I was teaching a class about Superfoods at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition yesterday. The students were inquisitive and eager to learn much. They loved the session. I promised to post some articles on the blog about topics that they were interested in. Today’s post is from the question: Why is the nightshade family called nightshade? Nutritional Consultants will counsel clients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout to avoid the nightshade family which consists of capsicum (paprika, chili pepper), potato, tobacco, tomato, and eggplant. Potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce are classified as nightshade foods.The family further consists of Datura (Jimson weed), mandrake, deadly nightshade (belladonna). “Nightshade” is actually the common name used to describe over 2,800 species of plants, many with very different properties and constituents. Its derivation is from Old English – nihtscada (meaning: unrecorded night) perhaps because of its narcotic/poisoning effects.
The Solanaceae is a family of flowering plants, that contains a number of important agricultural plants as well as many toxic plants. The name of the family comes from the Latin Solanum“the nightshade plant”, but the further etymology of that word is unclear. Most likely, the name comes from the perceived resemblance that some of the flowers bear to the sun and its rays, and in fact a species of Solanum (Solanum nigrum) is known as the sunberry. Alternatively, it has been suggested the name originates from the Latin verb solari, meaning “to soothe”. This presumably refers to alleged soothing pharmacologica properties of some of the psychoactive species of the family.
A particular group of substances in these foods, called alkaloids, can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function. Because the amount of alkaloids is very low in nightshade foods when compared with other nightshade plants, health problems from nightshade foods may only occur in individuals who are especially sensitive to these alkaloid substances. Since cooking only lowers alkaloid content of nightshade foods by about 40-50%, highly sensitive individuals may want to avoid this category of food altogether, while non-sensitive individuals may be able to eat these foods, especially in cooked form, without problem. Green and sprouted spots on potatoes usually reflect high alkaloid content, even though the green itself involves the presence of chlorophyll, not alkaloids. For this reason, sprouted areas should always be thoroughly removed before potato cooking, or the potatoes should be discarded altogether.