Deadly Nightshade Facts

Deadly Nightshade Facts

In Europe and Asia, only one nightshade food was eaten until recent times – the eggplant. Other nightshades, such as thorn apple, belladonna, (shown) and mandrake were well known but used specifically for medical applications such as sedatives, anesthetics or poisons in witchcraft. So what, exactly, is a nightshade and why should we care…?  Nightshade fruits and vegetables are made up of more than 2,500 species that are widely used as food and medicine, at least according to Wikipedia.  They include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatillos, goji and other berries, and tobacco, of all things.

Even the name – “nightshade” – has an ominous quality to it.  These plants prefer to grow in shady areas, and some flower at night, which is enough to keep me away from them.  But I would like to bust a myth wide open, which is that “deadly nightshade” or belladonna, is an inedible weed which has been associated with witchcraft. When this is inhaled in large amounts, it may cause convulsions or death — but that has nothing to do with these delicious potatoes and tomatoes!

Some people have a hard time digesting nightshade plants. If you are sensitive to nightshades, you may have diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea, painful joints, headaches, and depression — all from consuming nightshades.  Its not surprising that these foods were regarded with suspicion when they were imported from the Americas to Europe and Asia in the 1600 and 1700s. They were slow to take hold in the European diet.

Can you tolerate nightshades?

Do you have arthritis? Sometimes arthritis is misdiagnosed in people who are suffering joint aches and swelling arising from nightshade consumption — 1 in 3 people with arthritis react badly to nightshades, because of a sensitivity to the solanine chemicals in the foods.  If you have a child with eczema you may want to eliminate nightshades from their diets which may help to clear up the eczema.  Since nightshades also contain nicotine, it is widely recommended to give them up completely especially if you are trying to quit smoking.  Nicotine is an alkaloid found in the nightshade family of plants, predominantly in tobacco, which is a nightshade, and in lower quantities in tomato, potato, eggplant, and green pepper.

As with any food sensitivity, the only way to find out is to remove nightshades from your diet for a couple of weeks or so to see if you feel better.  There are NO scientific articles about nightshade sensitivity, chronic pain, or arthritis but the internet is full of anecdotal reports of people who have found that nightshades aggravate arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other chronic pain syndromes. You’ll need to discover for yourself whether these foods may pose problems for your individual chemistry. However, considering what we know about nightshade chemicals, common sense tells us that these foods are worth exploring as potential culprits in pain, gastrointestinal, and neurologic/psychiatric symptoms.
 

<< Here’s a link to Nomato — tomato-free and nightshade-free organic sauce, so you can enjoy what you like without the nicotine alkaloids found in tomatoes and other nightshades. >>

What are the nightshades?

POTATOES

Potatoes are part of the nightshade family — white, red, yellow and blue-skinned potato varieties. Sweet potatoes and yams are not nightshades, which is so great because they are my absolute favorites. If you have sensitivity to members of the nightshade family, You need to avoid foods made from potatoes, and be sure to read the ingredients on all processed foods to avoid potatoes and potato starch.  If you’re not allergic, you can enjoy them so many ways – roasted and baked come to mind.

TOMATOES

A very widely consumed member of the nightshade family are tomatoes. Scientifically, they fall into the FRUIT category, but if you have any sensitivities to nightshades, you may want to stay away from all raw tomatoes and also from cooked ones in other preparations such as in tomato sauce and ketchup. Again, be sure to read all the ingredients on items you purchase — you’d be surprised how many items contain tomatoes.

PEPPERS

This list includes bell peppers, jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne peppers and paprika, which is a spice made from ground, dried peppers, and used with a variety of foods and cuisines. Peppercorns are not a member of the nightshade family, in spite of the name.  Peppers are also used in hot sauces. Hot peppers are very rich in something called “capsaicin” which creates a burning sensation and causes pain receptor cells to release endorphins, the body’s natural opiate-like painkiller – which creates a temporary feeling of euphoria.

EGGPLANT (Aubergine)

Eggplant appears in Italian, Thai, Indian and other ethnic cuisines, and most resemble the belladonna nightshade plant that is probably their wild ancestor.  Widely used in many countries, its texture and bulk make it a great choice for vegan or vegetarian dishes in place of meat. Eggplant is often stewed, fried or roasted, and is often called the “king of vegetables” because of it’s size and versatility.

 

TOMATILLOS

Another member of the nightshade family, Tomatillos are often found in Mexican cuisine. The fruit grows well in warm climates and can sometimes be found as a wild weed in parts of Mexico. Tomatillos have a papery husk and hang like small round paper lanterns from the plants. When ripe, they’re either pale yellow or purple and have a slight citrus flavor. Sauces and salsas are where you’ll mostly find this little tiny burst of deliciousness.

GOJI BERRIES

Small, red goji berries are also part of the nightshade family. Wolfberries, as these sweet berries are sometimes called, are native to Asia. They can be eaten raw, dried or made into a juice. If you need to avoid them you can do so pretty easily, but make sure to read ingredients of all juices, smoothies, teas and nutritional supplements to be sure they don’t contain goji berries. Other nightshade berries include garden huckleberries, ground cherries and cape gooseberries.

Why are nightshades legal?

Nightshades have slipped into our diet despite some voices in opposition, and despite their nicotine content, and have taken on a major role in our nutrition and health. However, have we gone too far with nightshade acceptance? Everything in moderation, as the saying goes, so let me know in the comments below if you eat nightshades, and if you have any sensitivities to them?

P.S.  Next time you’re in the store, make note of the little elfish green caps that all nightshades have.  Kind of makes me think that these little dervishes enjoy blooming at night…!

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Deadly Nightshade Facts”

  • Hi Amy
    Before we followed Kris Carr’s eating program last year, I have never heard of nightshades. However this bit “but used specifically for medical applications such as sedatives, anesthetics or poisons in witchcraft” was very interesting and I didn’t know about the nicotine either.
    I am allergic to tomato + chicken (I’m B-bloodgroup), but have never really considered nightshades, but we should probably rethink our nightshade consumption. Thanks for this informative post, Amy!
    Sharlee

    • Hi Sharlee — I am in the B-bloodgroup as well, and like you, didn’t think that nightshades were an issue, until I started reading more about them. I love Kris Carr, and her books are great! Been following her for years. Thanks for writing!

  • Wow Amy, you’ve open my eyes to night shades.
    I’ve just been told by my doctor that I’ve likely got arthritis in my hands and arms. I eat a lot of potatoes too!
    I’m going to give the potatoes a miss for a few months to see if my pain disappears.

    Thanks Amy for this great information. I’ve book marked your site as you have great and useful info.

  • this is crazy, I really had no idea that there were so many different night shade plants, even more that they contain nicotine…

    There is so much about the foods we eat everyday that we just don’t know. Thank you for taking the time to put this together, this was an interesting read.

  • Enjoyed your article on raw food. My partner and I did a raw food experiment a few years ago. It was fun in a way, and the idea of eating raw has a certain appeal as a “natural” healthy diet. But it didn’t work for our bodies. (We quit after 3 months). Your article is a good summary of the reasons why it’s better to rely on solid science than on sentiment when it comes to important issues, like health.
    Thanks

    • Thanks, Ruth, and yes, the whole “raw” thing has a certain glamour to it, but in reality, it doesn’t work too well, as you came to realize. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Thanks for the very informative article. I knew eggplant was a nightshade and that some people claimed it caused them problems but I don’t eat it very often and when I have I haven’t noticed any symptoms. I had no idea tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers were nightshades too though. Do they all contain some nicotine?

    • Hi Katie — yes, the leaves of all nightshades contains nicotine — to the extent that you could smoke potato or tomato leaves — if you were so inclined to do so…! Under current FDA regulations, there is some question as to whether or not nightshades would be permitted to enter the food supply because of their nicotine content. Interestingly enough, though, as certain tomato varieties ripen, their nicotine content lessens. “Pack of tomatoes, please…” — thanks for writing…!

  • Interesting article. I have never heard of the term “nightshade”. I enjoy eating some of them like eggplant and potatoes, and have not encountered any sensitivity. I agree with your conclusion that everything in moderation is the way to go.

  • Great information on nightshade in your article, nightshades are a food group you should avoid if you have any type of autoimmune disease. These foods do affect me in a negative way, they give me muscle pain, digestive problems, low energy levels and lack of concentration with headaches sometimes.

    Good point yams and sweet potato’s are not night shades, I can eat them without any problems.

    • Hi Jeffrey and thanks for writing! I am glad you can eat yams and sweet potatoes without any trouble. Good thing you know to stay away from the rest! /a.

  • Very very cool article! It’s amazing to see how natural substances like food in our environment is really the best medicine for us, and provides us with a lot of the nutrients and strength we need to survive. It’s also very interesting that you mentioned belladonna; in homeopathy, homeopathically made Belladonna has the ability to treat symptoms that actual Belladonna causes. So it’s cool to see how its other food forms are very beneficial as well.

    • Thanks, Ariel…! Yes, homeopathy is pretty amazing, and thank you for the comparison…! Glad you enjoyed the article. /a.

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