I’m writing this post as recently there was a post on twitter from a person I follow with a picture of a black nightshade plant found growing within her tomatoes and the majority of the comments were that the plant was a nightshade and so poisonous .
Nightshade is on its own a word that we recognise as a warning , not only in forager terms but most country living people regard the family in its entirety as a group of deadly poisonous plants and in all honesty I was of the same opinion until foraging became an interest .
My first foraging contact with a nightshade was with enchanters nightshade a pretty and delicate plant that grows abundantly in many parts of the country I ate a pleasant tasting broth and upon being told the ingredient was a nightshade I was caught questioning my belief .
I to this day believe that enchanters nightshade is a plant that I put in my viable plant list ( plants that are not only edible but palatable ) it was after this meal that I decided to look the the family to see if there were any other nightshades that could be used as a wild forgeable edible .
At the time my investigating lead me directly to black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) I read several brief papers with references to the toxicity of the black nightshade most as a overall study of Solanaceae with mentions of black nightshade , the family as a whole contain glycoalkaloids ( a glycoalkaloid is an alkaloid bonded with a sugar.) the major glycoalkaloid present in Solanum nigrum is the bitter toxin solanine which is also found in other members of the nightshade family such as tomatoes and potatoes .
I have a very old cook book and amongst the recipes of tripe and other delights is mention of a sauce/ jam made from the ripe berries of the black nightshade referring to them as garden huckleberries but I found no modern reproductions of the use and there is no recipe.
my first taste of the black nightshade was the cooked young greens picked generally before flowering they had similar tastes and textures to fat hen or goosefoot and are relatively bland in taste , you may of read that to eat the greens you need to cook them due to the solanine which is partly true but solanine is actually heat stable and it’s the process of boiling in water that removes the majority of the chemical as it is water soluble meaning that the water needs to be of generous amounts then changed and discarded to complete the safe preparation of the greens .
I’m going to share a little documented fact with you and that is if you leave the cooked greens to completely cool the taste is greatly improved and goes from a bland green to something quite tasty and it is because of that I actively use it as a foraged green as without this discovery I simply would of discarded it as a viable ingredient .
One thing I will add is there seems to be no set time or even amount of changes in water as each plant tends to be individual in its content of the bitter toxin , taste seems to be the only way to measure the content basically if it tastes at all bitter or unpleasant it needs further processing .
I’ve never found what I would call a wild black nightshade plant although they are listed to grow in hedgerows and on waste ground I actually get all of mine from my local allotments they seem to thrive growing amongst the veg patches .
They are quite similar to goosefoot in many ways to look at the colour is the main difference the nightshade is a rich green in colour sometimes with a purple metallic tinge to them the Leaves grow thin and alternate to start and broaden as they grow and more than often are ridden in holes from the wildlife having there fill .
The fruits have the defining fairy hat that accompanies the Solanaceae and the flowers of the family are very distinctive and in my opinion one of the most distinctive and simply defined flowers .
The fruit appears as small berries staring of green and ripening to a dark purple /black colour and are only edible when fully ripe and the faint green stripes which run from top to bottom are completely gone ,
A warning needs to be said as the berries of Atropa bella donna (Belldonna or Deadly Nightshade) are also black when ripe but grow as single fruits whereas black nightshade fruits in groups from small white flowers as apposed to belldonnas purple tubular flowers .
I’ve seen people refer to the taste of the fruit like sweet tomatoes but I find them closer in taste to avocados they have many seeds but they are very small the berries are perfectly round about the size of a pea , the texture of them seems to change also as I’ve found some plants have dull berries but some have a slight sheen either way they are really pleasant to eat I can’t comment on the suitability of them for jam as I’ve not tried it yet but I will be this season and will defiantly share my findings .