POTATO : NO GREENS AND HORNS
Take sufficient green vegetables specially leafy ones, but for potato “no greens and horns”. All green parts of the potato including sprouts should be cut out before eating.
Nature had originally planted potato in the Peruvian-Bolivian Andes mountain range in South America, known to be cultivated there since last 1800 years. The Quecha Amerindian people used to call it ‘papa’ and the Spaniards named it ‘patata’ or ‘batata’. The Spaniards whose incursions into the South American Andes mountains followed the Christopher Columbus’s new world discovery, brought it to Europe in the 16th century. As its flowers and fruits were similar to some poisonous nightshade plants many were reluctant to accept potato as an eatable vegetable initially. On the other side many found it endowed with exotic powers, like ability to cure impotence and others, which increased its rarity and dearness then.
The potato extended all over Europe and became a major crop in Ireland by the end of 17th century, getting a new Irish name ‘pratie’. The events of the blight epidemic of potato in Ireland (1845-47), the famine that followed and the Irish immigration to Americas is history. The potato itself is an immigrant from Europe to North America rather than from South America and is known in the USA as the ‘Irish potato’.
Recognising its potential as food, Germany in 1744 and Sweden in 1764 issued royal edicts for its cultivation.
Its arrival in the Indian subcontinent coincided with the arrival of the colonial powers firstly the Portuguese and later the English. Assam saw it for the first time in 1830 after the British takeover.
Biologically the potato is a modified stem with a swollen appearance, hence its name ‘tuber’. It is a monocotyledonous annual herb, scientific name Solanum tuberosae. Taxonomists have grouped it in the family Solanaceae under the genus Solanum. But the potato is unrelated to sweet potato which is the tuberous root of a perennial plant Ipomea batata, of the same family as that of the Morning Glory creeper. Sweet potato is known in Italy as ‘American potato’.
Skin colour of potato tuber varies from brownish white to deep purple and that of the flesh between white to light yellow. Some Andean varieties have purple flesh. Recent reports tell of the purple types being more disease resistant.
Reproduction of the potato plant can be effected from the sprouts coming out of the tubers. In such cases the potatoes actually clone themselves and hence become more vulnerable to disease. Nowadays cultivation from potato seed is encouraged.
The potato plant develops small fruits resembling green tomatoes when unripe and yellowish when ripe, they are poisonous. All green and photosynthetic parts of the potato plant are poisonous and more so after exposure to sunlight.
The poisonous principles consists of a mixture of Solanine glycoalkaloids mainly Solanine and Solanidine concentrated solely in the green parts of the plant. Solanine is a steroidal glycoalkaloid which is broken down by hydrolysis in the gut to release free alkamines responsible for the malady.
Solanine poisoning causes symptoms called by many as ‘abdominal flu’. The onset may be delayed from one hour to two days from the ingestion time. Children are more sensitive to Solanine though fatalities are rare. There occurs symptoms of gastro-enteritis starting with a scratchy feeling in the throat, nausea, vomiting from mild to severe degree and diarrhea at times bloody. There may be involvement of the nervous system heralded by headache and circulatory and renal involvement in severe cases.
Patients are treated with cautious gastric lavage to clean the stomach by introducing water or saline. Antacids are given to adsorb the toxins and neutralize it. Diarrhoea is allowed, to remove the gut contents and fluid and electrolytes balance adjusted as per requirement. Only in the extreme instances is respiratory assistance and haemodialysis necessary.
In spite of the poisonous nature of the green parts of the potato plant, the potato tuber is one of the most excellent vegetable gifted by nature to man. Even the poisonous parts are used by some herbalists and homoeopaths as useful remedy for many ailments.
The potato tuber is rife with easily digestible starch, some essential amino-acids, useful minerals, vitamins and a lot of taste in it.
According to some nutritionists consumption of 2.2 kilograms of potato and 900 millilitres of milk a day can provide all nutrients essential for human diet.