Solanaceae

Tomatillo

Tomatillo

Solanaceae—one of my favourite families of plants.

There are more than a few members of this family in the vegetable garden:

Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, cape gooseberries, capsicum (peppers), and tomatillos are all solanaceous plants.

Nicotiana

Nicotiana

But they don’t end there. In the flower garden there are petunias and nicotiana, among the perennial fruits are gogi berries, and in the native garden there is poro poro.

And, of course, growing as weeds everywhere are black and hairy nightshade (these don’t get my favourite plant vote).

This diverse and sometimes tasty group of plants also includes many containing medicinal, poisonous or psychoactive chemicals (tobacco, mandrake, and deadly nightshade among them). Indeed, it’s best to be careful with the Solanaceae—even the edible ones contain poisons in the non-edible portions of the plants, or, as in the case of green potatoes, even in the edible parts. Solanine is the culprit in green potatoes—it causes diarrhoea, vomiting and hallucinations, and its bitter taste prevents herbivores from eating the potatoes. Other chemicals in the Solanaceae can have the opposite effect—reducing nausea in chemotherapy patients, and reversing the effects of poisoning by certain pesticides and chemical warfare agents.

And we’re still discovering more uses for these pharmacologically rich plants.

What’s not to like?