Today I went for a look around a local community allotment project, and was guided by the head gardener round the various tunnels and patches. Whilst we were walking round we came to a plant which had berries and the lady said ‘these are blackberries, taste good’ and ate a couple. I thought, they clearly aren’t blackberries, or any common edible berry. They were on a slightly leggy plant with dull lilac-like leaves, and hung in groups, some green some black.
I didn’t say anything there and then as I wasn’t 100% on my identification, but quickly realised upon referring to a few books at home that the plant is a Black Nightshade, or Solanum Nigrum.
There seems to be much debate as to whether these berries are poisonous, some cite them as being edible in small quantities when cooked, some describe them as being ‘injurious to children, but tolerated better by adults’, and some warn against them with ‘POISON!’ The clear thing is that much of this plant is poisonous, as are most of the solanaceae family, the toxin being solanine, the same that causes green potato poisoning. (And on a side note, let’s not forget how many advocates there are of eating the flesh and syrup of yew berries, which are most definitely very harmful.)
My dilemma is whether to inform them that they have a plant which is poisonous. I wouldn’t have thought it would have been planted if its dangers were known, especially as the allotment is used by local schoolchildren. My main concern is the fact that the head of the allotment didn’t recognise this plant as a member of the nightshade family, and believes it to be a blackberry bush. This may result in larger numbers of the berries being picked and eaten in large quantities, or it being foraged by visiting children.
So, do I mind my own business and leave them to it, or inform them about this plant?