American Nightshade: A Much Maligned Edible

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Edible Raw, Fruits/Berries, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants

Green Solanum americanum berries are toxic. Totally ripe berries are edible. Photo by Green Deane

Green Solanum americanum berries are toxic. Totally ripe berries are edible. Photo by Green Deane

Solanum americanum: Food or Poison?

Anyone who’s done some foraging has seen the “Black Nightshade”  also called the “Common Nightshade” and (DRUM ROLLLLLLLLL) the “Deadly Nightshade.” It’s one to four feet tall, oval to diamond shaped leaves, with and without large blunt teeth, little white star-like flowers with yellow cores followed by green berries that turn shiny black, larger than a BB, smaller than a pea. Some foraging books will tell you it is very edible and the dangers overrated; some will say it will kill you, don’t eat it. I land on the edible side and I eat it.

But, to cover myself legally because there are a lot of fools with lawyers, I am not suggesting you eat any part of any wild nightshade.  In fact, let me include what soon-to-be PhD and author Delena Tull writes in her book Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest.

The toxicity of the species is quite variable in different varieties and in different parts of the world. Euell Gibbons reports using the ripe berries in pies and numerous other references indicate that the ripe cooked fruit may be safe. Personally, I consider the whole plant potentially deadly and leave it alone. “

Delena’s book is well done and well-considered so her comment carries weight, though I was surprise to see her take that view. What that means is do not experiment on your own. Find a local person who knows if your “Black Nightshade” is edible and how.  Now for some extensive history, paraphrased as much as possible:

IMPORANT: Notice the berries are dull on the S. nigrum.

IMPORANT: Notice the berries are dull on the S. nigrum.

Solanum nigrum (soLAYnum KNEEgrum, the Black Nightshade) is found in the Old World, Africa to India and beyond. Its leaves are used as a green, boiled twice or more like pokeweed.  In Kenya four varieties of it grow and three are highly sought after. It is the prime potherb. The fourth variety is considered too bitter to eat. Of 61 greens tested in Africa, S. nigrum had the highest amount of vitamin A. In the region of India the plant has many names and is firmly in the human food chain and very popular. It is also in medical use.  Modern Greeks call it “Styfno. They boil the leaves then use them as the basis for a salad.

Now, back to North America.

When Europeans arrived they saw the native nightshades.  Because they resembled the Black Nightshades in the Old World they were considered variations of the Old World nightshades and were called … Black Nightshades … all of them.  But as time passed botanists had different opinions and the names were changed, or worse combined, such as Solanum nigrum var. americanum. Every botanist with an opinion called these plants what he thought they should be called.  What was once thought of as varieties of one native in North American ( S. nigrum) became many plants with many names. Then even more careful botanists got rid of some of the names and said they weren’t Black Nighshades at all and were not Old World variations.  In fact, some think the S. americanum (ah-mare-ree-KAY-num) isn’t even a native but is from Australia. On top of that, the Old World plant, the original Black Nightshade, became naturalized in North America as well.  So it became quite a muddy soup. Then there were reports of toxicity, which makes some sense if you were calling non-Black Nightshades Black Nightshades, essentially inducting non-edibles into the edible group.  To say it is a foggy, foraging family is an understatement. Even the pro’s profess confusion though I think they caused it. Native peoples had it sorted out well long before there were botanists.

There is no doubt Solanum family has toxic members. And the green berries of the plants mentioned here are toxic. They have killed a few children and at least one adult within record keeping. Livestock eating the plants/green berries in the field or dried in hay have been poisoned and or died. Yet, around the world for centuries many of the Black Nightshades are listed as edible if not highly esteemed. For the last quarter of a century, in particular, botanists have been writing about their names and toxicity when ripe and/or prepared correctly. Some still say yes, some still say no. Let’s look at our main three:

1) A native first called S. nigrum then S. nigrum var. americanum is now called Solanum americanum; 2) a variation of that S. americanum is called Solanum ptycanthum, (p-tic-ANTH-um) and 3) the Old World one is called Solanum nigrum. While they can all be found in most regions of the United States, the S. americanum favors the South, the S. nigrum the mid-west and the S. ptycanthum the north. However, the S. ptycanthum is the most wildly dispersed and reported in most areas. It also comes with less pedigree and is not reported in California.

199Some think S. ptycanthum is a North American native, some think it is a cross between the S. americanum and the S. nigrum. One author says the mature fruits might be edible. One serious scientific report says they fed ripe S. ptycanthum berries to rats for 13 weeks with no detectable problems. A third says the Indians, like the Cherokee and the Catabwa, ate the leaves of the S. ptycanthum and held them in high esteem. The latter appeals to me but if the S. ptycanthum is a hybrid with the old world S. nigrum and not a native, how long was it around for the Indians to discover it, use it, and hold it in high esteem?  Or do they think it is a hybrid from tens of thousands of years ago, just as they think the S. americanum originated in Australia? When details like that are left out one sometimes wonders how comprehensive some “botanists” are.

Since these three plants look very much alike what are the main features to sort them out (though the plants are highly variable)?

1) The S. americanum has green berries flecked with white. On ripening they turn SHINY black. They also grow in an umbel cluster, that is, the stems of the berries all go back to generally ONE central point.  The sepals do not adhere to the fruit. Berries have 40 to 110 seeds. The stem is NOT very hairy. The seedlings do not have maroon under their leaves.

The underside of a S. ptycanthum leaf.

The underside of a S. ptycanthum leaf.

2) The S. ptycanthum looks the S. americanum except it has maroon coloring on the bottom of younger leaves, particularly sprouts. The berry contains 50 to 100 seeds. No doubt it is often confused as an adult with the S. americanum. This would suggest growing some of what you think are either S. americanum or S. ptycanthum and looking at the underside of the young plants. Some say the adult plant has some red under its leaves.

3) The S. nigrum has DULL black berries when ripe, and they tend to be larger than the other two. Also the stems of the berries do not emerge from one single point but are separated slightly on the stem, staggered like a spike. It tends to have 25 to 30 seeds, 1.8 to 2.2 mm long, but they can range from 15 to 60.

Though ubiquitous and plentiful I avoided the “Black Nightshade” for years because of their reported toxicity even when ripe. Then I learned of a local grocery store manager from Cuba who ate the ripe berries whenever he found them. With a living local guinea pig alive I had to give them a try.  My plant de trepidation was the S. americanum and I was careful, starting with a quarter of one berry at a time, then the next day half a berry et cetera, working my way up. They’re quite tasty.  I have not eaten a cup of them at a time or baked a pie like Euell Gibbons, but as a trail side nibble the ripe berries have proven quite edible, though the flavor varies from musty to sweet. They look black but are actually intensely purple, and probably full of anti-oxidants.

While I have not personally proven this to myself regarding all three species mentioned here — the S. nigrum is not that common  locally — some researchers say the stems and leaves of both the S. americanum and S. nigrum are edible after being boiled. And for reasons I will get to, I will add they should be boiled twice, at least 15 minutes each time.  These experts also say the berries of each are edible when totally ripe, either raw and cooked. As for the S. ptycanthum, the cooked leaves were eaten by the Indians and, as mentioned earlier, in one experiment the ripe berries fed to rats for three months caused them no harm.

Now, why boil the leaves twice? Three reasons. The first one came from a veterinarian report on the S. nigrum saying the toxicity varies plant to plant and season to season (though I think they were lumping them all collectively as Black Nightshade.)  As an example they cite the potato which produces toxic green skin potatoes sometimes depending upon the growing conditions. So while boiling once may work this year, it might not work next year. Next, in Africa they boil the leaves of the S. nigrum twice. How long they boil them is not reported. It was called “a while.”  Thirdly, I had a close friend boil until tender the leaves of the S. americanum. He did not boil them a second time because he thought he had the leaves of a totally different plant. He ended up with a headache. That says to me boiling once is not enough even if it is. The older the leaves get the more bitter and toxic they are, so foragers should collect younger leaves and tops and not eat it to excess. Let’s take a closer look at the plants.

Ripe S. americanum berries, edible

The Solanum americanum has alternating leaves that are hairy underneath, particularly at the edges. They are not reddish-purple underneath when young. They can be oval to triangular, no teeth or irregularly teethed. Flowers, five petals, white, have small anthers. The berries are speckled with white until fully ripe whereupon they turn black and shiny — shiny, that’s important. The berries are usually in a cluster, on several short stems originating from one point or nearly one point — one point, that’s important. The sepals do not adhere to the fruit.  It tends to have 40 to 110 seeds or more, 1 to 1.5 mm long. Here in Florida it fruits nearly all year long.

Unripe S. americanum berries, toxic

Professor Julia Morton, in her book, Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida,  says fully ripe berries of the S. americanum are edible raw or cooked. Young leaves and stems are edible cooked. The Mansfeld’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops also says the cooked leaves and ripe fruit are edible.  Sam Thayer in his latest book, Nature’s Garden, also argues they are edible.  The leaves contain about 6990 mg of beta carotene per 100g.

The Solanum nigrum, one to three feet high, has dull black fruit — dull that’s important — and the fruit is larger than S. americanum. It can have up to 60 seeds though 15 to 35 is common. Unripe fruit can be light green to almost white.  The flower has large anthers, the sepals generally adhere to the fruit, and they are racemiform, that is, not all originating from one point but along the stem (peduncle) — that’s important. Its ripe fruit is edible as are its cooked leaves, according to Edward Schelling and Qi-sheng Ma, Department of Botany, University of Tennessee, as reported on page 223, Vol. 46, Economic Botany, 1992. The Canadian government also reports the berries are edible. Mansfeld’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops reports the cooked leaves and ripe berries are edible.

So that’s fairly clear. Then along comes Solanum ptycanthum. The S. ptycanthum is very similar to the S. americanum but it is mostly hairless and may have leaves with purple undersides, particularly when young. Purplish undersides is important to identifying the young plant.  It is also called the Eastern Black Nightshade and the West Indian Nightshade.

The S. ptycanthum is an annual or short-lived perennial that will grow to a yard or so but usually is shorter. It tends to be well- branched in the upper parts and the stems are usually nearly hairless and smooth. Mature leaves alternate, they are pale green, soft, thin, almost translucent, oval to oval-lance shaped. Flowers are small, usually two to five grouped together in a small umbel-like arrangement (from one point) on a short stalk (peduncle) sticking out from the side of the stem rather than from the axil (where the leaf meets the stem.)  The flower is star-shaped, white or white tinged with purple with a yellow star, often streaked with purple when growing in cold temperatures. Looks like a potato flower but much smaller. The plant flowers from June until late autumn in northern climes. Fruits green at first but turning black, shiny and juicy when mature, 50 to 110 small flat seeds and 4 to 8 small, hard, irregular stone-like crumbs. Mature fruits of detach at the junction of the pedicel and peduncle (where the stem of the berry meets the stem it was growing on.) I’ve read no reports of the S. americanum having stone-like crumbs, which if true would be one more difference between the S. americanum and the S. ptycanthum.

For the record the leaves and young shoots of Solanum villosum (vee-LOW-some) are used as a leafy vegetable. Its berries are light green or yellow when ripe and the leaves are so hairy that they may feel sticky. Its berries are not edible as far as I know. The leaves of the S. guineense (gin-ee-EN-see) are also edible. And adding to the confusion is the Solanum retroflexum, fomerly Solanum burbankii. Its cooked leaves and ripe fruit are edible. As its old scientific name indicates, it is of hybrid origin. The plant was reportedly bred by Luther Burbank in the early 1900s and is a hybrid of S. villosum and S. guineense, though that may be in dispute. S. retroflexum is compact, typically growing to a height of one to two feet and can fruit when only four-inches tall. The fruit is dark blue-purple when ripe. Green (unripe) fruits are toxic.

Generally said a Black Nightshade plant can produce up to 178,000 seeds per plant. There are about 2,000 seeds to a gram. The plant can be propagated by stem cuttings. Under cultivation leaves and stem tops are regularly harvested.  The composition of 100 g edible portion of “African” nightshade leaves (I presume S. nigrum) is water 87.8 g, 39 calories, protein 3.2 g, fat 1g, carbs 6.4 g, fiber 2.2 g, calcium 200 mg, potassium 54 mg, iron 0.3 mg,  beta carotene 3.7 mg, ascorbic acid 24 mg. The dry matter content varies from 6–18 % depending on plant age, soil moisture and fertilizing. The protein is rich in methionine.

Solanum means “quieting” because some members of the family induce sleep. Americanum means of America, nigrum means black, and ptychanthum is from two Greek words meaning “folded flower.”  Villosum is hairy and retroflexum means bent backwards. Like the S. nigrum, the S. retroflexum has sepals that turn back away from the berry. Burbankii for Luther Burbank and guineense means from Guinea.


S. americanum: Green berries speckled with white, fruit in a cluster radiating from one point. Shiny black.

S. ptycanthum: Similar to americanum but young leaves and shoots maroon under leaf, fruit has seeds and crumbs.

S. nigrum: Dull black berries, arranged along the stem.

TIME OF YEAR: Summer in northern climes, year round in warmer areas.

ENVIRONMENT:  Will tolerated sand and dry conditions but prefers well cultivated and rich soil. If it makes a tomato happy it will make a black nightshade happy.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Ripe berries raw or cooked, young leaves, stem tops boiled twice, 15 minutes each time.


Bruised leaves used externally to ease pain and reduce inflammation, also  applies to burns and ulcers. Their juice has been used for ringworm, gout and earaches.


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{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathaleen Stapleford October 22, 2016 at 01:52

In West Central West Virginia and just following a flood i have just come across your article in trying to identify what has taken over my seed greenhouse , Apparently in the few months it has taken us to clean the rest of the farm it has been nightshades delight in propagating in the climate controlled environment . I am not certain where it came from nor what to do at this point however i can say that all shelving is covered with blankets of berries and draped with lush leaves .


Brady McElligott October 18, 2016 at 17:16

Our family found what was most likely S. americanum growing on the river banks in Central Florida, and gathered the ripe berries and made “meatless mince pies” out of them.


Ittiz September 18, 2016 at 19:10

Growing up I had heard these plants were poison and never consumed any, however I used to use these plants as a ladder to climb up buildings on the farm. Tons of it used to grow up all the buildings. I remember feeling sad they were poison because the vines were always so loaded with berries and the birds seem to enjoy them. I have a few that grow in my yard, i’ll see if I can get any before my chickens do…


Adrien December 23, 2016 at 01:55

Not a vine plant


Jess February 6, 2017 at 12:34

I think you’re talking about Virginia creeper. Night shades can be leggy if growing through a hedge, but are more of a bush than a vine. I would not eat Virginia creeper berries.


Mark September 15, 2016 at 06:05

Just to add a different angle to the discussion….my former university is doing research on glossy black nightshade as a possible treatment/cure for cancer! It’s not my department, so I can’t add specifics….but they are quite serious about it as a natural curative….


Vindula September 13, 2016 at 15:50

I know this plant, grew up eating it. The leaves are edible but bitter. The green fruit I would not put in my mouth. The black fruit is edible as well but I don’t fancy it. Once that are found in the wild are very bitter in comparison to ones that one can buy in farmers market. I never forage these from the wild. If purchased from farmers market it can be consumed in large amounts without any reaction. You can stir fry this green with tomatoes to better the taste. Intake at your own risk because I don’t have any science degree however, just a person who appreciates wild edibles.


sandy August 5, 2016 at 13:10

I have seen the nightshade with purple flowers growing down by our public beach in Traverse City, Michigan. I also had that variety growing in my backyard in Detroit 20 years ago. Now here in Benzie County, Michigan, I am finding the ones with white flowers, with a yellow center. However none of your descriptions exactly matches what I see here. One plant has an incredibly hairy stem. The others have smooth stems, but no red or maroon color under the leaves. They are small, low gangibg, sort sprawling plants, but new this year. Leaves are fragile, with lots bug holes. I took some up and put them in pits to try to observe them. My little dog was chewing on one. That’s how I discovered tbem. She’s ok. I collected sone ripe berries to try to gain sime seeds for next spring. I’m curious why the one has such fuzzy, hairy stems. But the others don’t. I’d love to properly I’d them before attempting to use any part of the plant. Thank you. Sandy.


Bonnie McDermott June 25, 2016 at 16:17

I’ve had horses in South Florida for about 20 years. I do have night shade in our pastures. I try to be deligent about culling it, but they tend to pop up here and there. I’ve never had any of my horses become ill. I’ve even seen evidence of them eating the plant and have seen the seeds in their manure…..????? Interesting


farouk January 24, 2016 at 15:50

In my garden I’ve reared a weed which has established itself in a pot 25cm high neighbouring an ornamental cactus. The latter used to blossom seasonally giving a beautiful scarlet red flower. At present I’m picking ripe dark clusters of black berries which have previously gone green then purple. My problem is how to identify the sweet berries from which I can gain much – at least to make jam. I thought to search under:” images of plants fruiting black berries”; thus got a hint towards “solanum nigrum”. Why not then consult “ Eattheweeds – Green Deane “ for: solanum nigrum” ? Eureka! I’ve reached my destination. It is S. Americanum. I’ve really learned much from your article “ Amercana Night Shade – Much Maligned Edible”. I must say that small birds play a good role in decreasing the harvest. The number of seeds per berry is not much – may not exceed 10 . As it does not take long from germination to fruiting, I’ve started growing from seeds the Americana Night on the purpose to collect enough berries for making jam. Please advise on my purpose because in future people around may follow suit – Thank you.


Natalia January 22, 2016 at 18:33

I’ve grown up eating the berries in spite of everyone say not to back in RUSSIA! They grow as a weed. I believed the green berries and leaves were poisonous but no the black berries. And often showed my friends how “brave” and “immune to poison” I was.
I now live in Australia Sydney and have these grow as a weed in my backyard. And I still pop a few in my mouth straigh off the plant.
Yesterday 21.01.16 I saw some and as I was talking to my mother said that I’d have some. Mum was in shock so I promised to look it up.
The berries are very different from deadly night shade and more like a tiny peas on a branch like cherry tomatoes. Sweet and pleasant. I’ve never felt sick or confused or otherwise Ill.


Chris C. September 12, 2015 at 21:23

I’ve been eating the berries of the black nightshade that grows everywhere here in Houston for years, ever since my Tamil wife pointed out they used it all the time. And this INCLUDES the green berries. Like the leaves, they are not toxic when cooked. Mind you, they are very, very bitter, and are generally used only rarely, but I’ve eaten them in sour gravies. I don’t know how long she cooks them, but I don’t believe she’s ever double-boiled anything. Generally, they’re cooked in a very long simmer, I think.

Just a point of reference, not suggesting that anyone else try it if you didn’t grow up with it.


Eric July 19, 2015 at 10:23

Hi.the black night shade cannot be propagated by the seeds its producing?i have seen some produce seeds.cannt the seeds be plucked and just planted?


Green Deane July 19, 2015 at 19:15

Treat them like tomato seeds.


Duane Hazard July 14, 2015 at 22:37

As a Eagle Scout one thing that we had been told. Is that anything black or blue is good for you, anything red some of the time , anything white never do you eat. As far as green berries go have no idea . It would be a good idea to find someone who knows your native plants.


Green Deane July 15, 2015 at 12:59

Then you were taught wrongly. I can think of several blue or black berries that can make you quite sick or kill you. There are no short cuts. We have to learn each plant. That said, 99.9999999 of white berries are NOT edible.


Muang Saelee June 12, 2015 at 00:19

Wow! After all these years of eating these I’ve finally found out what they are called. I am Southeast Asian and this has been one of our favorite vegetables.
As a child growing up my parents always had many types of vegetable seeds that they say are from back home. They tell me the names of them in my native language but I could never find out what they are called here.
This is a staple for us as well as vegetables go, I’ve been eating this all my life growing up, however to read that it can be highly toxic is quite scary.


Uli Troyo May 2, 2015 at 15:14

Hi! I live in South Florida, and I came across your site trying to identify what turned out to be S. Americanum growing in my yard. The berries are fairly tasty, now that I know they’re safe. Not delicious, but kind of like a mix between a blackberry and a tomato.


John Bevington March 4, 2015 at 01:24

Thanks for the information best I’ve found so far on this plant. I have been eating the ripe berries for a while now. And am happy to report I’ve never got sick, but in truth I don’t eat all that many at any one time. Just in case. I got turned on to eating them after buying some ‘Wonderberries’ seeds, i.e. (Solanum Retroflexum (or at least that is the scientific name they gave them)), & when I grew the seeds they looked just like the weeds I have all over the property. Rockport Texas. Thanks Again.


Mike O'Connor February 6, 2015 at 01:57

Interesting page.. I live on the Gold Coast in Australia and this plant grows everywhere here as a weed. I presume it’s solanum americanum (no reddish leaves, shiny black fruit). I can only presume it’s native here because it grows in wild places where I couldn’t imagine any non-native planting has ever happened.
I’ve been eating the ripe black fruit for years now and I really like them! They just pop up in my garden, on the roadsides.. in empty spaces everywhere. They remind me a bit of the elderberries I used to pick as a kid in the UK.


RM McWilliams March 11, 2017 at 15:01

Birds could have planted them by depositing the seeds with their droppings.


rose February 5, 2015 at 10:29

Iam kenyan and live in the USA too and would like to get a steady supply of the same too.


Kibet January 29, 2015 at 19:01

I come from Kenya and this plant is a delicacy for us. We prepare it as stew to eat with our staple food called ugali. I’m currently living in the United States and I’m trying to find out where I can get a steady supply for myself and fellow Kenyans.


MONICA TURNEY October 2, 2014 at 16:08

Just wondering if Solanum elaeagnifolium is edible or has any medicinal uses?


Green Deane October 2, 2014 at 16:30

Generally said no… there is one report of its juice being used to curdle milk. That juice also breaks down proteins. I would leave it alone.


David August 23, 2014 at 16:45

My neighbor grew up in Laos and ate the leaves raw in salads and cooked in soups. She believes my plants, here in northern Wisconsin, to be the same as was in Laos I’ve eaten leaves with no ill affects. A few minutes ago I ate a black shiny berry with no immediate ill affects. Tasted just like a tomato.
From the description, I believe I have S. ptycanthum. I’ll eat a few more berries this afternoon and let you know if I have any ill affects.


nepeta451 August 22, 2014 at 14:19

The young tender greens are edidble when cooked. I highly recommend not to eat the black fruit or any old leaves. As the leaves are bitter and so are the fruits. In my culture we all know not to consume these part of the plant. The fruits are used as seeds or a dye. I used to play around with the black seed pods when I was little and it would stain my hands and clothes. I even remeber my grandmother using the stain as a dye for a cloth. Seeds production is extremely high due to low germination rate. I suspect they also require a cooling period before germination in the spring when conditions are right. I’ve tried to grow these from seeds and it did not germinate so well.


Samarn Vichitnand August 20, 2014 at 20:38

I’m pretty sure it’s what Tracy R is talking about isn’t a vine like what the bittersweet nightshade looks like around here. It actually is similar in size the bush that has the nigrum berries. The main differences I can tell are the purple flowers, red berries, bug holes in the leaves, and woodier stalk. I’d like to send you a picture but it wont attach to this response box, is there an email address I can send it to?


Sharon December 19, 2016 at 23:18

I think deadly nightshade has purple flowers and nigrum has white. I would be wary of any similar looking vine with purple flowers.


Ketisha Barthelemy August 6, 2014 at 16:31

My family eat the leave all the time. We call it Morel. We don’t eat the black berries we just eat the leave.


Earl Guidry September 16, 2014 at 13:01

For some 65 years, I’ve known this weed to be called,morel. Old timers and 0ld deer hunters pointed out this plant to me. Deers will find this plant and eat the leaves ,one of their favorate food in South Louisiana.


Monica Keese April 15, 2016 at 09:48

Yes! I’m from New Orleans and this plant is called nightshade, as well as Morel by my family. We love this as a green that taste like no other. It is usually boiled, them cooked down in oil with pig fat or salted meat. Served over hot rice and sometimes eaten with hands, no utensils. This is the first time I’m seeing others (that’s not part of my family) identify this tasty, bitter green. We find these plants in the woods of Plaquemines Parish and the whole family gets together to enjoy. My mother says she use to eat the berries when she was young, but hesitates today because so many people are saying it’s poisonous.


Tim July 27, 2014 at 16:43

Thanks for helping me identify the plants growing on my patio. I have spent a good bit of time trying to research this on-line, including downloading several Apps for my phone which kept identifying the leaves as various Maples. “It’s a bush,” I say to the phone to no avail. It seems like this has solved it. They are somewhat sensitive to the heat on my patio, with the leaves wilting until I water them in the afternoon. Again, thanks for the photos and descriptions. I haven’t plucked up the courage to try eating the berries that have started ripening here at the end of July in Southeast Texas.


RM McWilliams March 11, 2017 at 15:11

These are not really a bush, since bushes, aka shrubs, have woody stems. These nightshades can have a ‘bushy’ form, but are herbaceous plants, meaning they have stems that do not form wood.

Some maples are very small trees or shrubs that tend to have a bushy form with many small trunks. That may be why your application for identifying plants did not understand what you meant.


Janet Brown July 24, 2014 at 20:09

I have an entire yard full and FULL of S. americanum that look exactly like your video on this and I would like to be able to do something with them, if they are in fact edible. However, when I squish them (the technical term) the flesh, while purple and seedy, squishes clear juice, not purple, so I cannot imagine dying cloth with it as one of the other posts suggest and the black (totally black) berries are very sour, not bitter really, just not anything anyone would want to eat intentionally. In your video, you said if it tasted bad to leave it alone – so I did – but if it is not the S. americanum, what is it???


TexasTall May 3, 2014 at 15:48

What do the ripe berries look like on the inside? I have a plant that seems to match the description…the pulp inside the ripe berry is GREEN. Pretty much a juicy mass of tiny seeds. Only 4 or 5 of the berries on the total plant have turned black now, though, so it could be that they are not as ripe as they will get?


Green Deane May 3, 2014 at 20:53

When the outside is black and shiny the inside is seedy and light green they should be mild to sweet.


Brett Stebbins November 7, 2013 at 17:31

Some years back I purchased some Solanum melanocerasum (Garden Huckleberry) seeds from I had several Huckleberry plants sprout. They produced berries and we enjoyed them. Then some months later some more plants sprouted in the same location as where I had grown the Huckleberries. They looked like the Huckleberries we grew before. We ate from those plants too. So, for several years now Huckleberries keep popping up in my yard and garden.

Recently I discovered this article on S. americanum. Now I am wondering if the berries we have been eating are from the Huckleberries I grew some years ago that keep coming back or S. americanum. Is there are way to tell the difference? And now that I have read this article I have noticed what looks like S. americanum in other parts of my neighborhood and those can’t possibly be from the Huckleberries I had planted :).


RM McWilliams March 11, 2017 at 15:14

Yet another example of common names being confusing. ‘Garden huckleberry’ is not at all related to the plant most people are refering to when they say ‘huckleberry’, which is a small shrub or bush (with woody stems) closely related to blueberries.


Green Deane March 15, 2017 at 20:27

Last century marketing…


Patricia September 9, 2013 at 21:39

My friend planted wildflower seed from a reputable supplier and up sprouted a huge patch of what looks to be this plant. Could the supplier have possibly sent Deadly Nightshade seeds by mistake? Not likely, I know, but how else to explain it? Any suggestions on how she go about getting rid of it so it doesn’t come back next year? Thanks for the great website!


Green Deane September 10, 2013 at 08:52

It could be what is called a “garden huckleberry” a cultivated version


Grimwood August 30, 2013 at 13:37

I live in Lancaster PA. We found what we believe to be the edible fruit (S. americanum berries). They are growing with our tomatoes plants. When I first observed them I squished one and smelled it….. I was surprised that it smelled like a tomato and went online to find out what it is. I have found mixed reports on it be edible and being toxic. wish I could post a picture for you to see. Thanks!


Green Deane August 30, 2013 at 16:14

You can post it on the Green Deane Forum


Dave August 28, 2013 at 18:53

I have a plant I believe may be S. ptycanthum, as it has all the features described, except mine has variegated leaves. Is this typical or is it another plant?


Kay August 26, 2013 at 15:31

have them growing all over my backyard and a few in the front,the plant itself was so delicate and the flowers so pretty that I left them alone to see what they were. Today, I popped a developed tiny, shiny, black berry between my fingers and just tasted it, was not sour nor sweet, refreshing, I live in the Central Valley of California, they are housing ladybug larve on some, so they will stay.


Ryan August 13, 2013 at 11:09

Leaves look similar to a lamsquarter. What’s the best way to tell them apart


Green Deane August 13, 2013 at 11:56

Lambsquarters usually have a white dusting, the nightshade does not.


peter July 17, 2013 at 15:54

I have a nightshade of some form growing in my cherry tomatoes.. i jumped like a saw a rattler when i noticed it at first! Would you allow me to email you a pic? To see of you can ID it?


Grimwood August 30, 2013 at 13:40

Would like to compare pictures, mine are also growing within my cherry tomatoes. I am pretty sure mine are edible. I did try one and I am still alive. lol.


Tom July 6, 2013 at 15:38

First I thank you for all the information the internet is amazing!
I would like to find a source for S. americanum seed. I am a descendant of the Volga Germans that settled around Hays Kansas (and introduced Russian red wheat to the Great Plains). I grew up eating Schwatzenberren Kuchen (a coffee cake) and Maultaschen (a dumpling) made with these berries. I have traveled back up there but could not locate any plants would really love to make these heritage goodies again.
Thanks for any help you can give.


Sam Brungardt August 5, 2013 at 18:20

Tom, if you or anyone else would like some seed of Schwartzbeeren grown in or around Hays, Kansas, please contact me. I’ve been sharing seed of this Volga German berry for the past several years so others can enjoy them in traditional Volga German dishes. My email address is — Sam Brungardt


Donna June 11, 2013 at 15:49

What other plants might be mistaken for S. americanum or S. ptychanthum? Some weeds I let grow in my garden closely resemble your pictures and descriptions of these two. The green berries have no white flecks but I don’t remember reddish undersides when small. I nibbled & spit out a shiny black berry and found no crumbs, a mild tomato flavor, and 70-80 tiny 2mm, soft, green teardrop shaped seeds with black on the rounded ends. The plants are all green now, about two feet high, with 4-7 berries per cluster.

I wish I knew an expert in my area that I could go out walking with to learn more about all the wonderful weeds out there. Thank you for such a thoughtfully produced, detailed website! Your work is greatly appreciated.


Green Deane June 11, 2013 at 19:07

Have you looked at the list of foraging instructors on this site? Type resouces in the search window.


edric June 10, 2013 at 19:21

Great article Deane, I have a fairly large S. americanum in my backyard next to my Merremia tuberosa, let it be thinking the birds eat the berries, I just recently now have seen a “mocking bird” eat a few berries, but others aren’t so brave, I just found out today this plant was Nightshade, I took 30 or 40 berries at a time (black ones) they taste funny, not like any other fruit, but there have been no side effects, but I have no allergies. Anyone into palm trees, check out my years of work on, the worlds only palm encyclopedia, edric (Ed Vaile)


Elise Goldner April 24, 2013 at 19:22

I am a raw vegan, and I have eaten the Black nightshade Black ripe berries and raw leaves in salads and smoothies and juices and I live, I think it needs more investigating..


Green Deane April 25, 2013 at 06:26

I think you need to be careful. Eating the leaves raw can make you sick. Eating them improperly cooked can make you sick. Leave should be cooked. Don’t die trying to be healthy.


RM McWilliams March 11, 2017 at 15:32

Now that’s a quotable quote:
“Don’t die trying to be healthy.” Green Deane

No doubt most Americans should eat more raw foods, but that doesn’t mean every food should be eaten raw!

In my mind, that is right up there with saying that humans are meant to be herbivores because our teeth don’t look like the teeth of animals like canines or felines – but these same people are apparanlty unaware that virtually all the large herbivores lack upper incisors (except equines). Or that most of them regurgitate the plant matter they consume, chew it again, and swallow it a second time.

Most of these animals also have teeth that continue to grow in length for basically their entire lifetime; the origin of the saying that those who are old are ‘long in the tooth’. Since most horses in America don’t graze enough to get the wear their incisors were designed for, their front teeth tend to be pushed outward as they age and lengthen.

I’ll skip the mention of herbivores like rabbits that eat their ‘night droppings’ in order to digest the plant matter consumed more efficiently…


Louis February 17, 2013 at 15:25

Did he basicly say that it’s OK (for him) to eat to eat the ripe berries, as long as they aren’t green or yellow? They need to be black/dark-purple/dark-blue, and not taste bad, right? And you can eat any of the young plants if boiled twice, right?

Here’s my experience. I gushed a whole yellow “berry” tomato into my mouth and it tasted so awful, I spit it out & kept spitting & drooling for the next 2 minutes. I didn’t swallow. I rinsed w/ water. I don’t recommend the yellow berries either.


Green Deane February 17, 2013 at 15:28

American nightshade berries are never yellow. They go from green to dark purple/black. Are you sure of your plant’s identification? Might it have been an unripe ground cherry?


Ray Wundrlich February 17, 2013 at 21:27

There is a non-native member of the Solancea family that has yellow berries when ripe with a very similar morphology. Maybe this is what he ate.


Green Deane February 17, 2013 at 21:31
Green Deane October 6, 2013 at 03:42

No. There’s quite a variation and not all black ones are edible. You might also want to read on site Toxic Tomatoes.

Christina Slotin February 5, 2013 at 13:10

I used the ripe berries of S. americanum the other day to dye a small piece of cotton. The color was beautiful purple. I crushed the berries and added a little water to the juice. Should I be concerned about dyeing clothes with it?


Green Deane February 5, 2013 at 13:36

I don’t know of any external problems. Just eating them at the wrong time.


kunle January 12, 2013 at 11:30

i am a nigerian and an hepatitis patient please teach me how to prepare solanum ningrum for the treatment of my hepatitis


May November 21, 2012 at 18:05

I eat this plant! It is very good in a soup! You just boil water salt the water and throw it in and cook the young tender leaves until it is dark green. Its my favorite!


"Green Gene" September 29, 2012 at 18:55

Is it possible that a nightshade could be poisonous to many people and not to many others


Green Deane October 1, 2012 at 11:39

While that is a possibility — that is what allergies are — most of the problem came from botanist fogging up the genus and species. That did rise to the speculation of maybe toxic here but not there et cetera. It is a species that one is not born with the enzyme to help digest it so the first time it is eaten the liver has to make a new enzyme and that might be a bother to some folks.


Aaron G. September 19, 2012 at 03:54

S. ptycanthum … “…50 to 110 small flat seeds and 4 to 8 small, hard, irregular stone-like crumbs.” What are “stone-like crumbs”? I believe I have the plant, I bit into the berry, super seedy, infact almost nothing but seeds, like a BB sized tomato packed with seeds(seeds similar to tomato seeds), but no “crumbs”.


Green Deane September 19, 2012 at 08:23

Sometimes there are no crumbs.


name September 13, 2012 at 07:21

jackpot! this website is amazing. thank you! I always thought the fruits were bigger. no one talks about the size of night shade! I have just been calling it a pepper leaf plant!


brad September 11, 2012 at 18:01

hi, i’m in southeastern pennsylvania, and was quite excited to try what i thought was americanum (and ‘deadly’), but upon further looking, smaller younger leaves are purplish/reddish underneath. i cut two berries in half and saw only seeds, no ‘crumbs’ (not real sure what’s meant by that), and they had a tomato smell. can the americanum and ptychanthum be that similar that the only differing factor is the underside of a leaf? please help as i’m ‘dying’ to try one. thanks.


Green Deane September 12, 2012 at 06:53

The difference between the species is minor and can be just a little coloring on the seedlings.


JD August 24, 2012 at 18:18

Where did the much believe notion that NIGHTSHADE kills horses come from? Am guessing a horse or two ate the green berries, or leaves, and succumbed. Is that possible? Here in lower Michigan it sometimes is a strongly held belief – among the Amish and others.


Mary Meyer July 24, 2012 at 17:24

So, I was at the store yesterday and bought Mora Yierba (their spelling). I recognized the flower as nightshade and the leaves look a lot like Solanum americanum but… I understand that the South American’s put this into soup and I’m sure they wouldn’t sell it if it were poisonous but would love to know if you have ever heard of this. Google lists something as Hierba mora though I am not sure it is the same thing. Have you got any ideas?


Green Deane July 25, 2012 at 21:48

Hierba mora is Solanum nigrum.


Tracey R April 8, 2012 at 09:59

Do you know if there is a variety with purple flowers and berries that start green and ripen to red? This is what I see growing all over Indiana. Curious as to whether it’s edible or toxic.


Green Deane April 8, 2012 at 13:32

That sounds like the Bittersweet nightshade, quite toxic.


Kyle March 5, 2012 at 09:25

I’ve had a couple these berries at once without any effect. Although there isn’t a whole lot of mass or flavor to them. I feel safe eating them but I don’t have an urge to.


Marco October 22, 2011 at 22:16

Green Dean,

Are the undersides of S. ptycanthum only reddish when the whole plant is young, or will new growth present this reddening?

Also, I have some S. Carolinense growing on my property, and in my research I have heard varying opinions on whether the fruits of this plant are edible. They are almost as big as a cherry tomato, and very prolific so if they were edible that would be awesome. If you have any info I would greatly appreciate it as I trust your opinion.


Green Deane October 23, 2011 at 08:58

Thanks for writing. Your second topic comes up often. As to your first topic, young leaves of the Solanum ptychanthum can have some purple.

As for the Solanum Carolinense… aka Horsenettle… Every published reference in English I have ever read says it is toxic. That means leave it alone. However there might be a little wiggle room, and that is shear speculation on my part. Raw the entire plant is toxic, of that there is virtually no doubt. It has killed cattle, sickened mammals and perhaps killed a child.

We know that as the berries ripen and turn yellow they get even more toxic. Thus unlike say Solanum americanum whose green berries go from toxic to non-toxic as they ripen and turn black, the green berries of the S. carolinense do the opposite. They get more toxic the more they ripen and are the most toxic when ripe yellow, and the most tempting.

We also know some small mammals can eat the plant and not get sick but then again squirrels can eat strychnine, so that is no help. What we don’t know, and I’ve never found in English, is whether the young plant boiled is edible. (DON”T TRY IT!) I am only speculating about the information gap we have.

We know the plant does contain a toxic alkaloid. We know it changes over time for the worse. We know some small mammals — skunks specifically — can tolerate at least some of it, and we know it has killed big mammals, cattle, and at least sickens adult humans. Human symptoms of poisoning include fever, headache, a scratchy feeling in the throat followed by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ingestion of the unripe fruit causes abdominal pain and can cause circulatory and respiratory depression (Lewis RA. Lewis’ Dictionary of Toxicology. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, Florida, 1998:960-961.)

I also note that in some 70 years of publishing the Journal of Economic Botany mentions the species only twice, and then medicinally (Vol 22 page 333, and Vol 31 page 33.) I have not found any ethnobotanical reference to it at all, read what if anything the native used it for. The state of Louisiana has made possession of the plant illegal.

There are, however, persistent rumors of edibility and I once read on a University of Louisiana site that it was edible because at the same time a University of Florida site was saying it was deadly. Maybe in the mountains of Central America someone boils the young plants. I don’t know and I do not recommend it. But if I had to make a guess that would be it. Again, don’t try it. If it were so I’m sure the Journal of Economic Botany would have reported so during the last 70 years. I am just wondering. I have simply never found any published, credible source that says it is edible any way. They uniformly say toxic.

Frankly I don’t trust the Internet to such stuff and get most of what I know from books published before the Internet. Until I find a reputable published source that says it is edible and explains how, it is on my toxic avoid list. It should be on your toxic avoid list as well.


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