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The uselessness of my garden huckleberries (Solanum melanocerasum)

 
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I am fixin' to give up on small nightshade berries, no matter how much they may be beloved by others.

I've tried two kinds over the years.  Sunberry aka Wonderberry from Seed Savers Exchange (solanum burbankii) and "garden huckleberries", which is a common name attributed to several species.  I've lost my original seed packet on the garden huckleberries, but they must have come from either Tradewinds or Baker Creek, both of which sell Solanum melanocerasum under that name.

My attempts with these things date back to 2014 or so.  I think I've made more tries (but not this year) with the Wonderberry.  On at least three different occasions I've gotten a few scrawny plants that gave me pretty but totally flavorless berries.  I put it down to the plants not having thrived, and eventually stopped trying.

I'm not sure I ever achieved germination on the garden huckleberries.  I know I made at least one now-forgotten try, because my seeds were in one of my hand-labeled envelopes, which is how I "put away" seeds from packets that have been torn open and partially used.  I was, in any case, pretty much fed up with small, marginally-productive flavorless berries.

But this has been the plague year.  Going through my seeds I found both the Wonderberry packet and the "garden huckleberry" packet.  I decided to plant one out for the sole purpose of saving and refreshing my seed supply.  (I did that with a ton of my old seeds this year: growing stuff just to freshen and enlarge my seed supply.  I did it with a lot of stuff this year that I'm not terribly interested in growing a lot of.  If it's food and it grows easily (as the little nightshades are said to) it might save somebody's life in hard times, right?

So in the event, I wound up with one productive garden huckleberry plant.  During the heat of August it got unhappy and dropped a lot of leaves, but it made big fat berries the size of commercial blueberries.  And they ripened up real pretty.

Strike one: they don't all ripen at the same time, even in the same cluster.  They ripen one by one.

Strike two: once they ripen, they quickly turn into brown rotten mush.  So even though it looks like a productive plant with large clusters of big berries, you never get very many ripe at once.  You'd have to pick them daily and either have a ton of plants, or something worthwhile to do with a half a cup of the berries on any given day.

Strike three: they have neither flavor nor sweetness.  None.  They're not even sour.  They are just perfectly insipid, perfectly flavorless, perfectly blah little bubbles of brightly-colored water.

They are rather attractive, I'll give them that.

I don't get the point to these things.  Sure, I could make a pretty jelly, but all they would contribute is water and color (maybe some pectin, not sure).  They don't taste like they have any useful food value at all.  

The harvested handful is from yesterday, when I stripped the plant for seed saving upon realizing that there weren't many unripe ones and about a third of them had gone past ripe to rotten.  It's a pretty handful, but perfectly useless.

Yes, I'm saving the seed.  That was, after all, the point of the exercise.  But I dunno why, really.  I can't imagine ever growing these again.  But, as my mother taught me to say, maybe I'm just not that hungry yet.  Could be that we get an asteroid strike and a few years without a summer or something, and this is the only fruit that will grow (it is very quick from seed to berries).

I have a second plant that's just now in flower.  If it makes enough berries for the experiment, I will try cooking them. I'm highly dubious that cooking will help, but the Baker Creek description does say it:

...undergoes the most miraculous flavor transformation when cooked and just lightly sweetened! There is a stark contrast between eating the berries raw and cooked and sweetened state. The raw ripe berries have a tart flavor, similar to tomatillo, yummy for savory snacking and salsas. The cooked and lightly sweetened berries are reminiscent of blackberry or gooseberry.



Color me skeptical.  My raw berries have no tartness or particular texture (just juice and seeds).  I don't think I'll get blood from a turnip or flavor from nothing by cooking and sweetening.  But, now that I've got seeds saved, if I get more berries I will obviously have to "follow the directions" and try the experiment.  

I give this crop a 2 stars out of 10 rating, for attractive appearance only.  Bah humbug.

garden-huckleberries-01.jpg
garden huckleberry plant
garden huckleberry plant
garden-huckleberries-02.jpg
handful of garden huckleberries
handful of garden huckleberries
 
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Wow, but they sure are pretty.

 
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These tasted terrible for me as well.
If they really self seeded they would at least be chicken food,  but mine just waned away.

I would love it if the ground cherries self seeded,  they are pretty good,  but their invasive nature didn't hold true here.

Several cherry tomatoes have volunteered  this year, and they produce and taste great.
 
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They are pretty but they sure don't look much like a wild huckleberry. And from Dan's description they are far far away from the real thing!
Sadly wild hucks resist all efforts to civilize them!
download.jpg
[Thumbnail for download.jpg]
 
Dan Boone
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William Bronson wrote:
I would love it if the ground cherries self seeded,  they are pretty good,  but their invasive nature didn't hold true here.



We actually have wild ground cherries here in Oklahoma; I know one roadside spot where I can usually find a few each year.  But they aren't exceptionally large or tasty.

Long ago I bought a packet of the famous Aunt Molly's varietal; they grew one year for me and subsequently the seeds failed of germination.  I planted the last five seeds from that packet this spring and got nothing.

I was thinking I needed to order more seeds when I found a small plastic snap-lid container full of dried berry-looking things.  A little slip of paper inside tells me they are Aunt Mollies ground cherries I grew and dried in 2016 or so.  I'm going to break them up for seeds and plant them all next year, see if I get any germination.  There are like 30 dried fruit in there, so surely I'll get at least a few seedlings?  Seems reasonable anyway.
 
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Go figure; for me, the garden huckleberries were a prolific weed. Nothing will get rid of them at my parents where I foolishly planted some from purchased seeds.. They were not as terrible as you describe, but.. not really tasty enough to harvest, either.

And, something like them is already established at my farm. Disturb the soil and up they pop... mixed in with the thistles. I'm not entirely certain these ones aren't poisonous, so...



My favorite ground cherries/cape gooseberries originally came from seeds of grocery store fruit marked as coming from Chile... we've been growing them from annually saved seed for around 6 years so far. Germination tends to be alright, but they take a long time to get going compared to tomatoes... Thia year I bought some 'Cossack Pineapple' seeds to compare.. I would much prefer to have these as a weed, but without starting them indoors they are often too late to produce useful amounts of fruit before frost hits..
 
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If it makes you feel any better, I officially gave up on the Wonderberry. Last year got some seeds, was so excited, then they were a PITA to germinate and the experts here made it clear I was growing a weed I generally would be pulling out if I found it in one of the beds..... This is what I get for reading seed catalogs when I should be working.
 
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I couldn't grow them here one of my major weeds is Solanum nigrum or black nightshade, that looks pretty much exactly the same as your photos but is posinous, I would never know which one I had! But by the sound of it I am not missing out on anything.
In general if we don't eat something commonly at least one place in the world there's a reason why. It may be fashion but it's more likely to be taste or the work required to produce/prepare it.
 
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We get black nightshade popping up all over here too. I don't think it is actually one of the poisonous nightshades, at least not our sort. The berries just taste like tiny tomatoes. Too small and sparse to be worth harvesting,  though.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Mk Neal wrote:We get black nightshade popping up all over here too. I don't think it is actually one of the poisonous nightshades, at least not our sort. The berries just taste like tiny tomatoes. Too small and sparse to be worth harvesting,  though.



It is not as poisonous as deadly nightshade and it apparently depends on the exact strain and growing conditions (there are edible strains) but there are also recorded instances of it killing children so it is not a good candidate for experimenting with.
 
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Skandi Rogers wrote:I couldn't grow them here one of my major weeds is Solanum nigrum or black nightshade, that looks pretty much exactly the same as your photos but is posinous, I would never know which one I had! But by the sound of it I am not missing out on anything.
In general if we don't eat something commonly at least one place in the world there's a reason why. It may be fashion but it's more likely to be taste or the work required to produce/prepare it.



If it's really Solanum nigrum, or one of  the many similar-looking plants in the Solanum genus with dark purple berries, it's not poisonous. The confusion lies in the fact that Atropa belladonna is also often called "Black Nightshade". For centuries, botanical texts assumed they were the same plant. Some books still get them mixed up.

The easiest way to tell the difference is by looking at the flowers. If the flowers are white or off-white, you have one of the Solanums. If the flowers are purple, then you're dealing with belladonna.
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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I have both ground cherries and one of the edible black nightshades growing pretty much everywhere. But the ground cherries are a terrible variety. The berries are about as big and hard as a BB. The black nightshade berries taste exactly like tomatoes, which would be great except I don't like the taste of raw tomatoes, and they're too fiddly to cook with. But, if I had to survive on them I probably could, they're incredibly productive, and the berries within each cluster tend to ripen together. Picking them just prompts the plant to grow more, and each plant can hold a quart of berries, easily.

For now I just try to keep them out of the garden.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Ellendra Nauriel wrote:

Skandi Rogers wrote:I couldn't grow them here one of my major weeds is Solanum nigrum or black nightshade, that looks pretty much exactly the same as your photos but is posinous, I would never know which one I had! But by the sound of it I am not missing out on anything.
In general if we don't eat something commonly at least one place in the world there's a reason why. It may be fashion but it's more likely to be taste or the work required to produce/prepare it.



If it's really Solanum nigrum, or one of  the many similar-looking plants in the Solanum genus with dark purple berries, it's not poisonous. The confusion lies in the fact that Atropa belladonna is also often called "Black Nightshade". For centuries, botanical texts assumed they were the same plant. Some books still get them mixed up.

The easiest way to tell the difference is by looking at the flowers. If the flowers are white or off-white, you have one of the Solanums. If the flowers are purple, then you're dealing with belladonna.



Please do not say it is not poisonous this is very dangerous misinformation to spread about as it is, there are many papers published on it being toxic, below are the first two to come up in a search. Most papers are on livestock but anything that harms a rat or a cow will also harm you. these scientists are not confusing two very different species.

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/THE-CHEMISTRY-BEHIND-THE-TOXICITY-OF-BLACK-SOLANUM-Ganguly-Gupta/9e6f00ec54d122e26112e983f4e8e7f3e939fc42

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-4565.1993.tb00097.x

 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

Please do not say it is not poisonous this is very dangerous misinformation to spread about as it is, there are many papers published on it being toxic, below are the first two to come up in a search. Most papers are on livestock but anything that harms a rat or a cow will also harm you. these scientists are not confusing two very different species.

https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/THE-CHEMISTRY-BEHIND-THE-TOXICITY-OF-BLACK-SOLANUM-Ganguly-Gupta/9e6f00ec54d122e26112e983f4e8e7f3e939fc42

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-4565.1993.tb00097.x



Allow me to clarify: The berries of Solanum nigrum are not poisonous.

The leaves and other plant parts of all nightshades are toxic. I assumed anyone reading would know that, but perhaps that assumption was rash. So, to anyone reading this: please don't eat the leaves from plants in the nightshade family!

The second link you shared points out that the berries are not toxic, but if they comprise large portions of your diet for long periods of time, you might become anemic. I think you'll find that's the case with a lot of fruits, since they tend to be low in iron. That's why it's important to eat a varied diet.
 
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I was intrigued by the Solanum Melanocerasum when I saw it on Seed Savers Exchange website. I grow flowers and veggies for market. I experiment with certain ornamental food plants and thought this dark blue/black fruit would be good in bouquets and wanted to experiment with drying them. They're not interesting dried. They shrivel beyond a form and look like dusty raisins. But I think they have potential as their vase life is long, color is rare, and I found the plant to be attractive in my tunnel, where I planted a half dozen plants. I used some of the berries in green for boutonnieres for a wedding and they looked great.

I harvested the rest which is indeed a PITA as the berries like to stay on the stem. But the color is as potent as blueberries and that holds my attention. I agree the taste is a liability and I don't like to just add sugar to stuff. So I experimented with a quick stew of 15 minutes, added 1/3 c sugar to 4 cups berries (according to Mother Earth News article). I tried some with Stevia powder too. I froze it.

I kept some of the juice they produced from stewing and use it in my dairy kefir for the heck of it. The color is dazzling.

The thing that might redeem them is if the pigment holds some nutritive properties. I can't find anything referring to that. I was hoping for antioxidant data but no one would probably bother.

No they don't seem to hold much potential for market gardening, but in the right place they are more of a novelty perhaps? I think I will keep working with them for the ornamental potential and then see how the frozen ones perform in baked goods with alternative sweeteners.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to weigh in on this plant.
 
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