The history of the tomato

by Jeremy Cherfas on January 1, 2013

One reason to love the internets, back into which, fully refreshed, we plunge, is this comment:

[T]he plant Galen mentions is the λυκοπέρσιον, lykopersion, not lykopersikon. The name means ravager or slayer of wolves, like our wolfsbane. The transition to the “wolf-peach” happened sometime later, probably a scribe’s error. Liddell-Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon describes it as an Egyptian plant with strong-smelling, yellowish juice and identifies it as Hyoscyamus muticus, one of the very poisonous, tropane-bearing Solanaceae. There are plenty of other seriously deadly Solanaceae in Egypt but this is as good a guess as any.

That’s from Pat the Plant1 in response to this (very familiar) bit in a long and fascinating post about the tomato from Hollis at In the Company of Plants and Rocks.

Lycopersicum” means “wolf peach”, and probably was selected by Linnaeus from the classical literature. Lycopersicon was a plant described by the Roman physician Galen as being both delicious and dangerous — appropriate for the tomato during Linnaeus’s time (see discussion below). No one has figured out what Galen’s lycopersicon actually was, and there’s no reason to think it was the tomato of the Americas, given that he lived in Europe during the second century AD. (“Wolf peach” is sometimes attributed to German were-wolf legends, for example here).

I found Hollis’ post, somewhat belatedly, via the latest Berry go Round, hosted by Susannah at On the other hand. Being partly responsible for BGR, I feel bad that it has been a little hit and miss lately, and glad that Susannah is going to feed and water it going forward until it is once again bursting with the best botany blogging the internets can offer. Why not submit your own work?

Footnotes:
  1. Who may or may not be Patrick Garvey; it’s astonishing what a search turns up. []

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