HSA Webinar: Shedding Light on the Solanaceae: An Exploration of Our Relationship with Nightshades

by Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

20170811_093151The 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.” 

Lycopersicon_esculentum_Supersweet_100_0zz by David J StangAlthough 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.

HSA Webinar: A History of Chocolate

By Jen Munson, HSA Education Chair

20190613_150017Chocolate: food or medicine? For centuries, chocolate was consumed primarily as medicine. Cacao, from which chocolate is derived, was the basis for prescriptions promising relief from such ailments as anemia, alopecia, fever, gout, heart disease, kidney and liver disease, along with tuberculosis. Prescriptions from the 16th and 17th centuries would combine cacao with cinnamon, sugar, pepper, cloves, vanilla, and/or anise to ease common complaints. Certainly modern day amoxicillin could benefit from such a delicious concoction.  

It was only in the 19th century that chocolate became more of a food staple and less of a medicine. This was in part because of the expansion of where cacao could be grown. Cacao is a New World food, but the Portuguese brought the cacao tree to the African tropics. The development of machinery made it easier to separate cacao butter from the seeds, and so the making of chocolate became easier. As advances were made, chocolate became mainstream with Nestle, Godiva, La Maison du Chocolat, Fauchon, Lindt, Suchard, and Sprüngli elevating chocolate to a decadent treat. Today, it is consumed in all sorts of shapes and for different reasons: to soothe the day’s stress, to celebrate birthdays, or to show one’s love on Valentine’s Day. 

0004Join us on January 12th at 1pm EST when HSA’s guest speaker and author, Sarah Lohman, joins us for a “History of Chocolate.” During this program, we’ll uncover the history of chocolate, from its roots as an ancient Meso-American beverage to a contemporary melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bar. You’ll learn how a yellow, football-shaped tropical fruit transforms into high-end dark chocolate and what “Mexican Hot Chocolate” actually has in common with what Montezuma drank. We’ll cover botany, “Chocolate Wars,” and what makes Hershey’s distinctive flavor.

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over 50 program titles. To register visit www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

Photo Credits: 1) Box of chocolates (Chrissy Moore); 2) Author and speaker Sarah Lohman (Sarah Lohman).


Sarah Lohman is a culinary historian and the author of the bestselling book Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. She focuses on the history of food as a way to access the stories of diverse Americans. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as on “All Things Considered.” Sarah has also presented across the country, from the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., to The Culinary Historians of Southern California. Her current project, Endangered Eating: Exploring America’s Vanishing Cuisine, will be released with W.W. Norton & Co. in 2021.

Color Matters: Eat the Rainbow

Pat CrockerTo be optimally healthy, we are meant to “Eat the Rainbow.” That includes black, blue, crimson, and purple herbs, fruits and vegetables. Learn how to color your diet and your garden from teacher, writer, photographer, and author Pat Crocker at The Power of Black, an HSA member-only webinar at 2 p.m. EST, February 17, 2016.

Click here to register for the HSA member-only webinar

In addition to talking nutrition, Pat will show how black plants — ranging from trees, to shrubs, to vegetables, to herbs and low-growing ground covers — can be incorporated into existing gardens. She’ll identify black varieties of interesting edibles that can be woven into gardens as ornamentals, medicinals and food.

“I plan to explore black herbs and food plants and offer information about how black plants work as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in the body,” says Pat. “From this, we can understand why black plants, along with other colorful foods, are important.”

She will show how to apply that information with a seasonal “Little Black Salad.”

The Power of Black webinar points out herbs that are on trend. For example, it looks at black-leafed and black-fruiting, ornamental chile peppers as well as several purple/black basils.

blackOlivePepper“Black olive ornamental chile peppers are stunning when planted alone or with other herbs in containers for a deck or front walkway,” says Pat. “I’ll show how Rodale Gardens used blue savory and green cabbages as a path border. This way of re-thinking the herb and flowering garden gives you color, shape, texture, and different heights, and it is totally edible. How cool is that?”

Pat Crocker is a foodie and culinary herbalist. She has written 18 cookbooks including Kitchen Herbal, The Healing Herbs Cookbook, Preserving, and Coconut 24/7. With more than 1.25 million books in print (one translated into eight languages) she has been honored multiple times by various organizations, including the 2009 Gertrude H. Foster award from the Herb Society of America for Excellence in Herbal Literature. A professional Home Economist (BAA, B.Ed.), specializing in herbs and healthy foods, Pat has been growing, photographing, teaching, and writing about herbs, herb gardens, food, and healthy diets for more than two decades.


Non-members can join HSA and watch past and upcoming monthly webinars. The next presentation will be at 2 p.m. EST on March 7, 2016, will be on the History and Distilling of Herb Essences.