Discovering a new Wild Edible Berry: Solanum nigrum – Black Nightshade

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)
Berries In bunches Individual
Flowers White with yellow centre Purple/Green

Black nightshade berries

Black nightshade berries

Deadly Nightshade photo copyright Wendy Cutler CC BY

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.

Black Nightshade Unripe Berries

Unripe black nightshade berries

6 thoughts on “Discovering a new Wild Edible Berry: Solanum nigrum – Black Nightshade

  1. Kia ora, e hoa ma … I am Tao from Aotearoa (New Zealand)!

    Firstly, finally someone had the intelligence to provide a side by side comparison … well done.

    Secondly I am of Maori descent, and as such, one of our edibles is called Poroporo … (Solanum Nigrum) … It is considered a delicacy to the Maori. It is eaten throughout Pacifica.

    I concur you can eat the ripe berries … Jam anyone?

    However you can also eat the leaves …only the leaves …(the steams, flowers and green berries) …Must be avolded!

    Leaves are used in the same way as spinach or silverbeet.

    Carefully pluck the leaves only … Boil until wilted (blanched ~ 5-7 minutes) …strain fluid … now they are ready to be added to other ingredients to create meals…. typically they need to boil until soft.

    They have a strong taste, so use a little at first … gradually add more to your cooking to suit your taste.

    In closing, if the leaves …were indeed toxic …Maori would not eat them, .. I am a 37th generation descendant of the Maori in Aotearoa, if you get my drift. (Still kicking).

    Kiaora ra

  2. The leaves are also eaten raw for medicinal purpose. I grew up in south of India and was always given the leaves of this plant to treat mouth ulcer while growing up.

  3. Update Feb 2020 – I eat these berries every year when in season, I really like them so I eat a lot, and I’m still alive! It seems that the Wikipedia article has been updated saying how toxic this berry is, although I’m still convinced it is edible, although only when fully ripe.

  4. We grew up eating them here in oz and almost every persons opinion is they’re poisonous unsafe to eat . It drives me crazy that most people believe everything they hear but don’t do their homework before insisting others should refrain.
    My kids and I love them, we eat them in salads of straight off the bush , they also make a handy watercolour or ink if the juice is pressed out strained and reserved .

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