Solanum nigrum: Manithakkali, Black Nightshade

Family: Solanaceae
Common name: Black nightshade, Blackberry nightshade, Manithakkali

This little shrub is considered as food and medicine in South India, though there are questions about its toxicity. Manithakkali plants can grow to a height of 1-1.2 meters with broad green leaves and slightly wavy edges.

They belong to the nightshade family of Solanaceae, many of them having some amount of toxicity in leaves, flowers and unripe fruits. The stem is brownish green at the base of the plant, but tender green towards the tip, making them ideal for vegetable dishes.

Manithakkali plants produce white flowers with 5 distinct petals and bright yellow centers; usually growing in bunches of 8-15. The petals fold outwards in older flowers.

Black nightshade plants produce tiny green fruits that are about 6-8 mm containing many small seeds; the fruits becoming dark purple or black when they are ripe. The ripe seeds and leaves are eaten raw as a cure for mouth ulcers and stomach ailments.

Leaves are available in vegetable shops in South India, and is used for making curries with toor dal, onions, tomatoes, garlic etc. They were considered to be famine food in China in the olden days. Manithakkali is eaten in China, Africa, South East Asia and in India; especially in South India, where they are popular in the states of Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka.

Though all parts of the plant are eaten raw, it is better to cook or blanch them so that there is no trace of toxicity. Unripe seeds are said to be toxic causing vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea, especially in children.

The plant has many medicinal uses, in treatment of mouth and stomach ulcers, fever, tuberculosis, liver diseases, jaundice, asthma and whooping cough. Studies have shown that Manithakkali helps in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in mice.

Propagation is very easily done from seeds. Manithakkali plants usually grow by themselves in gardens and open areas from animal waste, bird droppings; or through wind and water dispersal of seeds.

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