Common names: Blackberry Nightshade, Black Berry Nightshade, Black Nightshade
Taxonomic name: Solanum nigrum
Flowering Time: Autumn to Spring
Uses: Food, mouth ulcers
Area of origin: Eurasia
Warnings: Can cause vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea. Don’t eat the green berries or leaves without boiling and throwing out the water.
Blackberry Nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is a common plant that suffers from a common misconception.
Many people believe that, because the common name contains ‘nightshade’, it is as poisonous as the unrelated Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), which it is only in the same Family as. Deadly Nightshade doesn’t occur here, locally, unless a plant has escaped someone’s garden.
The easiest way to tell the difference, Deadly Nightshade has single berries while Blackberry Nightshade has clusters. The flowers are different too, Deadly Nightshade has single flowers that are a pink or purple colour, Blackberry Nightshade flowers are white and are in clusters.
Blackberry Nightshade is one of the Solanum family, and so is related to more commonly eaten vegetables such as Tomatoes and Potatoes.
Like many Solanums, you must be careful which part you eat and when. In the case of Blackberry Nightshade, we eat the ripe berries. When ripe, they are a purple – black colour and very soft. They fall easily from the plant when ready. The small, white flowers are distinctive of this plant.
Whatever you do, don’t eat the green berries. They can make you pretty ill.
The leaves are eaten in some parts of the world, cooked like Spinach but I don’t find them that tasty. Boiling the leaves and throwing out the water removes the Solanine but I think that the leaves are still unpleasantly bitter.
The juice of the leaves has been used on ulcers and can be made into an ointment for skin complaints and tumors and herpes. Small doses of the freshly squeezed juice of the leaves can be drunk to ease pain and kick off a sweat, though I’m not sure of safe doses. I have tried small amounts as a pain killer and it works a bit and it did produce a heavy sweat. Caution is advised here.
Blackberry Nightshade has been used to induce sleep and as a narcotic, but I don’t recommend it at all due to the chemistry of the plant.
A bushy, herbaceous plant to 1.5 metres. Small, star shaped, white flowers with 5 petals and bright yellow stamen grow in clusters in the leaf forks. Hairy or slightly hairy leaves Fruit starts green and is toxic but ripens to black when it is pleasant to eat.