Can you identify these plants?
August 24, 2009 6:03 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me identify this berry plant in my backyard?

I am in Santa Fe, NM at about 7500 feet. The whole plant is about 3 feet high and spreading to around 10 feet around. My Curious-George inspired 3 year old is picking them and who knows if she is eating them...

Thanks in advance!
posted by H. Roark to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Nightshade. The black, ripe berries are edible, but the unripe ones are NOT.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:10 PM on August 24, 2009

Info here. It may be difficult to tell from other species, so you're probably better off getting them out of there.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:16 PM on August 24, 2009

oops. I meant HERE.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2009

Nightshade. The black, ripe berries are edible, but the unripe ones are NOT.

First, I'm assuming we're talking about a garden huckleberry, and not some other nightshade.

The couple of citations I've found indicate that they're non-toxic if and only if they're both perfectly ripe and cooked.

In any other state, they're apparently quite toxic.
posted by Netzapper at 6:21 PM on August 24, 2009

thanks guys, I think I'm gonna pull 'um out.
posted by H. Roark at 6:22 PM on August 24, 2009

Seconding Netzapper. (I have these growing wild in my yard, right alongside S. dulcamara - didn't know what they were. My "Hmm... those look like itty bitty gooseberries, only they turn purple. Probably poisonous," was on track.) Get rid of it, but be prepared for both self-seeding and a deep root system.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:00 PM on August 24, 2009


The ripe berries are not poisonous, but they will leave a strong coppery aftertaste, which is why you blanche them with baking soda.

Use about 1 tbsp baking soda per 2 cups water. Boil, add berries, wait 30 seconds, then drain. Makes excellent jam.
posted by yesster at 1:54 AM on August 25, 2009

Um. Most people seem to think that the risk (i.e. death) of eating unripe Nightshade is so high, that it's really not a good idea to risk eating them at all. I say this because you've had three answerers so far who've said that in some form they're non-toxic, and one who's actually recommended a recipe. Extreme AskMe.

The toxic alkaloids in Nightshades are atropine, scopolamine and solanine.

The eaten LD50 (concentration at which 50% of subjects die) of these toxins orally are:
- Atropine: 500 mg/kg for rats (Assuming you weigh 100 kg and assuming parallel sensitivity, that'd be 50 grams, so probably not a huge risk here because there's not a lot of data on how much Atropine per berry there is)
- Scopolamine: 750 - 1040 mg/kg for rats (Assuming 100 kg and parallel sensitivity, 75-104 grams)
- Solanine: 2800 micrograms/kg for humans (This one's the kicker. Assuming you weigh 100 kg, you only need to be exposed to 280 mg or 0.28 grams of solanine to kill you 50% of the time)

What I mean by "parallel sensitivity" is that with rat oral LD50s, and in the absence of any LD50 data for humans, the assumption you have to make is that in the absence of toxicology information for humans, that humans are as sensitive per kg as rats are to the toxin. Without tests or numbers for humans, you just don't know.

In the case of solanine, for instance, which is the kicker for Nightshade, the very essence of the problem with assuming parallel sensitivity is clear. The rat oral LD50 of solanine is 590 mg/kg for rats, but 2800 micrograms/kg for humans. Humans are FAR MORE SENSITIVE than rats to the toxicity of solanine. It could equally well be the case for the other two main toxins as well.

Death is apparently through cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory failure. Most treatment guides seem to indicate some pharmacology but mostly emesis (emptying the stomach) and support (respiratory and cardiac). As intubation is usually a standard part of respiratory support, I strongly advise caution. Intubation is a really unpleasant procedure, and both cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory failure are also not to be dismissed - they're both really painful conditions to survive.

The missing link here is figuring out how much solanine is in nightshade. This is different for different nightshade plants and probably for different growing conditions. I wasn't able to find a good resource for how much solanine is in green or black berries from the kind of nightshade you have, but I'd steer clear, seriously. 0.28 grams is a very very small amount when talking about clinical toxicology.
posted by kalessin at 6:06 AM on August 25, 2009

Isn't "nightshade" a pretty unspecific id?

Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, and Eggplants are all "nightshades" and we generally don't look on them as poison.

There's a "deadly nightshade" and that sounds bad. The first link in kalessin's post says this:
Human poisoning is usually accidental.The huckleberry looks very similar to black nightshade;it is even thoughtto be a domesticated form of the deadly nightshade plant. Children who eat huckleberries may mistake the purple-blackberries of the black nightshade for the delicious huckleberry and become poisoned.
posted by malphigian at 7:25 AM on August 25, 2009

To clarify, when I'm talking about Nightshade in my above comments and what the OP talked about appears to be Solanum nigrum L. According to this article, it sounds like it may well be Solanum nigrum L. that the OP is talking about (since it's in Santa Fe, NM).
posted by kalessin at 10:29 AM on August 25, 2009

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