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U.S. Forest Service

The Powerful Solanaceae

Image banner: ginseng roots, echinacea flowers, juniper berries, raspberry, shining willow, and Gamble oak acorn.

The Solanaceae, also known as the potato or deadly nightshade family is one of humankind’s most utilized and important plant families. It contains some of the world’s most important food plants, such as the potato, tomato, all peppers, ground cherries (tomatillo), and eggplant. It also includes a suite of deadly toxic plants represented by belladonna, mandrake, Jimson weed, henbane, and tobacco. The deadly nightshades are also members of this incredible family.

Rich in potent psychoactive alkaloids, it is a family of plants with a veritable chemical soup of desirable and toxic compounds referred to as the tropane alkaloids. They include nicotine, solanine, capsaicin, atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine, chemicals that have been used as healing drugs in small doses, misunderstood or abused as addictive drugs, and employed as pesticides and warfare agents (e.g., sarin) when utilized in toxic doses.

Field of California poppies. Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna).

Learn about belladonna…

Datura wrightii. Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii).

Learn about datura…

Close-up of black henbane flowers. Black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger).

Learn about henbane…

Mandrake flowers. Mandrake (Mandragora autumnalis).

Learn about mandrake…

Woodcut showing flying witches. Flying witches, 1720s woodcut.

Learn about Solanaceae and witchcraft…