Petunia Flowers Other Nightshades
The best known culinary Nightshades (Solanaceae) are Tomatoes, Potatoes, Eggplants and Chili Peppers, but there many other edible varieties, as well as highly toxic, medicinal, mind altering and decorative varieties. The Petunias (S. Petunia) in the photo are a popular example of decorative nightshades.   Photo © i0113.

More on Nightshades.

CG Home






American Nightshade   -   [Branched Kalaloo (Caribbean); Solanum americanum]
Fruiting American Nightshade

This plant is very widespread and rather variable in appearance, so it is easily confused with other nightshades that produce black berries. It is native to the temperate Americas, Australia, New Guinea and Melanesia, and has been introduced to Hawaii, Southeast Asia, Africa and Madagascar. Unripe berries are highly toxic, with black berries less so, but toxicity is highly variable.

In some regions the berries are cooked and made into jams. Young leaves and shoots are cooked as greens in many regions. The cooking water is discarded because it contains the water soluble toxins. It is one of the greens used in the Caribbean in callaloo, a stew of leafy greens famous in the region, but originating in West Africa.   Photo by Forest & Kim Starr distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported, Attribution Required.

Ashwagandha   -   [Poison Gooseberry, Winter Cherry, Indian Ginseng; Withania somnifera]
Poison Gooseberry

This plant is most known from Indian ayurvedic medicine where the root is used for a number of symptoms, while fruit and leaves are used externally as a poultice. The fruit does, however, have a culinary application as well, it can be used in place of rennet to curdle milk in making vegetarian cheese.

The very closely related Withania coagulans (Ashutosh booti, Indian rennet, panirband, vegetable rennet) is more commonly used. Very little need be used, so the various toxic alkaloids should not be a problem.   Photo by Wowbobwow12 distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Black Nightshade   -   [Garden Nightshade, Garden Huckleberry, Hound's Berry, Wonder Berry; Solanum nigrum]
Black Nightshade Fruit on Plant

Native to Eurasia, this plant has been introduced into the Americas, Australasia and South Africa. Ripe berries and cooked leaves are eaten, but care must be taken because toxicity varies widely from one variety to another. Unripe berries of many varieties are quite toxic, though rarely fatal. While most varieties produce berries ripening to black, some produce red or orange berries.

Black Nightshade berries were once a popular pie filling in Europe. Since the berries were gathered wild with uncertain toxicity, they were given a long cooking time to detoxify. Leaves and berries are eaten in Greece, Turkey, Indonesia and much of Africa, generally cultivated varieties with low toxicity. The greens of more toxic varieties are cooked in several changes of water. The discarded water carries away water soluble toxins.   Photo by Harald Hubich distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Bush Tomatoes   -   [Desert Raisin, Kutjera, Bush Sultana: Solanum centrale   |   very similar "Bush Tomatoes":   Potato Bush; Solanum ellipticum | Potato Bush; Solanum ellipticum | Wild Tomato; Solanum quadriloculatum]
Bush Tomatoes on Plant

All the wild Australian "bush tomatoes" are very similar arid climate shrubs bearing small round fruit. Berries of all were gathered by the aboriginal people and eaten raw or cooked.

The most important currently is the Desert Raisin, which is in small scale cultivation by aboriginal communities in central Australia and sold commercially. The fruit can be allowed to dry on the bush and will look like raisins. The flavor is strong and similar to Tamarillo and Caramel. They are particularly favored for making sauces and condiments, and are available whole, or ground as Kutjera Powder.   Photo by Melburnian distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Cocona   -   [Solanum sessiliflorum]
Cocona Fruit, whole and cut

This plant is native to the Amazon Rainforest, particularly in Peru, and is sometimes cultivated for its edible fruit. The fruit can be red, yellow or orange, and tastes like a blend of tomato and lemon. It is closely related to the Naranjilla and Pseudolulo. Photo by Dtarazona contributed to the Public Domain.

Datura   -   [Jimson Weed, Devil's weed, Devil's cucumber, Thorn-apple, Pricklyburr, Angel's trumpet and Devil's trumpet, Datura stramonium, also similar Datura wrightii]
Flowering Datura Plant A common weed here in Southern California, this plant is far more deadly than the Deadly Nightshade. It's mind altering powers are so awesome even people heavily into "recreational substances" have generally shunned it. All parts of the plant are highly toxic.

Unlike psilocybin or LSD, which cause sensory distortion, datura is a true hallucinogen, transporting the user entirely into another reality with little or nothing of this reality to hang on to. An additional problem is that there is little margin between the effective dose and a fatal dose. Persons who have heard of this plant but not studied its use thoroughly often take a dose and find no effect - so they take a second dose of similar size and die.   Details.

Deadly Nightshade   -   [Bella Donna; Atropa belladonna]
Deadly Nightshade Berries on Plant

Native to Western Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, this is one of the most toxic of Old World plants. It has been introduced into North America. All parts of the plant are highly toxic, but most intensely the roots and berries. Nightshade eyedrops were once used by Italian Renaissance beauties to dilate the pupils of their eyes, thus the name "Bella Donna". The active ingredient, the toxin atropine is still used for dilation, but not for eye exams because the effect is too long lasting,

Death by belladonna is not pleasant, but preferable to strychnine. The antidote to nightshade poisoning is Physostigmine, originally extracted from the West African Calabar Bean. It must be administered with care, as it's just as deadly as the nightshade. Calabar Bean poisoning is likewise treated with extracts of the Deadly Nightshade. Photo by Kurt Stueber distributed under GNU Free Documentation License v1.2 or later.

Garden Huckleberry   -   [Solanum scabrum]
Garden Huckleberry plant with ripe fruit

This plant is found in Africa and North America, with uncertain origin. In Africa it is grown in two varieties, one for leaves used as a common potherb, and one for ripe fruit, used to make a purple dye.   Photo by Marco Schmidt distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5 Generic.

Indian Nightshade   -   [Solanum lasiocarpum]
Drawing of Solanum lasiocarpum

Note that there are other plants also called "Indian Nightshade". This plant is found wild in parts of South Asia but is mostly found in cultivation. Cultivated varieties bear larger fruit that lacks the prickles on the wild fruit. The fruits are pale yellow and light green in the center. In India it is used as a sour relish in curries. In Thailand it is used to make a variety of Nam Prik, a table condiment. It is of interest to botanists for interbreeding with South American species, particularly naranjilla.   Drawing by Cozzycovers contributed to the Public Domain .

Naranjillo   -   [Lulo (Colombia); Solanum quitoense]
Whole and Cut Naranjillas

Native to northwestern South America, this nightshade is a moderate size perennial with large fuzzy green and purple leaves. It is favored for its tomato like fruit, which is described as having a flavor similar to rhubarb and lime. It is much used to make the beverage Lulada in Colombia.

This plant is challenging in large scale cultivation because it is vulnerable to wind and too much direct sunlight. It is also quite vulnerable to pests, particularly nematodes. Hybrids with other Solanum species are now common for resistance to nematodes.   Photo by Fibonacci distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Nipple Fruit   -   [Cows Udder; Fox Face (Japan); Five Fingered Eggplant (China); Solanum mammosum]
Whole and Cut Pepinos

Native to the Tropical Americas, this nightshade has been much adopted for festival decorations in Asia, particularly China. The plant is toxic, but immature fruits are cooked and eaten as a vegetable. In the Philippines fruit is cooked and eaten, while the leaves are steeped into a tea considered to relieve pain.   Photo by Andrew Butko distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Pepino   -   [Pepino dulce; Solanum muricatum]
Whole and Cut Pepinos

Native to western South America from Colombia to Chile, this nightshade shrub produces sweet melon-like fruit. While still rare, some are grown in California and Hawaii. Recently introduced varieties developed in New Zealand may result in increased availability (and lower prices) here in North America.   Photo by Eglekuc distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Pseudolulo   -   [Lulo de Perro; Solanum pseudolulo]
Pseudolulo Fruit on branch

This plant is native to northwestern South America. It is rarely cultivated because it is such a common weed, though some botanists think it can be developed into a crop. It is considered less desirable than the true Lulo (Naranjilla), but can grow in full sun, while that plant needs the protection of part shade.   Photo by IKAI distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Tamarillo   -   [Tree Tomato; Tamamoro, Tomate de árbol (South America); Tammatar, Ram Bheda (Nepal); Solanum betaceum]
Three Tamarillo Fruits on Branch

Native to the Andean region of South America from Colombia to Chile, this is one of the most popular fruits in the region. It is now also grown in the United States, parts of Africa, the Himalayan foothills, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and the Philippines, mostly at higher elevations. The plant can grow to 16 feet tall and bear fruit for about 12 years.

The egg shaped fruit ranges from 1-1/2 to 4 inches in length. Yellow and Orange varieties are sweeter, red varieties more tart and savory. Their fruit is most commonly halved lengthwise and eaten with a spoon, though in New Zealand it is often spread on toast. In the Andean region it is chopped up with chilis to make a table condiment. The condiment is called "Aji", but so are most other chili containing table condiments in the region. Elsewhere, the fruit is often included in sauces, stews, chutneys and curries.   Photo by C T Johansson distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Tobacco   -   [Nicotiana tabacum]
Flowering Tobacco Plant

A nightshade native to the Americas but now cultivated in temperate climates worldwide. The leaves contain unusually high amounts of the toxic alkaloid Nicotine, considered one of the most addictive drugs known to man. Because the delivery systems for this drug, cigars, cigarettes, pipes, chews, etc. are traditional (natives of the Americas started smoking tobacco cigars over 2000 years ago) it is legal.

The tobacco industry promotes tobacco delivery systems in many subtle, not so subtle and insidious ways resulting in a huge base of addicts. Being legal, tobacco products can be, and are, taxed up the wazoo because the addicts will pay almost any price for them. This assures that tobacco will not be made illegal, though the health costs may exceed the revenue.   Photo by Joachim Müllerchen distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Tomate Salvaje   -   [Tomate Silvestre (Colombia); Solanum sibundoyense]
Sibundoyense Fruit on Plant

Native to the cloud forests of Colombia, this small tree, up to 26 feet high, produces fairly large edible fruit. The fruit varies from sweet and juicy to acid depending on the tree, and is transportable with decent shelf life . The Tomate Salvaje is experimental in cultivation. New Zealand growers have found it needs part shade to fruit well. The fruit in the photo is not yet ripe.   Photo by Cyphomandra distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Wolfberry   -   [Fructus Lycii (pharmacology); Gouqizi (China); Jizi (Singapore); Kuko no mi, Kuko no kajitsu (Japan); Gugija (Korea); dre-tsher-mai-dre-bu (Tibet); Gao Gee (Thailand); Duke of Argyll's tea tree (UK); Tibetan Goji, Himalayan Goji (health food stores); Matrimony Vine; Lycium barbarum & Lycium chinense]
Wolfberries on Plant

Native to somewhere around Turkey and Eastern Europe wolfberries are now grown worldwide and particularly in China, the main commercial supplier. The berry tastes similar to dried cranberries but is more tart and tastes somewhat of tomato, not surprising since tomatoes are also nightshades.

"Tibetan / Himalayan Goji" products are promoted by "health food" outlets - even though Goji isn't harvested in that region, and any "organic" claims are also false - but when has the health food industry ever checked in with reality? Berries from the same Chinese sources can be purchased at a much lower price at Asian markets. They do have antioxidant properties and may be helpful in preventing vision problems. Details and Cooking
Photo by Sten Porse distributed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5/2.0/1.0.

ns_exotic* 070611   -
©Andrew Grygus - - Photos on this page not otherwise credited are © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted