Solanum nigrum has various other names such as black nightshade, Indian nightshade, European black nightshade solanum, garden huckleberry, Kakamachi, duscle, wonder berry, petty morel and hound’s berry. The ripe fruit and cooked leaves are edible, however, some parts of the plants are poisonous and can cause serious damage to humans and cattle. In Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine, use the plant to treat chronic ailments too like liver diseases, dental cavities, headache, rodent bites, fever, splenomegaly and vitiligo.
The renowned ecologist and botanist, Edward Salisbury suggested that the plant, Solanum nigrum was a native to ancient Britain even before Neolithic agriculture. It was also recorded in the deposit of Mesolithic and Paleolithic era.
In India, the plant has become naturalised and found all over in the temperate regions. The small leaves and white cluster flowers give this plant a distinctive appearance. Its fruit is called berry, which is small and shiny. The raw fruit has a purple-ish colour, but as it ripe, it almost disappears. One can found another variety of berries, which turn red when ripened.
This herb grows as a perennial but is short-lived. It can be found easily in disturbed habitats. The oval or heart-shaped leaves are long and wide. The flowers are usually green or white with bright yellow anthers. The flowers tend to curve from the edges with the time.
Solanum Nigrum Toxicity
This herb is often confused with the ‘deadly nightshade,’ Atropa belladonna, which belongs to another genus. However, while the latter is very poisonous, S.nigrum has rarely been proved fatal. Consumption of raw berries can cause vomiting, fever, diarrhoea, mild stomach pains and sometimes, even death in children, when ingested in a large amount, due to cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory failure. It is also harmful to livestock.
Solanum Nigrum as Food
However, this hasn’t deterred humans to try its edible strain all over the world. In the 15th-century China, it was recorded as a famine food despite its toxicity level. It was used as spinach, though with a bitter and strong flavour and suitable for eating only after boiling for hours. In Ethiopia, the ripe berries are also a common food in famine-affected areas and consumed as-is. The leaves are boiled in salt water for hours before consumption.
Nigrum as a Medicine
In Indian states such as Southern Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Southern Karnataka, the berries are usually referred to as fragrant tomato and used in cooking. Ayurveda refers to the fruits as a ‘dangerous medicine’ and prescribes it as an appetite stimulant and a tonic. In ancient India, the plant was used to treat tuberculosis, jaundice, rat bites and mouth ulcers. A Chinese research has established that the plant has anti-carcinogenic properties and it successfully inhibited the growth of cervical carcinoma in mice. The paste of its leaves is used externally to treat skin infections such as eczema and psoriasis.
Solanum nigrum also contains a glycoalkaloid steroid-solasodine that can be propagated via roots of the plant.