Few vegetables have as many deadly cousins as the eggplant. It belongs to the nightshade-potato family, Solanacae, which includes such poisonous plants as Jimson Weed (Datura), the Belladonna (a.k.a. Deadly Nightshade), and tobacco (Nicotiana), but also the aforementioned potato, tomato, tomatillo, gooseberry, and peppers.
The eggplant is indigenous to a broad area encompassing India, South East Asia, and Southwest China where even now, wild plants with spiked fruit can still be found. It is thought the plant was domesticated in the Indo-Burma region some time shortly before the in the 4th century B.C., owing to several descriptions of it as a spiny blue fruit in Sanskrit writings about its uses as both food and as a treatment for diabetes and asthma. The eggplant was eventually domesticated in China as well where it was cultivated to be a smooth fruit, and colorful as well. A Jin Dynasty (late third century A.D.) treatise on plant diversity cited white, yellow, and azure eggplants, in addition to purple. The Chinese also highlighted its use as treatment for toothache, intestinal complications, and abscesses, but also considered it somewhat dangerous and a potential threat to female reproductive health.
The exact date of the eggplant’s introduction to the west is uncertain, but there is evidence that the fruit had found its way to Persia sometime in the 800’s. Medieval Persian writings also treat the eggplant with extreme ambivalence, accusing it as being the cause of several ailments including pimples, ulcers, leprosy, elephantitis, and an excess of black bile, but when ripe, salted, and cooked, the eggplant was credited with curing diseases and balancing the biles. The Muslim expansion in the 7th and 8th centuries brought the eggplant to Eastern Africa, and eventually, to Southern Spain. As early as the 12th century during the later Medieval and Renaissance periods, the eggplant often appeared in writings and artworks. During this period, the eggplant was still mostly misunderstood, and was even blamed for causing angry moods in addition to physical ailments.
Fortunately, we now understand that eggplants are extremely healthful. They contain significant quantities of the powerful antioxidant chlorogenic acid which is credited with the prevention of Type II Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and is considered an antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal agent.
If you go to the Davis Farmers’ Market, you are bound to find some wonderful specimen of beautiful eggplant from any number of farms including my personal favorites, Lloyd’s Produce and Good Humus Produce. Good Humus Produce began in 1976 when husband and wife team Jeff and Annie Main graduated from UC Davis and decided live self-sufficiently. They moved to their
current property in 1983 which began as a fallow milo field in a beautiful valley called Hungry Hollow, north of Capay and east of Brooks. Since then, they have grown their farm to 20 bountiful acres with the help of fellow worker Francisco Montez who has been an indispensable member of their farm since 1980. Their land is divided into 2 ½ acre fields that are occupied by mixed orchards, complimentary cover crops, annual and perennial flowers, herbs, and vegetables, and California native hedgerows. Their strong dedication to their governing philosophies of “cooperation, communities, social change, food movement and land stewardship” have not only brought about bounty in their harvest, but also in the positivity they impart on their community through education. They are heavily involved in local school district lunch programs and they also provide summer programs for inner city youth.
If ever there was good karma palpable in the physical manifestations of one’s work, Good Humus’s offerings are it.
You can also learn more about their farm on their website.