American black nightshade with fruitsAmerican black nightshade from its scientific name Solanum americanum is a species of flowering plant native to Central and South America. The bitter herb has since spread around the world today throughout the tropical area of the globe and some European countries. It is the equivalent of black nightshade in Europe. There is no source to say that the American black nightshade would have been introduced in Martinique or if it is endemic to the island. American black nightshade is also called locally agoman, agouman or zeb a calalou or zeb anmè.

The shrub generally reaches between 70 cm and 1 meter. The leaves 3 to 14 cm long are lanceolate or oval. The petioles are between 5 and 30 mm long. The flowers of white color are few, they are grouped in calyxes. The fruits of about 4 to 8 mm are globular and turn black when ripe. They have small seeds.

Therapeutic virtues

American black nightshade with flowerBe careful, the European species is considered toxic because it contains steroidal gluco-alkaloids of the solanine type in variable quantity according to the different varieties which would irritate the digestive tract. The absorption of small berries before maturity would cause vomiting, diarrhea or even respiratory depression if the dose consumed is large.

The species that is found on the American continent and the islands of the Caribbean does not present toxicity or harmful effects for the body. With us the bitter grass has been used as a medicinal and food plant for several centuries. It was once known to be sedative and narcotic and was used by Dominican monks to numb the sick before an operation.

The leaves have antibiotic and fungicidal properties (helps destroy fungi responsible for mycosis) due to the presence of A-solanine and can be used to wash the vagina. They were also used to treat wounds, burns, ulcers and hemorrhoids.

In different corners of the Caribbean, the bitter herb is used for different purposes. In Martinique, it is used against inflammation, measles or even diarrhea. The yellow leaves mixed with boiling water have a cleansing effect.

In Guadeloupe, it is recommended to promote breastfeeding, against bile ailments, hypertension and as a relaxing.

In French Guiana, a decoction of the leaves is known to be antispasmodic. The plant is macerated in rum to deal with snake bites.

In Dominica, a decoction of the leafy stems is recommended against abdominal doublers, colds and hypertension. The leaves would even be eaten in salads and soups. Also the plant can be used to prepare refreshing baths.

American black nightshade plantIn Trinidad, the leaves are used in remedies for inflammation of the eyes, ears, asthma, canker sores and as a relaxant.

In Cuba, these same leaves are described as febrifuge and anti hemorrhoidal.

In Guatemala, the main indications of the plant are anemia, skin conditions, and leucorrhoea, as well as in Venezuela where the plant is also considered as a bitter tonic and diuretic.

How to grow it

Bitter grass usually grows in abandoned places and rubble, on plowed soil, along paths and roads. It is also cultivated near houses where it flowers all year round.