Wednesday, January 2, 2013

withches brew - black nightshade

I started this year with preparing for a withces brew... Some black nightshade plants had gone under my radar hiding beneath the feijoa bushes. Now the plants were tall and the berries ripe for picking. Yes! Let me explain.
I found a book on natural dyes at the Founders book fair some months ago. I was browsing through it with the intention that I might discover something new that I have easy access to. I was quite sceptical when I spotted Black Nighshade (Solanum nigrum) berries among sources for purple. It is generally considered poisonous, not as dangerously so as Deadly Nighshade, but not one to mess around with. It's also a nuisance in gardens as it self seeds so readily, as the ripe berries fall when you disturb the plant.  
I had just discovered that some young plants had appeared along my back border = handy supply of material for testing. But I was concerned about the health and safety when being exposed to the fumes from the dye bath and also possible skin reactions when wearing items dyed with said plant. After an afternoon of Googling I had discovered that Black Nightshade might not be such a meanie after all. Both the young leaves and ripe berries are used as a food source in some parts of the world. Some daredevils who had tasted the berries reported them delicious and some had even made pie or jam with them... Now as I don't have any desire to turn this into a cautionary tale, I didn't taste any, but the berries smell nice when crushed. You've got to keep in mind that there are 1,500-2,000 species under the solanum genus and many different varieties of nightshade, only some of which are edible, according to Wikipedia. Which particular variety I have growing in my NZ garden is not known to me, but I'm suspecting it's unlikely to be exactly the same as the kinds commonly eaten in Africa or South America. Take care and be sure what it is you are tasting if you are keen! And then share with others how that went. My mission is to find out if the plant is of interest as a source for dye, and I handle it with gloves on in the process.

The first lot of plants got culled by a gardener who was not aware of my intentions. But as is the nature of nighshade, the second generation is alive and kicking.
 Here's my first harvest. 
Hapa zome on silk previously solar dyed with pineapple sage.
 The jury is still out, but I'll let you know how it goes.
Have you tried dyeing with this plant before?

1 comment:

  1. Joyce Lloyd [NZ author of a book on your local dyes] achieved a blue from them. i never had blue here in Oz, but when I was working in New Orleans in November had delicious blue prints from the berries


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