (a potent neurotoxin—also used as a powerful insecticide—by the way, especially toxic to bees.) Other Solanaceaes contain alkaloids like Solanine (which can cause severe gastrointestinal distress) and Tropanes (alkaloids which can affect the central nervous system.)  That’s why we don’t eat green potatoes.  As the potato is exposed to sunlight and begins to manufacture chlorophyll (which makes it green), it also begins to make those toxic alkaloids.

So what does this mean to me, the backyard gardener? Well, it’s interesting history and it might make me remember to be careful to eat only those parts of the plant I’m supposed to eat. However it’s important in another respect.  Knowing these plants are all related means that any one of them can host a disease that might affect another family member.  Good thing to keep in mind when rotating crops—making sure that you’re rotating crops which are NOT related to each other.  If your tomatoes got blight last year, don’t plant peppers, eggplant or potatoes in that spot this year—or petunias, for that matter.

Still, it can be a fun fact to toss out at the next backyard cookout.  As you hand your neighbor their burger, hold out a plate of tomato slices and ask if they’d like a little Nightshade with that.

Next week, the King of the nightshades—the potato…


Posted: 4/14/2014 by Bonnie Pega | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: BonniePega, Bonnie'sGarden
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