Are edi­ble night­shades toxic or poi­sonous? If so, in what quan­ti­ties?

Guru Magazine - - Ask A Guru - Asked by @sineira via twit­ter

When you think of a ‘ night­shade’, the im­age of a deadly night­shade plant or a pretty flower prob­a­bly comes to mind. In re­al­ity, night­shades are part of a vast fam­ily of varied plants (the Solanaceae fam­ily). Quite a few types of night­shade are highly toxic – but lots aren’t. Had you re­alised that pota­toes, toma­toes, chili pep­pers (to use the US spelling) and even the to­bacco plant are types of night­shade? Which gives you some­thing to think about next time you squeeze ketchup on your fries. The chem­i­cals that make night­shades poi­sonous are called al­ka­loids. Th­ese harm­ful chem­i­cals help to pro­tect the plants from any­thing that wants to eat them; it’s the rea­son hot pep­pers are so fiery – they con­tain the spicy al­ka­loid, cap­saicin. While the heat from eat­ing a chili pep­per may de­ter other mam­mals, hu­mans can’t seem to get enough (see this pre­vi­ous an­swer to find out why). And while eat­ing lots of hot pep­pers isn’t fatal, it can cer­tainly make you sick. ( Tech­ni­cally it is pos­si­ble to die from chili pep­per over­dose but you have to try very hard – Ed) Some night­shade plants are deadly, such as bel­ladonna ( deadly night­shade) and the jim­son weed. Never eat th­ese. They con­tain tropane, another much more toxic al­ka­loid. Side-ef­fects are nasty: hal­lu­ci­na­tions, coma, and death. A few leaves or berries are enough to kill an adult hu­man. Chil­dren and an­i­mals are es­pe­cially at risk since the berries look edi­ble and taste sweet. Oddly, tropane can also save lives when given in con­trolled doses as at­ropine, a drug that can treat an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat. Pota­toes and toma­toes are the most pop­u­lar edi­ble night­shades. They do con­tact a harm­ful al­ka­loid called sola­nine, which when in­gested in large quan­ti­ties can cause vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhoea and hal­lu­ci­na­tions. We can get away with eat­ing toma­toes and pota­toes be­cause sola­nine lev­els are low in the edi­ble parts of th­ese plants. Toxic lev­els of sola­nine are found only in the leaves, stems, and un­ripe fruit. There­fore, eat­ing ripe toma­toes is fine, so you should feel free to eat as much tomato sauce and mashed pota­toes as you want. But if any­one of­fers you tomato leaf tea, don’t drink it. Oh, and avoid the green pota­toes.

List of edi­ble night­shades:

Tomato Tomatillo Naran­jilla Egg­plant (aubergine) Po­tato Pep­per (in­cludes hot and sweet va­ri­eties as well as spices like pa­prika, chili pow­der, cayenne, and Tabasco) Pi­mento Gogi berry (wolf­berry) Tamar­illo Cape goose­berry/ground cherry Pepino Gar­den huck­le­berry

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