What is a Nightshade Plant?

What is a Nightshade Plant?

What is a Nightshade Plant? Nightshade plants are from the Solanaceae family of plants. (Thanks Wikipedia). Nightshade vegetables are a diverse family of plants that are annuals or perennials and can range in size from small herbs to small trees. Nightshades are generally known to contain toxins called alkaloids but depending on the plant, it still may have edible parts like the fruits and tubers. Many people include these nightshade vegetables in their home garden and you’ll likely recognize some of these most commonly eaten vegetables that include tomatoes, white potatoes, and peppers to name a few.

Nightshade vegetables contain alkaloids which are chemicals that cause physiological changes in the human body. Morphine is an example of a plant-based medicine that contains alkaloids. Tobacco is an example of a nightshade plant with chemicals shown to cause cancer.

What vegetables are Nightshades?

Tomatoes, white potatoes, eggplants, tomatillos, goji berries, and cape gooseberries to start the list. Nightshades include most of the peppers including bell (green, yellow, and red), jalapenos, habanero, chipotle, poblano, serrano, pimentos, and banana peppers are all nightshade plants.LuvMyRecipe.com - Cape Gooseberries Stem side

I’m sure I’m missing some more peppers because there’s so many. Its also important to note here that many of these on the list aren’t even vegetables at all. Most of them are fruit. If it has seeds.. It’s a fruit not a vegetable.

Not all nightshades are fruits or “vegetables”. Tobacco is a nightshade plant that contains the alkaloid nicotine. Nicotine is a defense mechanism against small animals and insects which gives the tobacco plant (Nicotiana tabacum) the edge in that insect world. Notice the nicotine connection there in the name?

What vegetables are MISTAKEN for nightshades?

Zucchini, cucumbers, onions, mushrooms, sweet potatoes all top the list for being mistaken for a nightshade plant but are in fact not a nightshade at all. The list continues with beans, coffee, peppercorns, squash, beets, avocados, and okra all being mistaken for a nightshade plant but are not. Blueberries are often mistaken for a nightshade because of their solanine content but they are not a nightshade plant either.

What spices and condiments CONTAIN nightshades?

Any spice blend with some kind of pepper (except black peppercorns) would be in that list. Cayenne pepper, red pepper, paprika, chipotle chili powder, any chili powder really, curry powder, garam marsala, most Indian spice blends, BBQ rubs, chicken rubs, and taco seasoning mixes.LuvMyRecipe.com - Spice Blend

If you want to avoid condiments with nightshades in them then you’ll want to remove all hot sauces, salsas (red & green), red pasta sauces, Pico de Gallo, Mole sauce, BBQ sauces, and yes.. ketchup too.

Guacamole with tomatoes (or peppers) is a “no”, but avocados with some onion are fine by themselves. Neither of these are nightshade plants however tomatoes and peppers are.

Are nightshade plants good for you?

Nightshade plants contain alkaloids and some people are sensitive to some nightshade plants because of this. Other people are straight out allergic to nightshade plants and still others don’t seem to be effected by some of these plants at all. If you believe you may be sensitive to some of these alkaloids then you should know which plants in your grocer’s produce aisle are nightshade plants and whether you are symptomatic after eating them.

People who have sensitivities to nightshade plants have symptoms ranging from slight headaches and indigestion.. to discomfort or cramping while digesting. Sensitivity towards one plant does not mean you have to avoid all nightshades. If you are sensitive to peppers, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid white potatoes too (both are nightshades). However, as someone invested in your own nutrition, you should know your own sensitivity (if any) to these plants.

If you are sensitive then you should also brush up on the term “intestinal permeability” and understand how some are effected by it in the form of what is called “leaky gut”. Many people believe that eating certain foods makes them candidates for a leaky gut condition so they avoid them. Nightshade plants are examples of foods these people try to avoid.

LuvMyRecipe.com - Nightshade TomatoThere can be some health benefits of nightshades and some people will even sing their praises. I’m not sure I’m in that camp although I clearly see the health benefits when removing the skin and seeds in certain plants to lower this alkaloid toxin level along with lectins.

I will usually remove the skin and seeds of all nightshades. In this way I believe the health benefits will outweigh the alkaloid level that would cause an issue for me. I’m not here to debate how to prepare your foods. Whatever works for you keep doing it. I’m doing what works for me.. and you should KNOW what works for yourself if you have taken a vested interest in your own nutrition.

Nightshade plants have good health benefits and some studies have shown that nightshades vegetables can be beneficial in some cases so I’m not condemning them here. Every body is different and should be treated as such.

What toxins are in nightshade plants?

Nightshade plants contain chemicals or toxins called alkaloids. Alkaloids are chemicals that can effect the human body physiologically. That means consuming these plants that contain alkaloids may have an effect on your body in some way if you are sensitive to these chemicals. Determining your sensitivity will depend on the plant and your use of it. Morphine is an example of a plant-based medicine that contains alkaloids while tobacco is an example of a nightshade plant with chemicals shown to cause cancer.

Well-known alkaloids include capsaicin (peppers),  morphine (poppies), nicotine (tobacco), strychnine, quinine, and ephedrine. There are thousands of alkaloids found in the plant world. After all, where would human medicine be without plants. One plant will usually only have a few alkaloids within, however the poppy (used in production of morphine) may contain as many as thirty alkaloid chemicals.

Consuming nightshade plants is like ingesting these chemicals. Either you’re sensitive in a negative way or not sensitive at all to the alkaloids. Maybe you are sensitive to the alkaloid but you haven’t consumed enough for your own sensitivity to kick in. I know many people who seemingly have no issues eating potatoes but I can assure you that a white potato is a nightshade plant and contains alkaloids.

Why do people eat nightshade plants?

Let’s stipulate to the fact that some people actually eat nightshades because they like the taste of them. Nightshade plants can have health benefits too even though they have the alkaloids lurking within.LuvMyRecipe.com - Potato Image

Many times alkaloids are acting as the self defense mechanism for the plant to protect itself from small animals and insects.

In some cases you can remove a good portion of these alkaloids by removing the skin. Eggplants have a nice amount of fiber to include in your diet and taste good too. Remove the skin and seeds and you’re removing a significant portion of this defense mechanism for the plant and the seeds.. so you can enjoy all that fiber and nutrients.

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