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Solanum melongena, aubergine


This popular Mediterranean vegetable is a close relative of the deadly nightshade and must never be served raw.



Meaning of the Name


Possibly from the Latin ‘solan’, ‘soil’ or ‘land’ with the suffix ‘an’, ‘belonging to’.

Fred de Vries, who writes for a Dutch newspaper about poison plants (his columns can be found here) has pointed out that some sources connect Solanum with the Latin for 'solace' or 'comfort' said to be a reference to the narcotic properties.

Randal H Alcock in his 1876 'Botanical Names for English Readers' says of 'Solanum' 'According to some altered from L. solamen, comfort, relief or solace; from the sedative qualities of some of the species. This is doubtful.' (My emphasis) But he doesn't offer any justification for saying this is doubtful nor does he offer an alternative explanation.

I have also seen it mentioned that the name comes, simply, from 'sol' 'sun' and these are plants of the sun but that seems an unusual way to name nightshades.

Possibly from ‘Melo’, the River Nile and ‘genus’, ‘birth’ meaning the plant was first found along the Nile.

Solanum Melongena, aubergine

Solanum melongena, aubergine

Common Names and Synonyms

aubergine, egg plant, mad apple

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Contains solanine, an alkaloid glycoside. It increases bodily secretions and leads to vomiting and convulsions. The raw fruit is poisonous so aubergine must always be well cooked.

Little is known about the concentration of toxins in the fruit. Quite a lot of effort has been put into modifying aubergines so that it is no longer to soak them before cooking and that work may also have changed the toxicity.


No reported incidents of poisoning by ingestion but it appears to have been known to cause contact dermatitis in some people.

Folklore and Facts

The Mambila people of the Cameroon Nigerian border believe God held a race between a lizard and a chameleon to decide if men should die. During the race the lizard stopped to eat some egg plants and, as a result, the chameleon won so God did not abolish death.