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Earlier I wrote about the questions surrounding the edibility of the infamous black nightshade, a plant that has been both feared because of it’s toxicity in Europe, and praised for its edibility (both fruit and leaves) elsewhere.

Dying of berry poisoning isn’t exactly my style, so I’m not just going to eat any black nightshade-berry that I come across. But I am adventurous enough to try out some cultivated strains that are confirmed as edible…

That’s why I tried 3 varieties of edible varieties from the S. nigrum complex this summer. If I received them under the right names they were the American garden huckleberry (S. melanocerasum), the very mysteriously named wonderberry (S. x burbankii) and a yellow-fruited variety sold as ‘golden pearls’ (S. villosum).
Due to strange weather (from an extremely cold almost wintery month of may we went directly to a summer of tropical weather too hot for many plants to grow much) a lot of plants (corn, tomatillo, pumpkins, amaranths) are a bit later than other years, and the nightshades are no exception to this, not just in the garden but everywhere where they grow as a weed too. But finally I’ve done the first test tasting the berries of all 3 nightshade types, even though not all of them have many ripe berries yet..

The good news: I am still alive.

The bad news: there’s not that much reason to get enthusiastic…

American garden huckleberry (Solanum melanocerasus)
Let’s start with the ‘American garden huckleberry’. It is the most atypical of the three, It is actually a very powerful vigorous plant with big berries growing erect in clusters, which seem to ripen almost at the same time per cluster. The berries are shiny and black, and the plant seems to produce quite a lot of them…
AGHberryThat’s the good news about the American garden huckleberry so far. The bad news is that it’s very conforming to the stereotype of a lot of things produced by Americans: big, shiny, lot of produce, but the quality is not that interesting. At least when raw the taste is not that very atractive, a bit like the jaltomatos I grew last year, but less sweet even and with a metal-ish quality to the taste.
I hope that they taste better when processed, and I’ll experiment with them later when all the berries are ripe. But I doubt they will ever become my favorite fruit….

Wonderberry (Solanum X burbankii)
Then the so-called wonderberry named after the famous American plant breeder Mr. Burbank. I personally don’t see what so wonderous about the plant at all. Maybe because mwonderbrryy plant  has been overgrown by tree spinach and tomatoes, but it is not the biggest plant or most impressive, with small berries of less than 1 cm diamater. Just as with our native black nightshade the berries are growing in clusters and hanging, and dull black when ripe. Makes one wonder if what I’m growing here is not just a mislabeled edible strain of plain old S. nigrum…

The good thing is that the taste is maybe not that spectacular, but really not bad either, more sweetish. But it doesn’t yield much. Maybe next year I should let it grow in full sun.

‘Golden pearls’ (Solanum villosum)
villosumThe third one, the yellow ‘golden pearls’ of S. villosum, surprisingly looks a lot like the ‘wonderberry’ and like our native form of S. nigrum, with its small hanging berries, except for the color of the fruits, and the plants look generally a bit more fuzzy and soft. The taste is also quite similar to my wonderberry, and not bad at all although not that special either. It seems to grow a bit slower though, I only see 2 ripe berries and only after having eaten them I realised I photographed them with no memory card in my camera, so no picture of the ripe berries..

I am certainly not the biggest specialist of the black nightshade complex, but it’s easy to see that both whatever they sent me as wonderberry and the yellow-berried S. villosum are much closer related to the black nightshade I’ve known all my life than what I’ve received as the American garden huckleberry, and also that both of them are more interesting taste-wise. They have smaller berries and less yield, and they are not that special actually, but at least the taste is okay when raw.

The Garden Huckleberry will get one more chance to prove it’s tastiness later in the year, when all the berries are ripe and I will try to cook them with sugar or so. And if it doesn’t work I’ll never grow it again and leave it to the Americans to make something with it that suits their taste…
The others might be added to a dessert in small quantities when ripe, or just eaten when I’m working in the garden…

And who knows if I get access to another interesting variety next year. I actually want to try the Inidan ‘red Makoi’ variety of S. nigrum one day…

Bram

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(Dutch version here)

This winter I’ve been seed-swapping around a bit, and that means I’ve also obtained some things that were unknown to me, from all over the world… One of these things is something called ‘garden huckleberries’, a type of edible annual berry-bearing plants that seem to enjoy a naming confusion in both common english names and scientific name. The seeds, of which I only have a zwarte nachtschade1few, arrived from 2 different sources, as ‘Solanum burbankii’ and ‘Solanum melanocerasus’ (and the seeds do look a bit different as well), but if you look those up on google they seem to have a lot of synonyms too. S. burnakii is also known as S. retroflexum and wonderberry or sunberry, and S. melonanocerasum is sometimes seen as a subspecies of S. nigrum, the infamous black nightshade, a plant both resemble and are close related too.

But wait, we’re talking about edible berries here. Wasn’t the infamous black nightshade one of those legendary poisonous plants? That’s what everybody knows, right?

That’s what I have believed all of my life, and what a lot of people think. But is it true? Some people seem to doubt it. (read the linked article!!) And upon looking further it seems that both the (ripe) berries and the leaves of S. nigrum and its close relatives (sometimes lumped together as the ‘Solanum nigrum complex) are eaten by people in Asia, Africa and Nprth-America and even Europe. The ripe berries (unripe berries are considered poisonous) are eaten raw or processed as a fruit, and the leaves are eaten as spinach, sometimes explicitly after getting rid of the boiling water.

So there’s 2 possibilities about the edibility of this poisonous plant: 1. there are indeed very poisonous plants in the S. nigrum complex, and some of which are fine to eat, depending on the type, or 2. S. nigrum and its close relatives are all edible, but we think they are not. Most sources seem to think (2) but some people like Sam Thayer (who did a lot of research for his linked paper) seem to think that the plant isn’t that poisonous after all… After all it is a foodsource on all Northern continents in a lot of non-Western cultures..

It seems that people also confuse the black nightshade with the deathly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), which is one of the most deadly plants of Europe and surrounding areas. And coincidently, according to Thayer, people eat a lot of black nightshade all the time all over the world and do not die, but here in Europe we do not eat it at all, and regard it as poisonous, while the last 50 years no-one has died of poisoning with the plant, and most cases of earlier poisoning are likely to be Atropa-poisoning…

And yet, I’m still not going to eat wild black nightshade berries, but I’m going to give those garden varieties a try this year. Not that I expect too much of them, it seems that not everybody is that enthusiastic about the taste, but I’ll try a few plants of both ‘garden huckleberry’ varieties to see if the berries are indeed useful for desserts…

And no, I’m not ready to eat Solanum spinach at all… I’m okay with amaranth and pumpkin leaf and other versions of horta, but no nightshade please…

So here’s my question for the readers: Anyone here who knows more about the edible uses of S. nigrum plants, or who has seeds of edible strains used for spinach or with very tasty berries? Or anyone who knows of poisoning cases?

Bram

(Dutch version here!)

The jaltomato (Jaltomata procumbens) is a beautiful nightshade-like plant with edible dark berries from Mexico and Middle-america. Despite what the name might suggest, it doesn’t have  that much to do with tomatoes. It’s originally a more tropical species, but it can perfectly grow in our climate nonetheless, treated as an annual.

The plant itself is a bushy herb that did not grew much higher than one meter here, but it grows in all directions though, and eventually it might topple completely. First it gets beautiful white nightshade flowers, and by the end of summer it gives almost black berries, slightly larger than a blueberry, which can be used similarly. The berries have a taste which is not that very spectacular, but others with a feel for poetry have described it as a mix between grape and tomato, and invoked some other unrelated flavors. I personally think they just have a taste you have to get used to, but which is quite pleasant.

The fruit is fine to eat raw, but also useful for cooking or processing, whether or not combined with other fruits. (We made an apple-jaltomato crumble, of which I do not have made any pictures, which was quite good!) Jam and likewise stuff should be possible too, but I haven’t tried that yet.

In the garden it’s a fairly easy plant. You sow them inside early in the year, and plant them outside after the first frost. Given the growth habit it might be good to support it. The plants grow quite easily, though the berries quite small, so don’t expect a really big yield… I didn’t encounter many problems problems, though there were certain berries that were a bit hard inside, instead of soft and juicy. This may be because one plant grew too far in the shade. The possibility exists that after mild winters the plats does come back from the roots, and that he seeds himself and comes back.  But I can not yet say much about that, I’ve only tried it for one year now….

For those people who are afraid of the the idea of eating nightshade berries, the white flowers (and the rest of the plant) are quite different from both the black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) or deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and if you know both species you’re not likely misidentifying it for one of those…

Verdict: a beautiful and interesting plant, the berries are okay and have something peculiar, both in taste and in appearance. No spectacular yield, and further not a very spectacular plant, and certainly nothing to hype or anything…

(On the other hand, tomatoes did also start as small berries, and potatoes were small tuber which were only formed in late autumn over here, so maybe there is a possibility for selecting interesting varieties?)

This plant is offered relatively rarely. My original seeds came from Vreeken in the Netherlands. I did preserve a few seeds (contact me if you want some), but not enough to fill half the world with jaltomato plants.

peace