If you grew up in the British countryside, you may have been warned against the Deadly Nightshade – one of the most poisonous plants in Europe, with glossy, cherry-like berries that cause delirium and convulsions. But this plant is just one species in a family of plants that has changed the world frequently – the nightshades.
A piping hot pile of salty crisp French fries; a rich, tangy tomato sauce; the satisfying deep heat of a well-spiced curry or the fragrant smoke from a cigar – all of these pleasures would be unknown if the nightshade family didn’t exist. These plants can be delicious, fragrant, beautiful, deductive and deadly, and Lanzarote’s climate is
perfect for growing many of them.
Like many commercially-grown nightshades, tomatoes hail from the Americas – the continent with the greatest variety of Solanaceae – and it’s that continent that bred the small, bitter inedible ancestors of today’s fruit into something like the luscious, juicy tomatoes we know today.
Tomatoes are a staple crop on Lanzarote, which means that decent varieties are easy to find. Sadly, it also means that pests such as the tomato moth can also be found here.
The size and slightly acrid smell of tomato plants means they’re not really a balcony favourite, and should be kept a little further way from your house. They’re a favourite for grow bags.
Chillies are surprisingly easy to grow. Just take a seed from a dried chilli, germinate it and keep well watered in a sheltered place with plenty of sunshine. Like other nightshades, chillies are susceptible to aphids, so spray with water once in a while.
Once the plant reaches 12 inches, prune off inward facing leaves and pinch off the first flowers to make the plant produce bushier growth.
The rewards? Pretty, delicate white or pale purple flowers and bright red, green and yellow jewels of fruit that can be harvested and eaten perfectly fresh.
Pepper plants are just as easy to grow as chilli plants, but they can be much bigger. Choose the type of pepper you want, and give them plenty of space, sunshine and shelter. They’ll also need fertilizer and water.
The Canaries were one of the first places in the Old World to cultivate potatoes, and they are still hugely popular here. To be honest, unless you’ve got plenty of space and soil, you may not want to bother with the more common varieties. However, growing your own papas negras is hugely rewarding – this delicious Canarian variety with knobbly, purplish skins is a genuine local delicacy.
The Spanish phrase “meterse en un berenjenal” means “end up in an aubergine patch”, and means that the unfortunate person has ended up in a sticky situation that they can’t get out of. Once you grow aubergines, you’ll understand why – they’re spiky, spiny, tangled, dense customers, and that’s why they’re best confined to a cloche or an enclosure, which will also give them shelter.
Lanzarote once produced considerable quantities of tobacco, and the wild tobacco plant is still widespread – nicknamed “crazy tobacco” for its habit of growing anywhere. However, if you’re thinking of growing your own as well as rolling your own, remember that you’ll need a large area, constant care and attention and at least five years to dry and age the leaves – and it still won’t be any good for you.