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.
The leaf is tikta (bitter), tridowhich shahara (which ,pacifies all the three doshas Vata-Pitta-Kapha), bhedana (purgative) and suitable for kusthgna (skin diseases). It is also recommended as pathya (suitable food) in yakrit vikara (liver diseases) and rakta vikaras (blood diseases) (1).
Several studies have reported promising findings on the potential health benefits of Manathakalli (2,3,4,5). For example, a study found that the plant extract has significant cytotoxic activity against cancer cells, indicating its potential as an anti-cancer agent (6). Another study reported that the extract has potential anti-diabetic properties, as it significantly reduced blood glucose levels in guinea pigs (7). Additionally, another study found that Manathakalli has high antioxidant activity, which helps protect the body against oxidative stress and free radical damage (8).
The results of one study showed that the leaves of Solanum nigrum contained a significant amount of crude protein, crude fiber, and ash. The leaves also contained minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron, as well as vitamins A and C. However, the study also noted that Solanum nigrum contains toxic compounds such as solanine, which could pose a health risk if consumed in large amounts (9). Of note, solanine is higher in the raw berries and increases in the leaves as the plant matures (10). Therefore, it is important to consume Solanum nigrum in moderation and with due processing, which is inherent in traditional cooking methods, rather than as a salad. If you are not sure, seek the guidance of a healthcare professional.
Further research is needed to confirm these findings and understand the mechanisms of action of Manathakkali. If you are in South India though, next time you go to a market or street vendor, open your eyes and look for this wonderful green leafy vegetable rather than picking up spinach or other greens.
Want a wide variety of soppus (GLV) and their health benefits? Check out this informative PDF.
And if you are looking for some recipe ideas for Manathakalli but feeling confused about what to make? Check this out - Recipes
References: 1. Rabb UN. Pharmacological Activities Of Phala-Varga (Medicinal Fruits)–An Ayurvedic Review. European Journal of Medical and Health Sciences. 2019 Oct 28;1(4).
2. Santhosh Sivan V, Kumar S. AN UPDATED REVIEW ON SOLANUM NIGRUM WITH DYNAMIC ROLE.
3. Shenbagam M, Sulthana R. A Review: Solanum Nigrum and Its Pharmacological Activities.
4. Akubugwo IE, Obasi AN, Ginika SC. Nutritional potential of the leaves and seeds of black nightshade-Solanum nigrum L. Var virginicum from Afikpo-Nigeria. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition. 2007;6(4):323-6.
5. Chen X, Dai X, Liu Y, Yang Y, Yuan L, He X, Gong G. Solanum nigrum Linn.: An Insight into Current Research on Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry, and Pharmacology. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2022;13.
6. Nawaz A, Jamal A, Arif A, Parveen Z. In vitro cytotoxic potential of Solanum nigrum against human cancer cell lines. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 2021 Aug 1;28(8):4786-92.
7. Kasali FM, Kadima JN, Mpiana PT, Tshibangu DS. Assessment of antidiabetic activity and acute toxicity of leaf extracts from Physalis peruviana L. in guinea-pig. Asian Pacific Journal of tropical Biomedicine. 2013 Nov 1;3(11):841-6.
8. Campisi A, Acquaviva R, Raciti G, Duro A, Rizzo M, Santagati NA. Antioxidant activities of Solanum nigrum L. leaf extracts determined in in vitro cellular models. Foods. 2019 Feb 8;8(2):63.
9. Akubugwo IE, Obasi AN, Ginika SC. Nutritional potential of the leaves and seeds of black nightshade-Solanum nigrum L. Var virginicum from Afikpo-Nigeria. Pakistan Journal of Nutrition. 2007;6(4):323-6.