How toxic is nightshade: an Ayurvedic perspective

“Nightshade” is a term used for the group of plants in the Solanaceae family. The exact reason why they are called nightshades is unknown, but possibly because they grow and fruit at night without the sun, absorbing “deadly night energies”.


The ancient science of Ayurveda says to reduce or avoid this group of plants for several reasons. Also, many researchers have discovered they are inappropriate for human health.


What are nightshade plants?

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Eggplant
  • Goji Berries
  • Tobacco
  • Peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, paprika, tamales, tomatillos, pimentos, cayenne, etc)

Among the foods listed above potato is a tuber, tobacco is a leaf and rest are fruits.


Why are nightshades so potent?


Nightshades can be medicinal or toxic due to the presence of glycoalkaloid properties.


What are glycoalkaloids?


Glycoalkaloids are natural pesticides produced by nightshade plants. Glycoalkaloids are bitter compounds found throughout the plant, but are highly concentrated in the leaves, flowers, seeds and unripe fruits. Glycoalkaloids are also neurotoxins.


Why could the nightshades be bad for your health?


From a nutritional perspective, the ingestion of members of the nightshade family has two significant biological effects:

  1. Glycoalkaloids are neurotoxins. Nightshades interfere with a neurotransmitter that is present in the nervous system.
  2. They can bring about an inflammatory affect the joints.

All of the nightshades contain nicotine, or one of its close chemical relatives: solanine in potatoes, tomatine in tomatoes, aubergine in eggplants and alpha-solanine in bell and chili peppers. All of these contain an acetylcholinestrase inhibitor that impedes the transmission of nerve impulses from one synapse to the next by retarding the production of acetylcholinesterase.


Many nightshades contain immune-activating molecules called lectins that can provoke an allergic response, and when food allergies are present, they are best eliminated.


Biochemical constituents in nightshades can also dehydrate the fluid lubricating the joints which can worsen arthritis and associated bone disorders. It may also interfere the calcium metabolism, to worsen digestive sensitivity, sciatica, kidney and gallstone disorders.


Ayurvedic view on nightshades


From the perspective of Ayurveda, edible nightshades all are heating in nature, except for the white potato, and they are inflammatory in action. All of them have a pungent and/or sour post-digestive effects (vipaka). Thus, during digestion, the colon experiences the physiological consequences of the sour and pungent tastes, with the pungent vipaka, being both heating and dehydrating properties and provoking both vata and pitta doshas, and the sour vipaka, being both heating and moisture-promoting, provoking the kapha and pitta doshas.


Nightshades are therefore said to be aggravating for all three doshas.


Nightshades are also believed to possess inflammatory properties. Thus, they are aggravating to both vata and pitta doshas.


Nightshade foods come under the categories of Rajasic and Tamasic food which can alter the state of mind. They are stimulating, preserving the inertia and passion states of mind.


Are they OK to eat?


There is no one fit answer to this question. Somebody who has no issue on using them can use them in moderation or precaution. If you have been diagnosed with one of the following issues, I would recommend eliminating nightshades from your diet:

  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Osteoporosis
  • Ongoing inflammation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


How to  eat Nightshades?


If nightshades are not sensitive for you and they do not cause you unpleasant symptoms, here are some tips to enjoy nightshades in your diet:

  • Choose ripe nightshades: choosing the ripest fruits which are less toxic, since solanine levels are highest in unripe ones. For example, choose juicy red tomatoes over green tomatoes and red peppers over green peppers.
  • Cook nightshades: did you know, cooking makes food edible and reduces alkaloid content up to 50%. Lectins are also degraded, to varying levels, with cooking. Potatoes, tomatoes and the other Nightshades should always be cooked Ayuvedically, and the addition of Ayurvedic spices cumin, turmeric, black pepper or mustard seeds can relatively lessen their toxic effect. Cooking with healthy fat like ghee can reduce its toxicity.
  • Use moderation and variety: Ayurveda suggest eating everything in moderation as a medicine. Also no to eat same food every day. Eating nightshades once in a while is alright but should not addictive. Presence of nicotine can make us to eat them often. It’s not great to use tomato sauce and ketchup as daily condiments. Enjoy variety and use nightshades in moderation.