Unhealthy, Smelly, and Strange: Why Italians Avoided Tomatoes for Centuries

William Alexander in Literary Hub:

When the tomato started to circulate throughout Italy, Giulia [Marinelli, a guide at the Museo del Pompodoro, the world’s only museum dedicated to the tomato] says, it was so foreign that Italians weren’t even sure which part of the plant was meant to be eaten. Some gourmands pronounced it inedible after munching on the leaves. And, Giulia adds, “It was considered poisonous by many.” (The leaves, in large quantities, are.)

Certainly, being in the nightshade family did the tomato no favors, for its fellow nightshade, belladonna, is one of the most toxic plants on the planet, having killed off more popes, cardinals, and Roman emperors than syphilis. Belladonna’s toxicity belies its unthreatening name—“beautiful woman” in Italian—which comes from its former use by Italian women to dilate their pupils to an alluring size, the allure perhaps proving too great for those donna who went from bella to blind after repeated use.

More here.