I’ve heard it said that everything in Texas bites, stings, or sticks. Now we all know that Texas is full of lovely flowers and can be home to many varieties of our favorite vegetables. That being said however, Horse Nettle lives up to the old Texas folklore.
Here is a picture of one of the plants in our garden:
I wanted to show the flowers and fruit, but the flowers are a week or two off and they won’t have ripe fruit for a month or two. Here is a link to some good photos to help you recognize it easier:
Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense) is found in the eastern part of the U.S. and as far west as West Texas. Our garden is full of them and they are full of thorns! The stems and leaves both play host to some nasty, rather large ones (thorns that is). I won’t go near them without gloves. The root system boasts a long tap root, making it hard to pull out and, also puts out rhizomes to help spread the plant far and wide. It is a member of the nightshade family and like a lot of nightshades, it is poisonous. The root, leaves, flowers and fruit all contain an alkaline that can cause it to be potentially fatal. Don’t be fooled by the lovely tomato like fruit it bears – it can be dangerous stuff.
That being said, the flowers do attract bees and some moths and a few birds and small rodents are known to eat the fruit. In the past, it was used by some American Indians as as a sedative and antispasmodic, and although it isn’t considered by most people today to have any value medicinally, there are some herbalists that still use it. Here is an informative page that claims horse nettle can be used in the treatment of epilepsy, asthma, bronchitis and other convulsive disorders.
I also read an article that claims the leaf can be applied directly to the skin to treat poison ivy. I would think you’d have to de-thorn it first!
Medicinal uses or not, for now I do my best to keep the horse nettle out of our garden. Whether you choose to cultivate it or kill it, be careful!