Nightshade: What you should know

The other evening an acquaintance posted a photo and a call for help in identifying a suspicious looking plant growing in her tomato beds among her tomato plants. The plant in question was a Solanaceae, specifically a Nightshade (Solanum spp.)

This is a real cause for concern if you have little ones who like to help in the garden and are naturally curious. This is also a danger to pets like my kitten who loves to nibble on anything new he finds in the yard.

Seasonally we are about the right time to see them although rare, but if you do see them pull them out!

Nightshade, black (Solanum spp.)
Location or Season: Late summer, early fall, fencerows
Probable Toxic Dose: 1 to 10 Ib.
Toxin: Alkaloid-Solanine
Symptoms: Diarrhea, convulsions, incoordination, death

More about the Solanaceae family:

The Solanaceae is a family of flowering plants, many of which are edible, while others are considered poisonous.

The family is informally known as the nightshade or potato family. The family includes the Datura or Jimson weed, Eggplant, Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna, Black Nightshade, Capsicum, (paprika, Chile pepper), Potato, Tobacco, Tomato, and Petunia. The most important species of this family for the global diet is the potato.

I would like to note that there is a belief that some Black Night shade strains are edible, but I have not found any information on these, be safe and stay away from it. 

The Solanaceae are known for possessing a diverse range of alkaloidal glucosides, or simply alkaloids.  As far as humans are concerned, these alkaloids can be desirable, toxic, or both, though they presumably evolved because they reduced the tendency of animals to eat the plants

Some other names:

Atropa Belladonna, Deadly nightshade, Black Nightshade, Devil’s berries, or my favorite Beautiful Death.  In the same family beware of Solanum Dulcamara or Bittersweet nightshade

History of Atropa Belladonna:

Atropa Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) is a herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe, SW Asia and NW Africa, which has long been known for its toxic properties. It has been used as a poison and a recreational drug. Adding to its negative aura is the fact that it is thought that this plant has been used in practices of witchcraft, divination, and sorcery. The name Atropa comes from the goddess Atropos, who is one of the three Fates of Greek and Roman mythology. She and the other Fates spun the thread of human destiny, which Atopos could cut off whenever she felt so inclined.

Though the plant has a sinister reputation, it has many positive properties. Atropa belladonna has been found to have many pharmaceutical and therapeutic applications. A member of the family Solanaceae, it is closely related to plants such as tomato and potatoes, as well as other toxic plants, such as Datura, Hyoscyamus, and Nicotiana. The plant itself is a herbaceous perennial, often 1-1.5 m (occasionally up to 2 m) in height, when full-grown.  It has a purplish stem that is densely covered with short, fine hairs.  It has broad, dark green ovate leaves (6-20 cm long) which are formed in uneven pairs, one leaf in each pair being much larger than the other.  Its roots are thick, white in color, fleshy, and about 15 cm or more in length. The bell-shaped flowers are 2 cm long, purple with a pale base, and grow solitary in the axils of the leaves. It usually flowers between June and September. The fruit is shiny, black berries that are full of sweet, dark, ink-like juice. The berries are often consumed by animals as a way of seed dispersal despite their toxicity to humans



(Hunziker 2001, Campbell 2007, Cross 2012).

(Rita & Animesh 2011).

Authered by Anna Moomaw

Anna Moomaw