~ TOMATO (Solanum lycopersicon esculentum)~
Tomato.... Is THAT an herb? It is technically... a BERRY !! Are you confused yet? Our ancestors certainly were- as they considered, and reconsidered whether it was poison or a delicacy. A native of Mexico and Central America, this plant has had its share of contoversies over the centuries, but today, it is the most beloved vegetable and considered a "must grow" for home gardeners. Tomatoes have come a long way, too, from the bright red, perfect store bought icon--to the highly coveted "Heirloom" varieties that are often misshapen , multicolored but totally delicious.
Aside from all the ways we love to eat tomatoes (sliced, soups, sauces, stuffed, grilled...), they can also be used in beauty products and specifically for certain illnesses and better yet, as health maintainence foods. But as with many great things--tomatoes do have their downside. A plant that can be used well--with caution.
Once Cortez took tomatoes back to Europe from Mexico, all kinds of stories and myths developed concerning the plant's being poisonous. Obviously, once in Italy, it became a mainstay of their diet, but because of concern for its safety as a food, it took a few hundred more years before the tomato was re-exported back to its home here in America. There are three reasons people though it a toxic plant. As with all plants in the Solanum family (potatoes, eggplant, deadly nightshade), the leaves are poisonous as are the green parts of potatoes. The fruits of these plants are harmless, however--except for Nightshade berries. It is thought that some of the concern came from the fact that eating utensils in parts of Europe were made of pewter. The acid of the tomato reacted with the metal, causing discoloration (oxidation)--which was mistook as a sign of toxicity. It is the same harmless reaction we get from mashing hard boiled eggs using silver utensils. Also, many people have allergies to the Solanum family of plants, with symptoms of extreme tiredness, migraines and nausea after eating or sometimes, just from touching the plants. I, myself have a slight allergy to potatoes--but I choose to overlook it as my symptoms are not severe enough to keep me away from the pleasures of tomatoes and potatoes. However, I write this the day after I tied up my tomato plants on stakes--which means my hands had extensive contact with th eleaves. Anyone who has grown tomatoes knows of the brown/green waxy residue from the leaves that coats your hands. Between the time you are messing with the leaves and when you can wash your hands, all of those toxic constituents work their way into your bloodstream, leaving you feeling sleepy and a bit "off". I have a friend with a strong Solanum allergy that she discovered after taking up gardening and found herself ASLEEP in her tomato patch!!. Whether you have an allergy or not, it is probably best to wear gloves when working with the vines and to avoid leaves when possible. Children should not play in tomato/potato patches. OK.. Enough with the negative things about Tomatoes!
Tomatoes can be used as medicines for anyone who has cardiovascular issues--especially in cooked form. It is often counter intuitive to think that cooked is more nutritious than raw foods, but it is the case with tomatoes as well as carrots. Tomatoes also contain lycopene, antioxidents, Vits. A, Bs, C, minerals and fiber, so all body systems are helped by this fruit. According to the "Doctrine of Signatures", all juicy, round or seedy plants are good for reproductive organ health--for men and women (pumpkin, pomegranants, all berries, cukes, etc.). While some Europeans were crying "TOXIC", others in France were calling the tomato "pommes d'amour"-love apples-- a they were thought to be aphrodisiacs.
If you look at the vining habit of tomatoes--especially obvious on cherry tomato plants, you will notice its similarity to the human lymphatic system. In fact, tomato blossom Flower Essence (unlike other Flower Essences), is used to enhance Immunity. Vining plants, in general, help maintain fluid balance in the body and get rid of obstructions in lymph nodes. Foods as medicines are easy--no special preparations or dosages, just eat them your favorite ways--with regularity--during their natural season. Don't even bother eating tomatoes in the winter--they taste awful and are outrageously expensive, though cherry and grape tomatoes maintain flavor throughout the year.
For oily skin, making a weekly mask of tomato pulp mixed with cornmeal, cleanses pores, dries oil and smoothes skin. Mix equal parts corn meal, green or bentonite clay powder and tomato pulp. Apply to skin and let sit for 10 mins. Rinse. Yellow tomatoes are a bit less acidic, but this remains a mask for younger/oily skin, not mature/dry skin.
Tomato recipes are a dime a dozen--most of them totally delicious. My favorites are usually involved with a large portion of melted cheese. However, the simple and elegant plate of sliced tomatoes alternately layered with sliced mozzerella and basil leaves is easy and healthy. I will also implore you to switch to heirloom varieties when possible as they have their full complement of nutrients- unlike the usual storebought varieties that have been bred for shipping-not for taste or nutrition. Also, the heirloom types offer so many depths of flavor along with fantastic color variations.... BUT--one recipe that is worth mentioning here is of a sweet dessert tomato dish from "The Heirloom Tomato- From Garden to Table" by Amy Goldman: ROASTED TOMATO CRUNCH SICILLIAN STYLE. Basically, this is a stuffed tomato-using all the ingredients you might stick in a roasted apple (raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest, nuts, brown sugar, butter) and with a caramel sauce with a bit of rum.
She also has a Tomato Water recipe that is refreshing, as well as an unusual Tomato Chip recipe that can be made in the oven or with a dehydrator.
In August, tomatoes are abundant..eat them green, eat them warm right IN the garden (my mother and aunt used to take a salt shaker with them to the garden and eat them off the vine), fry them, bake them, grill them, stew them with a bit of brown sugar, slice them and make a sandwich with nothing but mustard or mayo,,,but celebrate them while you can!
To learn more strange and cool information, try the website- Tomatoes Are Evil