Nightshade Vegetables and Fruits

December 16, 2014 at 2:02 PM

Nightshade plants includes some of the most consumed vegetables and fruits in the world. It is estimated that Solanaceae group of plants include 98 genera and 2700 species. This family incudes goji berries, sweet peppers, pepino, paprika, eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and many more. But this family not only contains some of the fruits and vegetables that make up part of many nations’ staple food, it also contains many plants that are poisonous or hazardous for humans.

Not only some plants in this family are harmful for humans if ingested but some parts of edible plants in this family can also be injurious to consume. The hazardous plants in Solanaceae family are called deadly nightshades that includes belladonna. The Solanaceae family includes plants that are not only excessively used in human diet but also are used for their medicinal properties and their ornamental beauty.


  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Magnoliopsida
  • Order: Solanales
  • Family: Solanaceae

The taxonomy of Solanaceae family is based on the molecular phylogenetic studies of this family [2]. Solanaceae family of plants contains many important genera. Following eight genera are the most important of Solanaceae family and comprise about 60% of the total species in this family.


This is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants. This group contains two food crops of the highest economic importance i.e. potatoes and tomatoes. Solanum is derived from the Latin word solamen meaning “a comfort”. Some parts of plants in genus especially the green parts and the unripe food are poisonous for humans, but plants in this genus contain many edible parts like leaves fruits and tubers. Three particular crops have been harvested for human consumption for many centuries and are now being globally cultivated i.e. potato, tomato and eggplant. Although many plants in this genus are used as ornamental plants, this genus does not have any medicinal importance.


Plants in this genus are said to be found in the New World. This genus does not have any major nutritional or medicinal importance. Plants in this genus are mainly used as ornaments.


The plants in this genus are native to warm and temperate climates. This genus is also called Jessamine due to the flower jasmine that is present in this genus. Jasmine has been used for centuries in bathwaters, soaps and ittars due to its pleasant fragrance. The plants in this genus are grown as ornamental plants. Almost all plants in this genus are evergreen yet toxic and may cause gastroenteritis if ingested.


This genus contains plants that are used as spices, vegetables and drugs. The fruit of capsicum plant has a verity of names, these names vary depending on place and type. Some commonly used names are chili peppers, bell peppers and paprika. The generic name is derived from Greek word kepto that means “to bite” [3]. One of the most popular member of this genus is jalapenos.


The plants in this genus grow in temperate and subtropical regions of the world and are indigenous to the New World. Many species of this genus are called groundberries [4]. Cape gooseberries and tomatillo are important members of this genus.


This genus has a disjunct distribution around the globe with species occurring in temperate and subtropical regions of the continents. South Africa has the most species. Some common names of this genus include wolfberry [5] and dessert-thorn. Lycium has shrubs that are often thorny and grow up to 1 to 4 meters tall.


The common name of this genus is raintree [6]. These are neotropical shrubs and small trees. Some members of this genus are toxic and some contain alkaloids that have medicinal use.


This genus includes herbaceous plants and shrubs. The name commonly used for this genus is tobacco plant. It is cultivated worldwide for production of tobacco leaves to produce cigarettes.

Biology of Solanaceae family

Plants in this family can take the form of shrubs, herbs, vines, tubers, trees and sometimes epiphytes. The plants can be annual, biennials or perennial. They are most likely to have basal or terminal group of leaves. The leaves can be herbaceous, leathery or can be transformed into spines. These plants contain neither latex nor any colored saps. The flowers are generally hermaphrodites. The fruits in this family are mainly berries or capsules and less often drupes (fruits with a large stone inside).


The Solanaceae family is found on all the continents except Antarctica but the greatest variety of species are found in the Central and South America. These plants occupy a great number of ecosystems from rainforest to desserts. They are often found in secondary vegetation that colonize disturbed areas. In general, plants are of tropical and temperate distribution.


Alkaloids are nitrogenous organic substance produced by plants as secondary metabolites, which have intense physiological actions on animals even if ingested at low doses. The Solanaceae family is known for its diverse variety of alkaloids. To humans, these alkaloids can have a wide range of effects from toxic to desirable or both. The tropanes are the most well-known and researched alkaloids found in the Solanaceae family. The plants that contain these substances have been used as poisons for centuries. Despite being recognized as poisons, many substances from these plants have invaluable pharmacological importance. Many species contains a variety of alkaloids that are more or less active or poisonous i.e. scopolamine, atropine, nicotine and hyoscyamine. These substances are found in plants like henbane, belladonna and mandrake. Following are some of the main types of alkaloids.


This is a toxic glycoalkaloid that has a bitter taste. This is formed by the alkaloid solanidine with a carbohydrate side chain. This is found in leaves and unripe fruits of many Solanaceae genera but mainly in genus Solanum (that contains potatoes and tomatoes). The substance intoxication by solanine is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, hallucinations and headaches. Symptoms appear about 8 to 12 hours after ingestion.


The words ‘tropanes’ is derived from genus Atropa (derived from the Greek word Atropos that means to cut the thread of life). These alkaloids are found in various species of the Solanaceae family mainly in mandrake, henbane and belladonna. Pharmacologically these are the most potent anticholinergics in existence. The symptoms of toxicity include dry mouth, dilated pupils, urinary retention, hallucinations, and coma. The most common tropane used in ophthalmology is atropine. Scopolamine is used as an antiemetic [7].


These alkaloids are found in the genus Capsicum (this includes jalapeños and habanero). That activate certain receptors that are related to perception of heat in the oral mucosa that.


This alkaloid is mainly present in tobacco plants in large quantity but plants like potatoes and tomatoes also contain a small amount of nicotine. Nicotine acts on the cholinergic system as agonist.

Nightshade fruits

Goji berries

These berries are also referred to as wolfberry [5]. They belong the genus Lycium of the Solanaceae family of plants. These berries were indigenous to Asia especially China and Tibet but with time people realized their nutritional value and they are now being cultivated worldwide. These berries have been used for centuries in the Chinese medicine and cuisine. The berries are mostly sold in dried form but are now also available in form of juices and extracts.


Wolfberries are woody perennial plants. These berries are red-orange in color and ellipsoidal in shape. The number to seeds within a berry differ based on the cultivar.


Wolfberries are mainly cultivated in Asian regions like China but as these berries became popular they are now being cultivated in America and Europe as well. These berries are used worldwide now-a-days in a variety of ways.

Uses of goji berries [8]

  • Used as a dried fruit
  • Used in flavored yogurts
  • Pulp powder
  • Juices
  • Berry puree
  • Used in salads
  • Added to trail mix
  • Added to rice
  • Used to make herbal tea
  • Used in jams
  • Used in some wines

Health benefits [9]

Due to the presence of many minerals, vitamins and amino acid, goji berries are very healthy for humans. Vitamin A is a natural antioxidant that helps protect body against cell damaging free radical and slows down signs of aging. Iron is an essential mineral that is needed in production of new red blood cells. So the presence of iron is very beneficial. These berries also contain vitamin C that has healing effect on wounds and helps maintain bone and teeth healthy.

Nutritional value [8]

Examples given below are for 100 g of dried berries:

  • Calcium - 112 mg, providing about 8–10% of the dietary reference intake (DRI)
  • Potassium - 1,132 mg, giving about 24% of the DRI
  • Iron - 9 mg (100% DRI)
  • Zinc - 2 mg (18% DRI)
  • Selenium - 50 micrograms (91% DRI)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2) 1.3 mg, 100% of DRI
  • Vitamin C - 29 to 148 mg (respectively, 32% and 163% DRI)
  • And a few amino acids


This fruit is round or oval in shape. It is yellow to greenish in color with reddish brown strips or spots on it. Pepino belongs to the genus Lycianthes of the Solanaceae family. This fruit resembles a melon in shape and appearance so it is also called melon pepino. Its taste is a succulent mixture of honeydew and cucumber. Pepino are also called sweet cucumber.


Pepino are edible fruits that have a sweet taste and grow on an evergreen shrubs. The outside of pepino is greenish yellow with reddish stripes or spots. On the inside, color of the fruit is yellowish and the flesh is juicy and soft to bite. The center of the fruit contains flat round seeds that are edible.


Pepino are known to be wild fruits but they are being cultivated by countries in the recent years. These fruits are native to the temperate Andean regions of Colombia, Chile and Peru. Pepino were introduced to Japan, North America and Europe in the 20th century.

Uses of pepino

  • Eaten as fresh fruit
  • Used in fruit salads
  • Used in cocktails
  • Eaten as a desert
  • Pepino sauce
  • Pepino yogurt

Health benefits [10]

Pepino breaks down into glucose that provides a great source of energy. Pepino are rich in vitamin C that help in wound healing and boosting immune system. Vitamin A present in pepino acts as an antioxidant and helps protect the body against diseases. Pepino also contains dietary fibers which are great for constipation.

Nutritional value [11]

Serving size one fruit.

  • Calories: 26% (amount per serving)
  • Vitamin C: 31% (amount per serving)
  • Vitamin A: 2% (amount per serving)
  • Iron: 1% (amount per serving)
  • Calcium: 1% (amount per serving)
  • Total fat: 0.1g
  • Sodium: 14mg
  • Potassium: 169mg
  • Total carbohydrates: 7g
  • Total proteins: 0.4g


These are yellow, reddish in color and are egg shaped edible fruit. Tamarillo closely resembles tomatoes. They belong to the Solanum genus of the Solanaceae family. Tamarillo are juicy, sweet and citrus fruit. It is also called tree tomato [12] and tamamoro.


Tamarillo plants are small attractive, half woody, evergreen shrub or small tree. Tamarillo are small oval shaped fruit that is about 4 to 10 cm long. Their color varies from yellow to red to almost purple. Sometimes they have dark longitudinal stripes. Red fruits are more citrus while yellow or orang fruit is sweet. Tamarillo contain large and more seeds then a tomato. [13]


Tamarillo prefers subtropical climates with rainfall between 600 to 4000 mm and annual temperature between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius [13]. They grow in a pH 5 to 8.5. These fruits are native to the Andean of Peru, Chile, Colombia and Bolivia. Recently these fruits are being cultivated in small gardens and orchards for local production.

Uses of tamarillo

  • Used in sauces
  • Used in salads
  • Used in muffins
  • Used in cheesecakes
  • Used in smoothies
  • Used with chicken

Health benefits [14]

These fruits contain dietary fibers that are beneficial for constipation. Vitamin A present in tamarillos is an antioxidant that helps prevent disease and reduce signs of aging. Vitamin C helps boost the immune system.

Nutritional value [13]

Components present per g of 100g (g/100g)

  • Water content: 81-87
  • Protein: 1.5-2.5
  • Fat: 0.05-1.28
  • Fiber: 1.4-6
  • Total acidity: 1.0-2.4
  • Iron: 0.4-0.94
  • Magnesium: 19.7-22.3
  • Calcium: 3.9-11.3
  • Vitamin C: 19.7- 57.8
  • Vitamin A: 0.23-1.48


Tomatoes are round juicy edible fruit. Tomatoes belong to the Solanum genus of Solanaceae family. Tomatoes are said to be first used as food in Mexico. Tomatoes have different varieties and are grown worldwide. Although according to botany tomatoes are fruits, but they are considered a vegetable.


Tomatoes are classified as berries. Tomatoes contain many seeds in the center and they are edible. They develop from the ovary of the plant.


Tomatoes are grown worldwide for their edible fruit. There are a lot of varieties of tomatoes present these days. The small tomatoes 5mm in size tomberries to cherry tomatoes of about 1-2cm in diameter to beefsteak tomatoes of about 10cm in diameter [15].

Uses of tomatoes

  • Used to make ketchup
  • Used to make salsa
  • Used in smoothies
  • Used in cocktails
  • Added to pizza
  • Added to burgers
  • Added to pasta
  • Used in salads

Health benefits [16]

Tomatoes are very beneficial for human health because they contain a variety of minerals, vitamins and fibers. The presence of minerals like potassium helps maintain blood pressure. The presence of dietary fibers in tomatoes is beneficial for diabetic people. The presence of vitamin A helps prevent diseases due to their antioxidant action.

Nutritional value [17]

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz.)

  • Energy: 74 kJ (18 kcal)
  • Carbohydrates: 3.9 g
  • Sugars: 2.6 g
  • Dietary fiber: 1.2 g
  • Fat: 0.2 g
  • Protein: 0.9 g
  • Vitamin A: equiv. (5%) 42 μg
  • Beta-carotene: (4%) 449 μg
  • Lutein zeaxanthin: 123 μg
  • Thiamine (B1): (3%) 0.037 mg
  • Niacin (B3): (4%) 0.594 mg
  • Vitamin B6: (6%) 0.08 mg
  • Vitamin C: (17%) 14 mg
  • Vitamin E: (4%) 0.54 mg
  • Vitamin K: (8%) 7.9 μg
  • Trace metals
    • Magnesium: (3%) 11 mg
    • Manganese: (5%) 0.114 mg
    • Phosphorus: (3%) 24 mg
    • Potassium: (5%) 237 mg
  • Water: 94.5 g
  • Lycopene: 2573 µg

Vegetables of the Solanaceae family

Nightshade vegetables


Eggplant is purple in color and has a glossy smooth exterior. Eggplant belongs to the Solanum genus of the Solanaceae family. On the inside it has a pale yellowish color. Eggplant is called by different names in different parts of the world, some of those names are brinjal, aubergine and garden egg [18]. It is used as in important ingredient in many dishes worldwide.


Although botanically eggplant is a fruit classified as berry but it is generally considered a vegetable. Its seeds are bitter due to presence to nicotine alkaloid. The flowers of eggplant can either self-pollinate or cross pollinate [19].


Eggplants grow in a topical or subtropical regions. Eggplant is cultivated perennially. Eggplant can be about 3cm in diameter but can be grown up to 30cm in length.

Uses of eggplants [20]

  • Eggplant caviar
  • Eggplant casserole
  • Eggplant stir-fry
  • Eggplant salad
  • Used in pizza
  • Used in pasta

Health benefits

Eggplants contain dietary fibers that help maintain diabetes. Eggplant contains bioflavonoids that help control blood pressure. Eggplants have essential phyto nutrients that help improve blood circulation and in turn nourish the brain [21] [22].

Nutritional value [17]

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz.)

  • Energy: 104 kJ (25 kcal)
  • Carbohydrates: 5.88 g
  • Sugars: 3.53 g
  • Dietary fiber: 3 g
  • Fat: 0.18 g
  • Protein: 0.98 g
  • Thiamine (B1): (3%) 0.039 mg
  • Riboflavin (B2): (3%) 0.037 mg
  • Niacin (B3): (4%) 0.649 mg
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): (6%) 0.281 mg
  • Vitamin B6: (6%) 0.084 mg
  • Folate (B9): (6%) 22 μg
  • Vitamin C: (3%) 2.2 mg
  • Vitamin E: (2%) 0.3 mg
  • Vitamin K: (3%) 3.5 μg
  • Calcium: (1%) 9 mg
  • Iron: (2%) 0.23 mg
  • Magnesium: (4%) 14 mg
  • Manganese: (11%) 0.232 mg
  • Phosphorus: (3%) 24 mg
  • Potassium: (5%) 229 mg
  • Zinc: (2%) 0.16 mg


Potatoes are starchy tuberous crop that is round or oval in shape. Potatoes have outer color that ranges from light to dark brown and the inside is often pale yellow to white in color. Potatoes are the world’s fourth (4th) largest food crop [23]. Potatoes are the staple food of many nations. They belong to the genus Solanum of the Solanaceae family.


Potato plants are herbaceous perennials. Potatoes grow underground and are called tubers. These plants are cross pollinated by bumblebees. The unripe potato and the green part of the plant contain an alkaloid called solanine that is harmful for human health.


Potato crops are cultivated throughout the world. Wild potatoes occur in China and North America. The world’s biggest producer of potatoes is China. About one third of the world’s potato are harvested in China and India [24].

Uses of potatoes

  • Potato chips
  • Potato fries
  • Backed potatoes
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Used in lasagna
  • Served with rice
  • Used to make patties

Health benefits

Potatoes contain potassium that helps lower blood pressure. Potatoes also contain dietary fiber have help with constipation and maintain diabetes. Potatoes contain vitamin B6 that is critical to maintain neurological health [16].

Nutritional value [17]

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

  • Energy: 321 kJ (77 kcal)
  • Carbohydrates: 17.47 g
  • Starch: 15.44 g
  • Dietary fiber: 2.2 g
  • Fat: 0.1 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Thiamine (B1): (7%) 0.08 mg
  • Riboflavin (B2): (3%) 0.03 mg
  • Niacin (B3): (7%) 1.05 mg
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): (6%) 0.296 mg
  • Vitamin B6: (23%) 0.295 mg
  • Folate (B9): (4%) 16 μg
  • Vitamin C: (24%) 19.7 mg
  • Vitamin E: (0%) 0.01 mg
  • Vitamin K: (2%) 1.9 μg
  • Calcium: (1%) 12 mg
  • Iron: (6%) 0.78 mg
  • Magnesium: (6%) 23 mg
  • Manganese: (7%) 0.153 mg
  • Phosphorus: (8%) 57 mg
  • Potassium: (9%) 421 mg
  • Sodium: (0%) 6 mg
  • Zinc: (3%) 0.29 mg
  • Water: 75 g


Jalapenos are medium sized chili peppers. They have a green color when they are not fully ripe but the full ripe jalapeno has red color. Jalapenos originated in Mexico. They belong to the genus Capsicum of the Solanaceae family.


Jalapenos have many small seeds inside that are responsible for the heat. The heat of a jalapeno is medium (2500 to 10000 on the scoville scale). It is about 5 to 10 cm long.


Jalapenos are mainly cultivated in Mexico. The heat of the jalapeno depends on the cultivation. The workers use latex gloves while handling fresh jalapenos because they might cause skin irritation.

Uses of jalapenos [25]

  • Pickled
  • Salsa
  • Sauce
  • Mixed drinks
  • Used in pasta
  • Used in pizza
  • Used in burgers

Health benefits

Jalapenos contain vitamin C that is essential for tissue repair and boost the immune system. They also contain potassium, iron and zinc that helps develop new red blood cells and helps protects the nervous system.[27]

Nutritional value [17]

Amount Per 100 grams

  • Calories: 28
  • Total Fat: 0.4 g
  • Saturated fat: 0.1 g
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 0.1 g
  • Monounsaturated fat: 0 g
  • Trans fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Sodium: 3 mg
  • Potassium: 248 mg (7%)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 6 g (2%)
  • Dietary fiber: 2.8 g (11%)
  • Sugar: 4.1 g
  • Protein: 0.9 g (1%)
  • Vitamin A: 21%
  • Vitamin C: 197%
  • Calcium: 1%
  • Iron: 1%
  • Vitamin D: 0%
  • Vitamin B6: 20%
  • Vitamin B12: 0%
  • Magnesium 3%

Bell pepper

Bell peppers are also called sweet peppers. Bell pepper grow in a variety of colors (yellow, green and red). These peppers belong to the Capsicum genus of Solanaceae family. These peppers have no heat.


They vary in size with 3.5 to 5.5 inches long to 2.5 to 4 inches wide. These pepper contain numerous small flat white seeds but these seeds carry no heat.


The green bell peppers are available throughout the year and grow almost worldwide but the red and yellow bell peppers and only available seasonally and only in few parts if the world. China is the biggest producer of bell peppers [27].

Uses of bell peppers

  • Stuffed bell peppers
  • Bell pepper soup
  • Bell pepper salad
  • Used in pasta
  • Used in pizza
  • Used in lasagna

Health benefits

Bell peppers contain vitamin C that helps boost immune system. The alkaloids present in bell peppers helps reduce inflammation. Vitamin E helps maintain healthy looking skin and hair [28].

Nutritional value [17]

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

  • Energy: 84 kJ (20 kcal)
  • Carbohydrates: 4.64 g
  • Sugars: 2.4 g
  • Dietary fiber: 1.8 g
  • Fat: 0.17 g
  • Protein: 0.86 g
  • Vitamin A: equiv. (2%) 18 μg
  • Beta-carotene: (2%) 208 μg
  • Lutein zeaxanthin: 341 μg
  • Thiamine (B1): (5%) 0.057 mg
  • Riboflavin (B2): (2%) 0.028 mg
  • Niacin (B3): (3%) 0.48 mg
  • Pantothenic acid (B5): (2%) 0.099 mg
  • Vitamin B6: (17%) 0.224 mg
  • Folate (B9): (3%) 10 μg
  • Vitamin C: (97%) 80.4 mg
  • Vitamin E: (2%) 0.37 mg
  • Vitamin K: (7%) 7.4 μg
  • Calcium: (1%) 10 mg
  • Iron: (3%) 0.34 mg
  • Magnesium: (3%) 10 mg
  • Manganese: (6%) 0.122 mg
  • Phosphorus: (3%) 20 mg
  • Potassium: (4%) 175 mg
  • Sodium: (0%) 3 mg
  • Zinc: (1%) 0.13 mg
  • Fluoride: 2 µg

Herbs in solanaceae family


Belladonna is most commonly known as deadly nightshade. Belladonna has been used as a poison for centuries. It belongs to the genus Atropa of the Solanaceae family. It is a perennial herbaceous plant. Belladonna contains alkaloids called tropanes that can cause serious physiological symptoms. Tropanes are considered to be the most potent anticholinergic agent known. Belladonna plant is used in many drugs because of the presence of alkaloids in them [29].

Through trial and error it has taken humans centuries to determine which fruit and vegetable is beneficial to us and which is harmful. Due to the technological advancements in the recent two decades, scientists have managed to analyze and study a lot of the vegetables and fruits and their relation to health. Due to these studies we are able to determine which species of nightshade plants are useful and which are harmful.


[1] Olmstead, R. G., J. A. Sweere, R. E. Spangler, L. Bohs, and J. D. Palmer. 1999.Phylogeny and provisional classification of the Solanaceae based on chloroplast DNA. Pp. 111-137. In: Solanaceae IV: advances in biology and utilization, M. Nee, D. E. Symon, R. N. Lester, and J. P. Jessop (eds.). The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

[2] Martins TR, Barkman TJ (2005) Reconstruction of Solanaceae Phylogeny Using the Nuclear Gene SAMT. Systematic Botany: Vol. 30, No. 2 pp. 435–447 [5]

[3] Martins TR, Barkman TJ (2005) Reconstruction of Solanaceae Phylogeny Using the Nuclear Gene SAMT. Systematic Botany: Vol. 30, No. 2 pp. 435–447 [5]

[4] "Physalis". Integrated Taxonomic Information System

[5] Lycium. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).

[6] Brunfelsia. USDA PLANTS

[7] Sneden, A. The tropane alkaloids. Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Design. Virginia Commonwealth University []





[12] "USDA GRIN Taxonomy

[13] Prohens, Jaime; Nuez, Fernando (2001). "The Tamarillo (Cyphomandra betacea): A Review of a Promising Small Fruit Crop". Small Fruits Review 1 (2): 43–68. doi:10.1300/J301v01n02_06.


[15] "A Passion for Tomatoes



[18] "brinjal | Infopedia". Singapore Government. Retrieved 25 March 2014. Brinjal (Solanum melongena), is an easily cultivated plant belonging to the family Solanaceae. Its fruit is high in nutrition and commonly consumed as a vegetable. The fruit and other parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine.

[19] . "Pollination of Vegetable Crops

[20] Penniless Parenting. "Vegan Meat Substitute - Penniless Parenting



[23] "International Year of the Potato 2008 – The potato

[24] Hijmans, Robert (2001). "Global distribution of the potato crop



[27] "Table 64—World bell and chile peppers: Production 1990–200


[29] "Belladonna". Medline Plus. 2009-12-16. Archived

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Physician
Article resources: See section References above
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Published: December 16, 2014 at 2:02 PM
Next scheduled update: December 16, 2016 at 2:02 PM
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