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.
<< 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…!