Eggplants (Solanum melongena) are members of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, making them relative to tomato, green pepper and tobacco. It's species name, melongena, means "soothing mad apple," as it once had a reputation of inducing insanity. Also known as aubergine, eggplant is believed native to India.
Eggplant is antiseptic, diuretic and hemostatic. It helps clear toxic heat from the body and improves blood circulation. Eggplant is used to relieve colitis, constipation, bleeding hemorrhoids, pain, hypertension, stomach ulcers, swellings, and tumors. It contains potassium, bioflavonoids, and is about 90%water. Eggplant contains antioxidant compounds called monoterpenes that are believed to offer protection against cancer and heart disease, however, there is conflicting evidence, as a Japanese study showed it to be somewhat mutagenic, in the test tube.
Eggplant is cooling with a sweet flavor. It contains a substance known as glycoalkaloids that is used topically in medicine to treat skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma. A study done at University of Texas showed that eggplant appears to impede blood cholesterol levels from rising, after the consumption of fatty foods.
Eggplant has a meaty like flavor, excellent in many vegetarian dishes. Careful, it's spongy texture, causes it to absorb a lot of oil in any recipe (in one experiment, fried eggplant absorbed four times more oil than French fried potatoes). Eggplants are popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, Creole, Greek and French recipes. Most people are familiar with how to cook it, but it can also be used raw, after marinating it in a bit of Nama Shoyu tamari, lemon juice and olive oil to be pureed into dips" and even "noodle" substitutes.
Common is the purple variety, though it also comes in red, white or yellow. Look for firm eggplants that are heavy for their size. Commercial eggplants may be coated with wax to slow moisture loss. Many people slice eggplant, cover it with a sprinkling of salt, place a weighted plate on top, Wait thirty minutes, then rinse it off to remove any bitter flavor. This is optional however, as good eggplants are not bitter.
Some individuals with arthritis find that abstaining from eggplant and other nightshades reduces their symptoms. They contain solanine, which in large amounts inhibits calcium absorption. Use eggplant only small amounts during pregnancy. In some cultures, folklore believes excessive use can be a factor in miscarriages. In Nigeria, eggplant is used as a contraceptive agent.