Author - Sonia Velarsan Co-author - Arun Kumar N
To the untrained eye, green leafy vegetables can seem just that - green leaves! Yet, there are dozens of varieties eaten across the world and how do we know if your palak and my spinach are the same? When it comes to plants, common names, although more familiar to communities, can vary between cultures and regions, leading to misunderstandings or confusion. So, we resort to identifying plants using scientific names. But sometimes confusion can happen the other way around.
Consider Solanum nigrum, Solanum americanum, and Solanum villosum. They are all found in India (and across southeast Asia) and are known by local names like Manathakalli (Tamil), Kashi soppu (Kannada), and Kamanchi (Telugu) - with similar uses. All belong to one family but have different common names! The plant bears fruits that are red or dull black or shiny black depending on the species. In classical medical texts we believe it refers to Kakamachi and identify it as "Black Nightshade" or Solanum nigrum.