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What is Solanum?

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  • Written By: N. Phipps
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Solanum is a very diverse genus of plants that include nightshades and horse nettles. It also includes both annual and perennial plants, vines, shrubs, and small trees. While most parts of these plants are considered poisonous to humans, especially the foliage and berries, many species have actually been used as medicinal plants. In fact, it is thought that the herbal remedies concocted from them provide a soothing effect on the body. Remedies were often used externally to heal bruises, swelling, sprains, corns, and sores.

Due to their potency, however, these extracts were taken and used with great care. This was especially true of native tribespeople, who respected their dangerous properties. Taken or used in high doses, plants are known to cause skin irritation, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, seizures, and even death. Much of the poisoning associated with these plants was believed to result from witchcraft. There exists numerous tales and myths surrounding this subject, from herbal remedies to spell potions.

Some of the more well known of these poisonous Solanum plants include belladonna, datura, henbane, mandrake, and deadly nightshade. Belladonna was thought to be used by witches for creating flying ointments. Datura was supposedly the plant of choice for safely breaking hexes and reversing curses back to the sender. Henbane was often used for divination practices or as a sedative. Mandrake has long since been reputed for making people act like beasts and is believed to be the plant responsible for spawning the legend of werewolves.

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Witches and other Solanum users were thought to make salves from nightshades. They could also be made into jams, along with other plants, and used as offerings to the underworld. Along with their medicinal or mystical use, many other plants found within this vast family also have exceptional food value. In fact, those that are edible consist of some of the most popular foods both grown and eaten in home gardens. These include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.

Since this diverse group of plants includes such a large variety, a great number of them are also grown strictly for their aesthetic qualities. Numerous types of Solanum plants can be grown in containers or garden environments. Some have attractive foliage, like the variegated species, in which people find appealing. Others are grown for their interesting blooms, which vary in color, or berries. When growing these plants, most require rich, well-draining soil, warm temperatures, and lots of sun.

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