Friday, August 5, 2016


I find Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) really lovely, despite its status as a weedy alien that is sometimes invasive.  Bright, violet star-shaped flowers give way to red berries, while leaves touched by bronze add a dignified touch.   It is a shade-tolerant perennial vine plant that you will see growing up fences and out of hedges all over the place once you know it.  

Bittersweet Nightshade has the distinction of being a close relative to several food plants: tomato* (Solanum lycopersicum), potato (Solanum tuberosum) and eggplant (Solanum melongena).  All these plants collectively have the lesser distinction of being poisonous.  You should particularly avoid the green parts and unripe fruit.  (You may already know to avoid eating potatoes that have begun to green-up.  On the other hand, we have pickled and eaten end-of-season green tomatoes without a second thought!)  All these plants produce solanine and dulcamarine (among other active chemicals) which are quite poisonous in moderate doses. The ripe berries are the least poisonous part.  Still, if you see it around it wouldn't hurt to warn you children.  --unless of course they're the sort of children who reflexively challenge authority!  Another plant, the much-more-poisonous Deadly Nightshade is in a different genus in the same family. 

One Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) in late-spring and summer.

*Here in the Michals-Brown household it's tomato sandwich season: slice tomatoes fresh from the garden onto toasted bread spread with mayo.  Season liberally with salt, pepper and dill weed.  Yum!

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