Book Review

The Fascinating World of the Nightshades

by Charles B. Heiser, Jr.

Dover Publications, Inc. New York. 1987. Softbound, black & white photos and line drawings. 200 pages.
Sold by Fruit & Spice Park, 24801 S.W. 187th Ave., Homestead, FL 33031; (305) 247-5727. $6.95 + $1.00 S&H.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Clytia M. Chambers (1/1996)

If this book on nightshades didn't exist, it would have to be invented to support CRFG's Year of the Solanaceae. Nightshades are, of course, synonymous with our year's Latin name for the family of plants covered in this book: peppers, potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, wonderberry; husk tomatoes, tree tomatoes, lulos and pepinos; mandrake, tobacco, certain ornamentals (petunias, cupflowers), as well as others not covered.

Written by a botanist, the subjects get an engaging popular treatment. Don't look for how-to tips on culture or uses in the ordinary sense of recipes. (Uses are definitely part of the book's historical approach, however.) Do look for the fascinating place the nightshades have occupied in human history accompanied by very appropriate comments on the distinctions between those family members that have been useful to man and those that have been deadly (because of the alkaloids they contain).

The wonderberry chapter is a delightful, even scandalous, recounting of Luther Burbank's running battle with The Rural New Yorker (the "Business Farmers' Paper") over whether this fruit was anything more than the black nightshade. In one of the 34 articles on the subject that appeared in that periodical, the writer challenged Burbank's achievement and related the disappointment of one New Yorker who wrote Burbank and got a reply, part of which said: "I am ready to make an offer of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) cash, cold coin, if any living person on earth proves that the 'Wonderberry' is the black nightshade or any other berry ever before known on this planet until I produced it."

You have to read the chapter to learn how it all turned out. And you have to read the rest of the book so that if anyone asks, "Why in the world did the board of directors choose that family," you can say, "Just read Heiser's book."

© Copyright 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
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