‘You can’t eat that! It’s poisonous! Isn’t it Deadly Nightshade?’
Blackberry Nightshade would have to be one of the most widely and incorrectly named weeds in Australia. It’s a common misconception to call this prolific plant Deadly Nightshade.
Solanum nigrum (Blackberry Nightshade), tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes are all part of the nightshade family. And the blackberry nightshade ripened berries are completely safe to eat.
The berries and cooked leaves are eaten by millions of people globally from India to Hawaii to South Africa.
CAUTION: Only eat the berries when fully ripened, black in colour and drop easily into your hand with a gentle tug. Do not eat the green berries as they may cause headache, nausea and stomach upset. Children are particularly susceptible to the toxins found in the unripe green berries.
See below for the key differences in features between Blackberry Nightshade and Deadly Nightshade.
The History of Blackberry Nightshade in Australia
Blackberry Nightshade was introduced from Europe to Australia as a vegetable during the Gold Rush. They were mixed with other fruits to make a dessert, added to chutneys, used to make jam and as a pie filling.
Culinary Usage Around the World
Kenya: the leaves are blanched and sautéed or boiled to soften and then salted or sautéed and eaten.
Tanzania: a popular green vegetable which is sautéed with chicken or pork. It’s actually an expensive meal in most restaurants in urban areas.
India: the berries are referred to as ‘fragrant tomato’. They are casually grown and eaten, but not cultivated for commercial use. A popular way to eat the leaves is when they have been cooked with tamarind, onion and cumin seeds.
Ethiopia: the ripe berries are mainly eaten by children, however during famine all affected people would eat the berries. The leaves are cooked in salty water and eaten like any other cooked vegetable.
China: much like Ethiopia, blackberry nightshade was eaten during famines.
Ghana: the leaves are added to soups and stews.
South Africa: the ripe berries are cooked into a runny purple jam.
Hawaii: in the past, young shoots, leaves, small white flowers, and small black berries were eaten.
Solanum nigrum is an annual (or perennial in the right climate) shrub, growing from 30 to 120 cm in height.
The leaves are 4 to 7.5 cm long and 2 to 5 cm wide; ovate to heart-shaped, with wavy or large-toothed edges.
The flowers are white with prominent bright yellow anthers.
The berry is approximately 6 to 8 mm in diameter and a dull black or purple-black when fully ripened. The berries grow in clusters.
Blackberry nightshade is commonly confused with the deadly nightshade, also known as belladonna or Atropa belladonna.
Deadly nightshade is an extremely toxic plant that is not naturalised in Australia.
There are key differences between blackberry nightshade and deadly nightshade that you must know about before foraging.
Blackberry nightshade has white flowers and berries that grow in clusters; whilst deadly nightshade has purple flowers and single berries, not clusters.
Before consuming any foraged food ensure you are 100% certain of correct identification.
The edible blackberry nightshade is often incorrectly known as deadly nightshade which is a toxic plant. Because of this misconception, the berries of the blackberry nightshade are rarely consumed in Australia. However, in many countries around the world the berries and cooked leaves of the blackberry nightshade are eaten.
It is extremely important to recognise the key differences in features between the blackberry nightshade and deadly nightshade plants. Similarly, it is just as important not to eat any foraged food unless you are 100% certain of correct identification.
Would you like to know more about edible weeds in Australia? Head on over to Free Food: Edible Weeds in Australia.