Thursday, August 12, 2010

I wouldn't sleep there!

Some of the things they came up with in the Medieval Times for torture were amazing. The rack, The Iron Maiden of Nuremburg and the Judas Cradle were some of the more devious devices. I contend that I can grow a plant just as wicked and have a cool name for it. I am talking about "The Bed of Nails" plant (Solanum quitoense).

This is a young one, pretty cool huh?
They are a member of the nightshade family, which include the Tomato, Potato, Peppers and Eggplants.
The usually spineless Naranjilla (Spanish for "little orange") is believed to be indigenous and most abundant in Peru, Ecuador and southern Colombia. The forms found in the rest of Colombia and in the central and northern Andes of Venezuela and interior mountain ranges of Costa Rica may vary from partly to very spiny. Apparently mine came from the later.
They are a spreading, herbaceous shrub that can grow to 8 feet in the wild. I have never gotten mine over 3 feet. On the ones with spines, there are many of them on the petioles, midrib and lateral veins, on the top and on the underside of the leaf.
The flowers are very similar to what you see on its relatives, the peppers, tomatoes, etc.
The plant does best in a rich, organic soil. It also grows well on poor, stony ground. However, it must have good drainage. They prefer morning to early afternoon sun. Keep moist, not wet, especially when fruiting. If they suffer too much from drought, the fruit will be smaller and less juicy.
They are usually propagated by seed. I wouldn't say the seeds are small but, there are about 140,000 seeds to the pound.
The seeds come from a little fruit, slightly smaller than a golf ball. This fruit is covered by a brown furry coat until it is ripe. When you are ready to eat it, you can rub the fuzz off.  In Florida, where they are produced commercially, the field workers remove the hairs by stooping down and rubbing the fruit in dry grass. You need to be careful with these hairs, they can be very irritating to some people. I use a paper towel to get the tiny little hairs off.
In this picture they look like tiny tomatoes, but in actuality they are orange.
The taste, to me anyway, is kind of sweet and very crunchy.... like sesame seeds. Fully ripe Naranjillas soften and ferment very quickly. Fruit picked when half colored will remain in good condition at ordinary temperatures for 8 days. They can be stored for 1 or 2 months at 45-50 degrees.
A healthy plant can bear 100 to 150 fruits a year. A good annual yield is 135 fruits per plant. This results in 25,000 lbs per acre! I guess with that kind of production, I should tell you some of its uses.
Ripe Naranjillas, freed of the hairs, may be casually consumed out-of-hand by cutting in half and squeezing the contents of each half into your mouth. It can be used in Ice Cream, Sauces and made into Pies. Sherbet and jelly are also possibilities.  But the most popular use of the Naranjilla is in the form of juice. For home preparation, the fruits are washed, the hairs are rubbed off, the fruits cut in half, the pulp squeezed into an electric blender and processed briefly; then the green juice is strained, sweetened, and served with ice cubes as a cool, foamy drink. I don't seem to get enough fruit or have enough self control to try the drink, I am usually eating them as I walk around the yard.
The only major pest problem is Rootknot Nematodes. If you grow them in a container, which is advised anywhere north of Florida, these are not a problem. If you want to try them in the yard, treat them as annuals and again, you should not have to worry about the nematodes if you practice a good rotation of your crops.
While I was doing some research on my Bed of Nails plant, I came across something that kind of wrecked my whole torture idea. Apparently,the bed of nails has been used in India for relaxation exercises, meditation and yoga for thousands of years. They literally lay down on a mat of nails for 20-40 minutes, a few times a week as needed. The pain relief is due to the pressure from the bed of nails activating the body’s own production of endorphins, ‘natural painkillers’, which are also released during exercise, sex, kissing, caressing and when you eat dark chocolate. Endorphins give pain relief and a sense of physical well-being.
Oh well, I guess I will keep trying to come up with some kind of "Torture Plant", maybe something that eats things.....hmmm,....Though,...I think that has been done already too!
Happy Growing!


  1. This is a delicious fruit!!! We ate a lot of these in Cuzco. Maybe not the most attractive from the outside, but the taste is incredible!!

  2. I had read about these in the book "tropicalismo" but they were mostly featured for the foliage that gets a second glance. I didn't know the fruit was edible!