Solanum nigrum L.
Chonyi: mnavu-tsaka, mnavu, mnavu-jangaa Embu:
managu English: black nightshade, wonderberry Giriama: mnavu,
mnavu-jangaa (black fruits), mnavu-tsatsa, mnavu-mahomba Ilchamus:
olmomoi, lmomoi, lmomo Kamba: kitulu Kambe: mnavu-tsaka, mnavu
Keiyo: suchot, kisuchot Kikuyu: managu, inagu, nagu (fruit)
Kipsigis: isoiyot Kisii: rinagu Luhya (Bukusu): namasaka,
esufwa Luhya (Maragoli): litsusa Luhya (Tachoni): yisufwa,
yimboka, namasaka, imboka Luhya (Tiriki): lisutsa Luo: osuga
Maa: ormomoi Marakwet: ksoiyek, isoiyo, kisoyo Mbeere: managu,
inagu (singular) Meru: managu Okiek: soyot Pokot: ksoya
Rendille: gengalat Samburu: lmomoi, lekuruu Sanya: mnavu
Swahili: mnavu, mnafu Taita: ndunda Tugen: kisuchot,
kisuchon Turkana: esuja, abune, lokitoemenyan
Description: An erect herbaceous plant to 1 m or more.
Stems ridged, soft, occasionally with soft, miniature prickles. LEAVES:
With long petioles. Blade up to 15 cm long, usually 5-10 cm long, elliptic,
entire or undulate. FLOWERS: Small, white, borne on a branched
inflorescence. FRUITS: Green, turning orange, red or yellow at maturity
(in S. villosum) or shiny purplish black at maturity (in other species).
Seeds small, almost round, flattened, pale yellow.
Ecology: Most of Africa, tropics and subtropics of the
world. Widely distributed in Kenya. Commonly found as a weed in cultivated
fields, in weedy plant communities, under trees, along fences and shaded areas
near buildings, 0-2,600 m. Rainfall: More than 500 mm. Soils vary. Zones I-VI.
Uses: FOOD: Leaves widely used as a vegetable in
Kenya (+++). Normally cooked with amaranth (Pokot, Luo), meat or Cleome
gynandra. Leaves are picked, boiled and may or may not be fried. As the
vegetable is bitter, some prefer not to use salt. Among the Mijikenda the
vegetable is mixed with less bitter vegetables such as amaranth
(mchicha), cowpeas and Vernonia cinerea (kibudzi). Normally
eaten with ugali. The ripe orange fruits are edible. The black fruits of
the highland forms are bitter and may be poisonous. The green berries may
contain poisonous solanum alkaloids and should not be eaten. The densely hairy
form is hardly used as food.
MEDICINAL: Unripe fruits applied to aching teeth
(Makueni) and squeezed on baby's gums to ease pain during teething (Kajiado,
Kitui). Leaves used for stomach-ache (Machakos). Leaves and fruits pounded and
the extract used for tonsillitis (Machakos). Roots boiled in milk and given to
children as tonic (Maasai).
OTHER: Fodder for cattle and goats. Eaten and spread by
COMMERCIAL: The vegetable is common in Nairobi markets
and in many other market centres, especially in Coast, Nyanza, Rift Valley and
Western Provinces. The demand in Nairobi is high.
CULTURE/BELIEFS: Some Mijikenda communities regard it as
taboo to add salt, believing the plant will stop growing in cropland as a
Season: Leaves best during and just after the rains.
Fruits normally available in June-August and in January-February.
Management: Propagated by seeds or cuttings. The Giriama
propagate the coastal form by shoot cuttings. The seeds may be obtained by
bursting the ripe fruits and drying them in the sun. The germination rate is
Remarks: Polyploidy in the genus Solarium is
common. What is referred to as Solanum nigrum in this book may well be a
complex of species and their various forms which can be termed the Solanum
nigrum complex. In recent years, following extensive research on the genus
Solanum, and more specifically on the section to which it belongs, the
trend has been to split the complex into a number of species easily
distinguished by such features as the colour of the ripe fruit, fruit size, leaf
shape and stem morphology.
In Kenya at least five species can be recognized. Each of these
has a distinct distribution, habitat and altitude range.
Solanum nigrum L. This type has shiny black fruits and
leaves with a somewhat wavy margin. In Kenya it is commonest in high-altitude
areas above 2,000 m with a humid climate.
Solanum villosum Miller (English: red-fruited
nightshade). The type has yellow to orange fruits up to 1 cm across. Seeds are
usually visible through the fruit wall. It is commonest in the middle and low
altitudes, including the coastal zone. It is the more common species in warm,
sub-humid to dry areas in agro-climatic Zones III-VI. The ripe fruits are
Solanum americanum Miller (English: huckleberry) is a
small species with relatively smaller fruits, usually less than 9 mm across.
Fruits are purple-black when ripe. The coastal type with dark green leaves and
small purple-black fruits is most likely this species. It is often found in
cropland, planted or growing naturally.
Solanum scabrum Miller. This is a type with relatively
large fruits (up to 2 cm across) which turn shiny purple-black on ripening. It
is occasionally grown by farmers in Western and Nyanza Provinces and in the
highland part of central Rift Valley. Ripe fruits are edible.
A hairy form with regular notches on the leaf margin and black
berries common around Nairobi is probably S. physalifolium. This form is
not used for food.
While there is little doubt that some of these forms are indeed
distinct species, the debate over the correct taxonomic classification of most
of them is far from over with some authors preferring to lump most of the above
species, and others not found in Kenya, under one species - Solanum
In recent years, several other species in the genus
Solanum have been seen in cultivation.
aethiopicum L. (English: bitter tomato, mock plant (depending on the type))
is mainly cultivated in West Africa. It has shallowly lobed leaves and
sub-globose or ellipsoid orange-red fruits to 6 cm long.
· Solanum macrocarpon L.
(English: African eggplant, Swahili: ngogwe) found in Uganda, Tanzania
and West Africa, has large shallowly lobed leaves and large cream-yellow to
orange or purple fruits, to 5 cm across. Leaves and fruits are used as a
vegetable at the coast and in Uganda and West Africa.
Also in this tomato family are several species in the genus
peruviana L. (English: Cape gooseberry, Kamba: ngavu, Maa:
olnasi, Kikuyu: nathi, Luo: nyakonglo, nyatonglo, otonglo,
Somali: tabaako). The Physalis spp. grown in Kenya are all native
to tropical America. P. peruviana is cultivated and also naturalized in
many parts of the world as well as Kenya. This has edible fruits which are very
popular with children. Fruits are 1.5-2.5 cm across, yellow when ripe and
enclosed in an inflated papery calyx. It is occasionally sold in Nairobi markets
and in western Kenya.
· Physalis minima has
smaller fruits. It is common in western parts of Kenya. Fruits are eaten, while
the leaves are used as a vegetable (Luo, Luhya).