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Black Nightshade

Solanum nigrum ripe fruits
Solanum nigrum ripe fruits

Family: Solanaceae

Species: Solanum nigrum

Related genera : Atropa, Brugmansia, Capsicum, Datura, Hyoscyamus, Mandragora, Nicotiana, Scopolia, Solanum

Names: (European) Black Nightshade, Garden Nightshade, Hound’s Berry, Nachtschaden, Petty Morel, Small-fruited black nightshade, Wonderberry, Duscle, chichiquilitl, popolo, yocoyoco, Hierba mora, Schwarzer Nachtschatten, Nachtschaden, Gartenstrychnos / essbarer Strychnos (Dioskurides)

General: Member of the Solanaceae family, close relative to a number of poisonous nightshades, sometimes considered poisonous, however parts are edible

History and uses: The medicinal use of black nightshade can be traced back to ancient Greece. It was considered cooling, calmative and mildly analgesic. Common folk-medicinal uses include the treatment of gastric and enterospasms, eczema, contusions and abscesses. The ripe fruits are edible and in India referred to as “fragrant tomato”, where the entire plant is eaten as a vegetable, particularly during the seasons when the corn is still ripening. In Africa eating black nightshade is believed to prevent children from Marasmus and Kwashiorkor (both diseases are forms of protein-energy malnutrition). The ripe fruits have a sweet taste and can be made into jam. The foliage is also part of Greek boiled vegetable horta salad. Dioskurides called it garden strychnos (or edible strychnos) as opposed to the toxic and inedible members of the same plant family. The German name Nachtschatten may be a derivation of Nachtschaden (nightmares), which might be connected to accidental poisoning with the unripe fruits and leaves or inedible variants of this plant, which took effect during night time, or may refer to black nightshade’s narcotic properties. It was also part of so-called ‘Hexensalben’ or flying ointments (lamiarum unguenta) and might be the attorlaðe of the Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm.

The American variety is called chichiquilitl or hierba mora in Mexico, where folk-medicinal applications range from making use of its analgesic, calmative and stimulant properties through to the treatment of Parkinson’s and epilepsy. In homeopathy essence derived from all parts of the flowering plant is used in the treatment of CNS diseases.

Chinese experiments seem to confirm the plant inhibits growth of cervical carcinoma.

According to Davis, W. 1988 the American variant Solanum nigrum var. americanum is the “branched calalue” used in Obeah ceremonies (see). In the Dictionary of Jamaican English the branched calalue is listed as a synonym for the brown-jolly berry (see).

Toxicity and pharmacological: The unripe (green) berries contain up to 1,6% tropane alkaloids, the main alkaloid being Solanine, which can be fatal if taken in large quantities (for symptoms of solanine poisoning see). The concentration of tropane alkaloids decreases with aging of the plant. Besides this the fresh leaves have also been proven to contain Ascorbic acid. In folk medicine they are considered cooling, calmative and mildly analgesic.

Black nightshade in the garden:

Annual, ruderal species, with sub-species and variations occurring worldwide and sometimes considered a weed. Likes a place in half shade or full sun and normal to rich, well-drained soil. Easily sows out itself and can become invasive in the garden. Grows about 30 cm to 1 m tall and develops small white, star-shaped flowers with bright yellow stamina from May to August and small tomato-like fruits that turn black in summer. The ripe fruits are edible, but poisonous when still green.

Magical associations: Saturn/Earth, also Mercury, divination and vision, protection, magical defense and counter-attack, calming, easing nervousness, soporific, sending nightmares, flying ointments, Anglo-Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, samhain herb

Plant art:

'S. nigrum', Soulpainting #1, art print
‘S. nigrum’, Soulpainting #1, art print

Sources: Wikipedia, Arzneimittellehre des Dioskurides, Pflanzen im Emsland,


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