The Nightshade Revolution

Jul 2, 2007

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons\Ralf Roletschek

The Nightshade family of vegetables includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tobacco.  These are foods native to the Americas.  Along with corn, quinoa, wild rice, and squash.  Take a moment to ponder that:  these New World foods were unknown in  Europe until Columbus and his ilk showed up on and began the exporting.  So the Irish potato famine, and spaghetti with marinara sauce, and smoking a Gaulois whilst wearing a beret in a French cafe, were all made possible by this culinary revolution.  (I do realize that Gaulois don’t really fall into the “culinary” category, but cut me some slack, I’m waxing philosophic.) (French fries, though, they’re culinary.  And Hungarian paprika.)

Nightshades get a bit of a bad rap.  According to food theorist Steve Gagne, “potatoes have no soul.”  This makes me sad.  They’ve got some potassium, but their nutritional value really isn’t on par with, say, broccoli.  Nightshades are indicated in arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis — experiment with removing them from your diet if you’re dealing with that condition.  Here’s a thought:  are Nightshades detrimental primarily to people of non-American ancestry, since these foods were introduced to their genetic stock relatively recently?  Do American Indians have arthritic reactions to Nighshades?

I was picking cucumbers at the farm last week and pondering just how much of our farming and gardening experience is nightshade-based.  What is summer without a home-grown tomato plant?  What would we grow if we didn’t grow nightshades?  What crops native to the rest of the world  have revolutionized cuisine in the Americas?  Olives, I bet…  Wheat?  Did the Europeans bring that over?  Is rice native to Asia?  I know they’ve got yams in Africa that are a whole different ballgame than the sweet potatoes (members of the morning glory family) that we’ve got here.

It just blew my mind to ponder a world where there were no potatoes or tomatoes or cayenne pepper.

Anyway.  This is the stuff that keeps me up at night.

Happy Fourth of July :: have fun grilling your potato burgers and tomato dogs.