Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the different plant families and their medicinal and culinary value.
This family of plants is known as the nightshade family and has been a source of food or spice, medicine, poison and pleasure to man throughout the ages. The family includes herbs, shrubs, trees, vines and creepers – although this is commonly named the deadly nightshade family there are several family members which you may eat on a regular basis!!.
Understanding the botany can help to identify members of the family when out and about. If you have ever grown the edible ones you will have a good image of their common characteristics. They have been described botanically having alternate leaves that are usually stalked, without stipules. The flowers have five petals, shaped like a bell or a wheel with five stamens projecting in a column. The fruits of the Solanaceae family have been described as berries or capsules with either two or four cells. Family members of this family are very concentrated in Central and South America suggesting they may have originated from this continent.
Europe and Africa contain around 85 different genera within the family and 2,800 species. As I mentioned earlier there are several which are edible and you may grow or have in your kitchen… Can you think of any?
Of the poisonous side of the family – well high in alkaloids so can be toxic… there is Mandrake (featured in the Harry Potter films, ironically I grew this in my garden and it was eaten by slugs… but not flesh eating slugs lol), Deadly Nightshade, Henbane, Tobacco, Thorn Apple/datura/jimsonweed, Bittersweet, and boxthorn.
And from the edible side of the family there is the humble potato, the delicious tomato, aubergines/eggplants, the spice paprika and the delicious superfood goji berry or Duke or Argyll’s Tea Plant 🙂
Did you guess any? Do you have any of these in your kitchen or garden?
Phytochemically the Solanaceae family are characterized by the numerous alkaloids found in its constituents. Modern medicine is highly interested in alkaloids because of the effect they have on the body.
The constituents of the Solanaceae family
Nicotina spp. contain alkaloids which are formed on the same biosynthetic pathway as the tropane alkaloids detailed in the table below. The alkaloids are found in the leaves of the nicotine plant and in concentrated amounts can be fatal to a human being; the lethal dose is around 40-60mg!! The alkaloid has a pharmacological effect on the human body within minutes of being inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin, stimulating blood pressure and the gastro intestinal organs or blocking the bodies functions causing respiratory paralysis or convulsions. These herbs are dangerous and there are restrictions on their sale and use. As a herbalist I am authorised to use them as medicine as I have been trained on the correct use and dose. As you are aware the tobacco trade is highly regulated too!!
|Name of Alkaloid||Species containing Alkaloid||Actions on the body|
Ester Alkaloids of the Tropane Group
Restricts salivary, sweat and bronchiol glands. Inhibits gastro intestinal motility. Relaxes the gall-bladder, urinary blagger and uterus. High doses stimulates the cerebral cortex.
Restricts salivary, sweat and bronchiol glands. Inhibits gastro intestinal motility. Relaxes the gall-bladder, urinary blagger and uterus. In small doses acts as a motor depressant. High doses cause twilight sleep.
This data has been extracted from: Frohne, D. Jürgen Pfander, H. (2005) Poisonous Plants Second Edition. Manson Publishing Limited.
“Knowledge of a plants botanical relationships can increase general awareness of the plant, its potential chemical profile, and possible similarities of pharmacological actions.”
I need to stress that the toxic member of this family are only for use by a qualified practitioner such as myself due to the small therapeutic window – the difference between it being a medicine or a poison!!
“Pharmacological interests in the automatic nervous system (ANS) revolves around the effects certain drugs have on the chemical receptors found at different synapses (nerve centres in the brain) in sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. So that you can understand the ANS is a controlling factor of our body and depending which way it is ‘switched on’ (sympathetic=stress response and parasympathetic=relax response) determines how our organs are functioning. This family is researched by modern medicine because of the effects it can have on the ANS.
Both systems (stress and relax) use the nicotine sensitive acetylcholine receptors at their first stage and thus nicotine has the effect of increasing general automatic activity – which is why most smokers say that their bowels are stimulated when they have a cigarette and why although nicotine is stimulating smokers state that they smoke to relax themselves.
The parasympathetic system (relax response) is mediated at its target sites by acetylcholine receptors that are stimulated by caffeine like noradrenaline (and) blocked by the atropine alkaloids from solanaceous plants like deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and datura (Datura stramonium)…
The fact that these influences originate from the plant world is a result of the widespread use of these powerful herbs. (For example) Therapeutically the bronco-spasm (tightening of the lungs) in asthma could be resolved by the therapeutic use datura or henbane.
As a lot of these family members are restricted – for major health and safety reasons but alot are edible and have health benefits – food is medicine 🙂
Capsicum – Chilli: Helps to reduce Pain, Good for constipation (and tomatoes), May help with a heart attack and stimulates circulation
Tomatoes: A tomato a day may keep cancer at bay, Common trigger of allergies, especially eczema and mouth ulcers, Green tomatoes may cause migraine in some people, Red tomatoes have 3 times as much vitamin c than yellow tomatoes
Potatoes: The potato is a good for minor burns or sunburn. If you have a minor burn, make sure you get cold running water on it immediately. If it is not clean, make sure you clean out the burn with cold running water. THEN, peel and slice or peel and grate a potato. Apply the potato onto the affected area. Keep replacing it as needed. At some point, you may need to hold it on with a bandage or gauze. Potato is excellent for drawing out the heat. Other uses for potatoes: Itch relief,(Bartrams mentions potato water is good for chicken pox) a poultice for sties. Also potato water good for spasmodic pain of a peptic ulcer (but watch out for the atropine poisoning effect of enlargement of the pupils and dryness of the throat – taken in large amounts would result in flickering of the eyelids and poor vision)
Aubergines: In African folk medicine the aubergine has been used for epilepsy and convulsions, In south east Asia it is used for measles and stomach cancer
Here are some recipes of members of the deadly nightshade family which are safe to eat 🙂
Cherry tomato and wild rocket salad with mozzarella
1 x 50g/2oz bag wild rocket
250g/9oz cherry tomatoes, halved
125g/4oz boccinini (little mozzarellas) or one large 150g/5oz ball mozzarella
3 tbsp good quality olive oil
½ lemon, juice only (1 tbsp)
salt and black pepper
warm ciabatta, to serve
1. Divide the rocket, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella between six serving plates.
2. Drizzle with olive oil, a little lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper. Serve with warm ciabatta.
Vodka-soaked cherry tomatoes
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
¼ pint/150ml chilli-flavoured vodka
½ lemon, juice of
1 tbsp dry sherry
6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
celery salt, to taste
1. Prick the tomatoes all over with a cocktail stick. Soak the tomatoes in a mixture of the next seven ingredients.
2. Chill until ready to eat. When eating, sprinkle with celery salt. The remaining liquid can be drunk as shots – or used as a base for an excellent Bloody Mary.Fresh tomato soup
900g/2lb vine-grown tomatoes with their stalks (but not the stems)
55ml/2fl oz extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
6 cloves of garlic, chopped very finely
¼ tsp chilli flakes
basil, freshly shredded, to garnish
Make the soup: coarsely chop the tomatoes and, for extra flavour, their little star-like stalks. Put the olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes into a large saucepan and set over a low heat for a few seconds until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes and turn over for just 2 minutes until the juices from the tomatoes begin to run.
Tip the mixture into a food processor and add 2 tbsp of the tapenade. Blitz until finely chopped but not completely smooth. Pass through a conical sieve into a clean pan, pressing out as much liquid as you can with the back of a small ladle.
Heat gently until warm but not hot – you want to retain the fresh flavour of the tomatoes. Season the soup to taste with some salt. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve garnished with a little more oil and the shredded basil.
Simple tomato and bacon sauce with penne
150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil
100g/3½oz pancetta or smoked bacon cut into strips
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
a good pinch of chilli flakes, optional
a good pinch of sea salt
a good pinch of sugar
1 x 400g/14oz can tomatoes or 6 vine-ripened tomatoes
Note: This recipe originally uses Australian measurements. Equivalent measurements are as accurate as possible.
1. In a heavy based saucepan heat the oil and add the garlic, pancetta strips, chilli flakes, salt and sugar. Cook until soft but not coloured, approximately 3 minutes.
2. If using canned tomatoes put a knife into the open can and chop the tomatoes roughly. If using fresh tomatoes, blanch, peel and chop them. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.
Serve with a quality durum wheat penne or other pasta, cooked al dente and shaved parmesan.Headache Herbal Recipe You can also use the roots and leaves of an herb called ashwagandha to get instant relief from the headache. Here is an herbal recipe prepared from ashwagandha that can act as an effective remedy for curing headaches:· Pick up the entire plants of a ripe ashwagandha,· Extract the juice by crushing the plant using a grinder,· Boil 2 cups of juice, 1 cup of castor oil and three cups of water, till only the oil is left in the container. · Apply the resulting oil externally and massage every night for 10 days
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
750g/1½lb Pink Fir Apple potatoes, peeled, parboiled and sliced into 1cm/½in pieces
250g/8oz handful fresh spinach, cooked and roughly chopped
10 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper
1. In a large, heavy-based frying pan, heat the butter and oil. Cook the onions slowly until transparent and soft.
2. Add the potato slices and fry gently for two minutes.
3. Stir in the spinach.
4. Season the eggs with salt and freshly ground black pepper and pour onto the contents of the frying pan.
5. Cook over a low to medium heat: it may take up to ten minutes until the egg is set enough to turn the tortilla over, and if the heat is too high, the bottom will burn before the middle is set.
6. Once the bottom is nicely browned and the centre has set, it is time to turn it over. This is done with a double flip: place a plate (or the bottom of a tart tin) over the pan and flip it over once, so that the cooked surface of the tortilla is on the bottom. Take another plate, and flip it again so the cooked surface is on the top. Then place the frying pan back over the tortilla plate and flip one more time, so the uncooked bit is now in contact with the base of the pan.
7. Replace the pan over low heat until the tortilla is cooked through.
8. Serve hot, warm or cold, cut into slices or cubes.
Purple potato gratin
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove
225ml/7fl oz double cream
freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
700g/1½lb purple potatoes (also known as Shetland black vintage)
1. Preheat the oven to 220C/400F/Gas6.
2. With the flat side of a heavy knife lightly crush the garlic and rub over the bottom and sides of a gratin dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish generously with butter.
3. In a small bowl stir together the cream, nutmeg, sea salt and pepper to taste.
4. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly with a mandolin or food processor. Arrange the sliced potatoes in the gratin dish and pour the cream evenly over. Press gently on top of the potatoes to briefly submerge them in the cream.
5. Bake the gratin, covered with foil, in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes (15 minutes if fan-assisted). Remove the foil and bake the gratin until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes more (20 minutes if fan-assisted).
Warm potato salad with red wine sauce
For the potato salad
6 pink fir apple potatoes, cut into three and blanched for one minute in boiling water
2 tsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g/1oz fresh flatleaf parsley
25g/1oz fresh basil, chopped
15g/½oz fresh chives, chopped
1 lemon, juice only
1 tsp Dijon mustard
100ml/3½fl oz olive oil
For the red wine sauce
50ml/2fl oz red wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp tepid water
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. To make the potato salad, place the blanched potatoes with the olive oil into a large bowl. Toss to coat the potatoes in oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the potatoes onto a hot baking tray and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.
3. Place the herbs, lemon juice, mustard, oil and sugar into a food processor and blend to a paste. Spoon the mixture into a large bowl, add the roasted potatoes and toss together to coat well.
4. To make the red wine sauce, heat the red wine and sugar in a large frying pan over a medium heat.
5. Mix the tepid water with the cornflour in a small bowl then add this mixture to the wine, whisking well. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half.
6. To serve. place the potato salad onto a warm plate and drizzle some of the wine sauce around.Aubergine and Tomato Gratiningredientsserves 4 1 lb (450 g) medium aubergines
1 lb (450g) large ripe tomatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh shredded oregano
2 tablespoons fresh shredded basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
h2>For the Sauce 1/2 pint (285ml) skimmed milk
1 small onion
6 black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh thyme or parsley
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 oz (25 g) plain flour
1 egg yolk and 2 egg whites
1/2 oz (15 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheesemethod1. Thinly slice the aubergines and tomatoes, peel and thinly slice both onions and peel and crush the garlic. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the oil and the garlic around the inside of a gratin or baking dish.
2. Arrange two layers of alternating aubergine and tomato slices over the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half the oregano and basil and top with a layer of large onion slices. Season with salt and black pepper, then sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Repeat with the remaining vegetables, herbs and oil.
3. The dish may seem rather full, but the vegetables shrink during cooking. Cover the dish tightly with foil and cook for 1 1/2 hours.
4. Meanwhile, to prepare the sauce, pour the milk into a saucepan with the small onion, peppercorns, clove, thyme or parsley. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, then cover and leave to stand.
5. At the end of the Cooking time, take the dish out of the Oven and remove the foil. Increase the Oven temperature to 220‚°C (425‚°F, gas mark 7).
6. Melt the butter for the sauce in a clean saucepan and slowly stir in the flour. Strain the infused milk into the pan a little at a time, stirring continuously, and bring to the boil until thickened.
7. Remove from the heat, beat in the egg yolk and season lightly with salt. Whisk the egg whites separately until stiff, then fold them slowly into the sauce.
8. Pour the sauce over the top of the vegetables, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Sicilian Ratatouilleingredientsserves 4 – 6 2 aubergines
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red or yellow onion
1/2 green pepper
2 sticks celery
4 oz (115 g) mushrooms
1 -2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
14 oz (400 g) tin plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
2 oz (50 g) green olives
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) pine nutsmethod1. Peel and dice the aubergines into 1 in (25 mm) cubes. To extract any bitter juices, place the cubes in a colander, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and allow to drain for 20 minutes. Slice the onion, pepper, celery and mushrooms and finely chop the garlic. Rinse the drained aubergines and pat dry.
2. Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a casserole or frying pan. Saute the aubergines over medium heat. Stir constantly until softened and slightly coloured. Remove the aubergines and put to one side, then add the onions, garlic, pepper and celery. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quite soft.
3. Chop and peel the tomatoes and add to the pan along with the mushrooms and capers. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until the tomato sauce has reduced and thickened. Stir in all the aubergines, oregano, olives, vinegar and sugar.
4. Simmer for another 15 minutes, adding a little water if it is too thick. Season with salt and black pepper, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.