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Solanum melongena L. 1753
pronounced: so-LAH-num mell-ONG-en-uh
(Solanaceae — the nightshade family)
Common names: Eggplant, Aubergine, Brinjal
Solanum is derived from Latin solamen (consolation, comfort) with reference to its possible medicinal attributes, and was the classical Latin name for a plant that was possibly black nightshade (Solanum nigrum); melongena is derived from melongene, an old French name for the species.
The name eggplant developed in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand because the fruits of some 18th century cultivars were yellow or white, and resembled goose or hen’s eggs. Aubergine (from the French word for the plant) became the common name in the UK and much of Europe, and is now becoming used a good deal in Australia. Brinjal, derived from Sanskrit, is the name used in South African and Indian English.
This plant is native to India, and has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since pre-history; but it seems not to have become known to the western world until about 1500, when it was probably introduced to the Mediterranean region by Arab traders.
It is a delicate perennial, often cultivated as an annual. It grows anywhere from 40–150 cm tall, with large, coarsely-lobed leaves 10–20 cm long and 5–10 cm broad. The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple, with a 5-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is fleshy, and in most cultivars elongated ovoid, 12–25 cm wide and 6–9 cm broad, with a dark purple skin. Different varieties produce fruits of different size, shape and colour. Apart from the usual purple fruit, green, white and orange varieties can be found. The fruit, botanically, is a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, that are edible, but bitter, which is not surprising since, being a close relative to tobacco, they contain a small amount of nicotinoid alkaloids.
Until the 18th century, the eggplant was looked on with suspicion in Europe, as it was thought capable of inducing fever or epileptic fits. Linnaeus originally called it Solanum insanum, and only later changed the name to Solanum melongena.
Eggplant is not usually eaten raw, nor, medicinally, used in infusions. Most people seem to cook the plant in oil, but it is possible to cook it in other ways. In various parts of the world many claims are made for its efficacy in a number of health areas. Among these it is claimed:
• to help rheumatism;
• to help with heart problems;
• to combat constipation;
• to assist digestion;
• to lower cholesterol levels;
• to relieve colic;
• to reduce stomach ulcers;
• to be a sedative, and
• to stimulate the liver.
Among the Lepidoptera larvae that feed on the Eggplant are:
♦ the Blue Moon Hypolimnas bolina;
♦ the Yellow Peach Moth Conogethes punctiferalis;
♦ the Eggplant Caterpillar Sceliodes cordalis;
♦ the Potato Tuberworm Phthorimaea operculella; and
♦ the moth Scrobipalpa aptatella.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2010, 2012, 2015
Page last updated 1st March 2018