This post is intended to inform. It should not be used as a reference as to the safety of the nightshade in your garden or pasture. I wouldn’t even consider myself an amateur botanist. This is the result of my own research to figure out what to do with the nightshade in my own milk shed yard. While you don’t want your goats eating any of the nightshade family in general (including potatoes and tomatoes) there are different levels of risk.
Maybe you’ve seen the posts recently on Facebook? People post about their goats eating something and dying or offspring born with deformities. It is all being blamed on Nightshade aka Belladonna, Deadly nightshade to be specific. Often the posts include pictures, but they are not of the specific plant the goats ate, but a stock photo. Multiple times a photo from this article, which identifies it as Black nightshade. Black nightshade is actually edible, same as the nightshades we cultivate such as tomatoes and potatoes. (Please once again, do not eat anything based on this blog post and reread the warning at the top)
My own nightshade journey started just a few days ago reading these Facebook posts. I read one and thought “Eek, I have nightshade on my property!” The nightshade appeared a few years ago when on November 1st I couldn’t resist a pick-up truck of pumpkins for $20. The plant began growing where we stored the pumpkins and has been around ever since.
My first reaction to my nightshade freakout was “I should call that farm, THEY HAVE CHILDREN NEAR THE NIGHTSHADE!!!” Since it isn’t quite pumpkin season yet, I decided to do some investigation first.
First I started with the Wikipedia articles for Atropa belladonna (Deadly nightshade) and Solanum nigrum the key thing I learned was “A comparison of the fruit shows that the black nightshade berries grow in bunches, whereas the deadly nightshade berries grow individually. Another distinction is black nightshade flowers have white petals.” The plants I have both have white flowers and are growing in bunches.
Further searches show many people recommending eating black nightshade. I’m not that brave, when I mushroom hunt for example I only go for ones that are really hard to mistake for anything else. What it does mean for me though is I can simply pull the plants without having to take extra precautions.
In the plant plant world there are many look a likes and it can be hard to tell them apart. I think to Simpson’s episode “leaves of three leave it be, leaves of four eat some more,” to remember how to identify poison ivy. I’m not sure that the leaves of four Homer is referring to, but I don’t intend to eat some more. I’m relieved that this invasive species is at least not as toxic as I first though. Generally not a great idea to let your goats eat any nightshade though. Even the black nightshade foliage is bad in large quantities and the immature berries are not toxic.
Assorted shots of the Black nightshade at Floof Farm