At some point in my life I learnt about a plant called Deadly Nightshade. I’ve no idea when this was, possibly when I was young. All I knew was that it was deadly poisonous and I shouldn’t eat the berries. For most of my life, I didn’t think much about it, except briefly when I was living at Ecoforest a visitor there from Finland used to eat the berries. He stayed for 3 months and he didn’t die. For some reason I just ignored the inconsistency and continued with my life, believing that these berries were poisonous.
Fast forward to this year and a Facebook friend, Chris Lane, posted the following “Black Nightshade is a plant eaten worldwide, leaves and ripe fruit, yet shunned in Europe and North America due to a historical mix up between this species and Deadly Nightshade – Atropa belladonna” along with a link to an article which goes into a lot more detail. Something clicked in my brain, clearly my Finnish friend hadn’t been eating Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, he had been eating Solanum nigrum, black nightshade…
So, I did some more research, looked at lots of photos, and worked out the difference between the two plants. They are both in the same family, so there are a lot of similarities, but the main differences as far as I can see:
||Solanum nigrum (Edible)
||Atropa belladonna (POISONOUS)
||White with yellow centre
Black nightshade berries
Deadly Nightshade Atropa belladonna. Photo by Wendy Cutler licensed under Creative Commons BY 2.0
A couple of weeks ago I identified the plants growing here as Solanum nigrum, so I tried a berry and it tasted a bit like a tomato! I had a few more – I like them! I’ve been eating them regularly since this and I’m still alive…
The berries are the size of a pea and you should only eat them when they are ripe – black or dark purplish black. They hang in little bunches, unlike the poisonous deadly nightshade which hang individually.
I recommend you do your own research and look at lots of photos before trying these berries yourself.
Personally I wouldn’t eat the leaves, it seems in some places they are eaten cooked, but they can contain toxic alkaloids and are poisonous raw.
This article was first published in Funky Raw magazine issue 33.
Unripe black nightshade berries