early frost means death for the nightshade family

We had a slightly early frost this year which happened a few nights ago as compared with the average October 15th frost for this part of the state.  The result?  Near death for the nightshades: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes, among others.

These plants all fall within the Solanaceae family whose name is derived from the Latin, solanum meaning “nightshade”, thus serving as the informal family name.  Many plants within the nightshade family are rich in alkaloids (natural chemical compounds made predominantly from nitrogen atoms), the toxicity of which ranges from mild to deadly on human use and consumption.  Some of these alkaloids include the Tropane group (e.g., Atropine), Capsaisinoids (e.g., Capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers), and Glycoalkaloids, (e.g., Solanine, the toxic compound in potatoes and Nicotine, which acts as a stimulant on mammals and occurs naturally in small concentrations within tomatoes and eggplant, and of course in high concentrations within tobacco, another member of the nightshade family).  Many members of the nightshade family, including mandrake, tobacco and belladonna (deadly) are of interest from a pharmacological perspective due to the strong physiological effects of the alkaloids they produce.

Though we treat them and often cook them like vegetables, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are all fruits and the potato is a tuber.  They enjoy hot weather conditions, growing as perennials in their native habitats or as annuals in more temperate climates.  They don’t particularly enjoy October in the NE United States.  Here’s a look at what happened to the nightshades after the frost struck:

Today we spent much of the day pulling up all of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant, though we still have a lot of produce to harvest from the otherwise dead plants!

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