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Black Nightshade Berries
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Black Nightshade may grow as a summer annual or short-lived perennial broadleaf plant that dies away after a few seasons. It develops a bushy, sometimes vining structure and can reach heights of one meter, but specimens as small as 8 centimeters can ripen viable fruit. The dark green leaves are soft and thin, the shape of an arrowhead and may be smooth or hairy depending upon variety. In the summer small purple flowers resembling those of a tomato bloom in small clusters, and later give way to round berries 1 centimeter in diameter. They ripen from a green to deep inky blue and contain a seedy interior with juicy pale green pulp. The flavor is like a cross between a tomato, a tomatillo and a blueberry, both savory and sweet.
Black Nightshade berries are available in the late summer and fall.
Black Nightshade is an herbaceous plant that is considered a poisonous weed by some and yet an important food source in other parts of the world. There are dozens of subspecies of Black Nightshade that are collectively grouped under the botanical name Solanum nigrum, each varying only slightly from each other. The identity crisis that surrounds Black Nightshade is perhaps because of its common misidentification as Atropa belladonna, or Deadly nightshade, a truly toxic plant in the same family. Black Nightshade is entirely edible, nutritious and delicious and with proper identification, a foragers goldmine, providing both edible berries and greens.
Black Nightshade berries contain calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A.
Black Nightshade berries maybe cooked or simply eaten raw out of hand as a wild food snack. Their musky, slightly sweet, yet tomato-like flavor lend them to both sweet and savory applications, but they are most often prepared as a preserve, jam or pie filling. Some people find that their skins and seeds impart an unpleasant texture and a “hot” flavor in sweet preparations, and are therefore removed with a sieve or cheesecloth. The leaves are also edible and may be prepared as a vegetable green on their own or added to soup and stews.
The berries and the leaves of the Black Nightshade plant were a crucial food source and an important natural medicine for early Native American tribes including the Cherokee, Iroquois and Costanoan Indians. Medicinally, an infusion of the leaves was taken for depression and as a psychological aid for extreme trauma such as death in the family. It was also used to treat scarlet fever, dermatological disorders and toothaches.
Most western cultures have long regarded Black Nightshade as inedible due the myth of its toxicity, even though it has been proven to be perfectly safe for consumption. It is estimated that in other parts of the globe over two billion people regularly eat Black Nightshade as a normal part of their diet. In tropical and subtropical climates across Africa and Asia, the leaves are as ubiquitous as spinach and the berries as common as blueberries. Black Nightshade is a hardy plant that thrives in most soil types and prefers partial shade.
Recipes that include Black Nightshade Berries. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Chitra's Food Book||Mananthakkali Keerai Kootu (Black Night Shade)|
|The Survival Gardener||Nightshade Jam|