by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair
The nightshade family of plants sounds ominous – how could it not with the use of the words night and shade? The official name of this family is Solanaceae, and these plants are characterized by the shape of the flower, which in some cases feature near perfect pentagrams of petals, sepals, and stamens, and in others the petals are fused to form long tubes.
The Solanaceae features nearly 90 genera and 3,000 species, including some of humanity’s most important plants. You may be surprised to learn that many of our everyday foods fall in the nightshade family. These include hot and bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes. To learn more, join HSA on April 13th at 1pm EDT when National Herb Garden gardener, Erin Holden, joins us for “Shedding Light on the Solanaceae: An Exploration of Our Relationship with Nightshades.”
Although many plants in this family are edible, others are recognized for their hallucinogenic properties, use in witchcraft, and/or some level of toxicity. The toxicity comes from the level of alkaloids the plant contains, and the effects of these alkaloids are what made them useful historically. For example, thornapple (Datura stramonium) was used by religions to aid in dreams and visions. More recognizable is the mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), which was highlighted in the Harry Potter series for its role in potion making. It is surmised that the high level of alkaloids evolved out of self-preservation to prevent being consumed by animals. During our April 13th program the deep relationship between humans and members of the Solanaceae family will be further explored, from their magical uses to their application as medicine, poison, and food.
Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free. As a bonus, you will automatically be entered into a drawing for a free registration to our June 10-12th, 2021 Annual Meeting of Members and Educational Conference. To register visit www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/
Photo Credits: 1) Datura stramonium (Erin Holden); 2) Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Supersweet 100‘ (David J. Stang)
About Erin Holden: Erin Holden works at the U.S. National Arboretum as gardener for the National Herb Garden, where she started as an intern in 2013. She received a B.S. in biology from Radford University, an M.S. in herbal medicine from the Maryland University of Integrative Health, and recently completed a horticulture minor through Oregon State University. In 2018 she helped launch Herban Lifestyles, an herbal educational series at the Arboretum that teaches participants how to incorporate herbs into everyday life, from dyeing with plants to making herbal salves.
In addition to working at the National Arboretum, Erin is a clinical herbalist and has served as a teaching assistant for different herbal medicine graduate courses. Erin has also started a small business creating art with plants. She is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, United Plant Savers, and a member-at-large of The Herb Society of America.