Nightshade, Black

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Nightshade, Black

Botanical Name: Solanum nigrum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Steadman Shorter's Medical Dictionary, Poisons & Antidotes: Atropine
Synonyms: Garden Nightshade. Petty Morel.
Parts Used: Whole plant, fresh leaves.

The Black Nightshade is an annual plant, common and generally distributed in the South of England, less abundant in the North and somewhat infrequent in Scotland. It is one of the most cosmopolitan of wild plants, extending almost over the whole globe.

In this country, it is frequently to be seen by the wayside and is often found on rubbish heaps, but also among growing crops and in damp and shady places. It is sometimes called the Garden Nightshade, because it so often occurs in cultivated ground.

Description: It rarely grows more than a foot or so in height and is much branched, generally making a bushy-looking mass. It varies much according to the conditions of its growth, both as to the amount of its dull green foliage and the size of its individual leaves, which are egg-shaped and stalked, the outlines bluntly notched or waved. The stem is green and hollow.

The flowers are arranged in clusters at the end of stalks springing from the main stems at the intervals between the leaves, not, as in the Bittersweet, opposite the leaves. They are small and white, resembling those of Bittersweet in form, and are succeeded by small round berries, green at first, but black when ripe. The plant flowers and fruits freely, and in the autumn the masses of black berries are very noticeable; they have, when mature, a very polished surface.

On account of its berries, the Black Nightshade was called by older herbalists 'Petty Morel,' to distinguish it from the Deadly Nightshade, often known as Great Morel. Culpepper says: 'Do not mistake the deadly nightshade for this,' cautiously adding, 'if you know it not, you may then let them both alone.'

In the fourteenth century, we hear of the plant under the name of Petty Morel being used for canker and with Horehound and wine taken for dropsy.

Part Used: The whole plant, gathered in early autumn, when in both flower and fruit and dried. Also the fresh leaves.

When the plant grows at all in a bunchy mass, strip off the stems singly and dry them under the same conditions as given above for Belladonna leaves, tying several stems together in a bunch, however, spread out fanwise for the air to penetrate to all parts, and hang the bunches over strings, rather than in trays. The bunches should be of uniform size.

Medicinal Action and Uses: This species has the reputation of being very poisonous, a fact, however, disputed by recent inquiries. In experimenting on dogs, very varying results have been obtained, which may be explained by the fact that the active principle, Solanine, on which the poisonous properties of this and the preceding species depend, and which exists in considerable quantity in the fresh herb, varies very much at different seasons.

The berries are injurious to children, but are often eaten by adults with impunity, especially when quite ripe, as the poisonous principle is chiefly associated with all green parts. Cattle will not eat the plant and sheep rarely touch it.

It is applied in medicine similarly to Bittersweet, but is more powerful and possesses greater narcotic properties.

According to Withering and other authorities, 1 or 2 grains of the dried leaves, infused in boiling water, act as a strong sudorific.

In Bohemia the leaves are placed in the cradles of infants to promote sleep. In the islands of Bourbon and Mauritius, the leaves are eaten in place of spinach: and the fruit is said to be eaten without inconvenience by soldiers stationed in British Kaffraria. (Lindley's Treasury of Botany.)

It has been found useful in cutaneous disorders, but its action is variable, and it is considered a somewhat dangerous remedy except in very small doses.

The bruised fresh leaves, used externally, are said to ease pain and abate inflammation, and the Arabs apply them to burns and ulcers. Their juice has been used for ringworm, gout and earache, and mixed with vinegar, is said to be good as a gargle and mouthwash.

Besides the above-mentioned species, others are used for medicinal, alimentary, and other purposes. Some are employed almost universally as narcotics to allay pain, etc.; others are sudorific and purgative. Solanum toxicarium is used as a poison by the natives of Cayenne. S. pseudo-quina is esteemed as a valuable febrifuge in Brazil. Among those used for food, are S. Album and S. Æthiopicum, the fruits of which are used in China and Japan. Those of S. Anguivi are eaten in Madagascar. S. esculentum and its varieties furnish the fruits known as Aubergines or Brinjals, which are highly esteemed in France, and may sometimes be met with in English markets; they are of the size and form of a goose's egg and usually of a rich purple colour. The Egg-plant, which has white berries, is only a variety of this. The Peruvians eat the fruits of S. muricatum and S. quitoense; those of S. ramosum are eaten as a vegetable in the West Indies. The Tasmanian Kangaroo Apple is the fruit of S. laciniatum; unless fully ripe this is said to be acrid. In Gippsland, Australia, the natives eat the fruits of S. vescum, which, like the preceding, is not agreeable till fully ripe, when it is said to resemble in form and flavour the fruits of Physalis peruviana. Of other species the leaves are eaten; as those of S. oleraceum in the West Indies and Fiji Islands, of S. sessiflorum in Brazil, etc.

Other species are used as dyes. S. indigoferum, in Brazil, cultivated for indigo. The juice of the fruit of S. gnaphalioides is said to be used to tint the cheeks of the Peruvian ladies, while their sisters of the Canary Isles employ similarly the fruits of S. vespertilia. The fruits of S. saponaceum are used in Peru to whiten linen in place of soap. S. marginatum is used in Abyssinia for tanning leather.

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