Monday, April 17, 2006...a.k.a. the Solanaceae, a family of flora whose members encompass the deadly, the delirious, and the delicious:
They have sustained entire cultures, inspired artists and authors, enabled shamans to commune with spirits, assisted thugees, stunned animals, dilated pupils for eye exams and beauty, poisoned children, transformed boys and girls into adults, filled our bellies, fed addictions, stimulated our intellect and imagination, eased the pain of surgery, given cancer, inspired aesthetic delight, combatted inflammation and asthma, imparted solace during childbirth, and gave the gift and bane of spiritual flight to users, abusers, initiates, and Puritanical witches ...The Deadly Nightshade, a common creepy-crawler of roadside and alley with purple and yellow flowers that inflate to rainbow-colored half-inch berries was a favorite childhood fascination - for its brilliance, its potato-beetle attraction, and its mushy tomato-scented toxic fruitlets my little fingers loved to crush.
While not strictly "deadly," Solanum dulcamara (shown above) is a stomach-turning, often mind-altering plant if eaten in large quantities - not that that stopped me from chowing down on a few as a kid (how else would would I remember their stinging, green-tomatoey tang?). Some claim the nightshades are a toxin best avoided, others like myself savor their baroque flavorings as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, chilies, chayote and eggplants*. The divine but deadly Datura, Mandrake, henbane and belladonna share filial ties with their culinary cousins...but I prefer ratatouille, chili or moussaka, ethnic Solanacaean delights.
* And tobacco, though I don't indulge in that particular nightshade. Just don't eat green potatoes with eyes.