Eggplant (Solanum melongena)

The eggplant, aubergine, or brinjal, is a plant of the Solanaceae family (also known as the nightshades) and genus Solanum. It bears a fruit of the same name, commonly used as a vegetable in cooking. As a nightshade, it is closely related to the tomato and potato and is native to India and Sri Lanka.

It is a delicate perennial often cultivated as an annual. It grows 40 to 150 cm (16 to 57 in) tall, with large coarsely lobed leaves that are 10 to 20 cm (4-8 in) long and 5 to 10 cm (2-4 in) broad. (Semi-)wild types can grow much larger, to 225 cm (7 ft) with large leaves over 30 cm (12 in) long and 15 cm (6 in) broad. The stem is often spiny. The flowers are white to purple, with a five-lobed corolla and yellow stamens. The fruit is fleshy, less than 3 cm in diameter on wild plants, but much larger in cultivated forms.

The fruit is botanically classified as a berry, and contains numerous small, soft seeds, which are edible, but are bitter because they contain (an insignificant amount of) nicotinoid alkaloids, unsurprising as it is a close relative of tobacco.

History of Eggplant

Eggplant is native to India. It has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory but appears to have become known to the Western world no earlier than ca. 1500 CE. The first known written record of the eggplant is found in Qi min yao shu, an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544 CE. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate that it was introduced throughout the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the early Middle Ages. The scientific name Solanum melongena is derived from a 16th century Arabic term for one type of eggplant.

The name eggplant developed in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada because the fruits of some 18th century European cultivars were yellow or white and resembled goose or hen's eggs. The name aubergine in British English developed from the French aubergine (as derived from Catalan albergãnia, from Arabic al-badinjan, from Persian badin-gan, from Sanskrit vatin-ganah). In Indian and South African English, the fruit is known as a "brinjal." Aubergine and brinjal, with their distinctive br-jn or brn-jl aspects, derive from Arabic and Sanskrit. In the Caribbean Trinidad, it also goes by the Latin derivative "meloongen".

Because of the eggplant's relationship with the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, it was at one time believed to be extremely dangerous. While it can be eaten by most people without ill effect, for some, consuming eggplant as well as other edible nightshade plants (tomato, potato, and capsicum/peppers) can be harmful. Some eggplants are bitter, and can irritate the stomach lining, causing gastritis. Some sources, particularly in the natural health community, state that nightshades, including eggplant, can cause or significantly worsen arthritis and should be avoided by those sensitive to them.

Author: United States Department of Agriculture (public domain)

Author: United States Department of Agriculture (public domain)

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