Jaltomate/Creeping False Holly/Jaltomata procumbens

Pictures by marssipa’s photostream

Jaltomata Procumbens, or more commonly know as Creeping False Holly, is a forb/herb (a forb/herb is a non-woody plant that is not a grass) of the genus Jaltomata. False Holly has little berries also known as “Garden Huckleberries” along with Solanum nigrum. They are often confused with each other, and there were some accusations that the Wonderberry was nothing but a S. nigrum. In 1910, the New York Times published a scathing attack on Luther Burbank quoting a professor East of Harvard University claiming it was an (unidentified) European species “long known to botanists”.

This little tomato is found across Mexico and it’s mostly used in the cuisines from the states of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Jalisco. It is rarely found in markets, and when it is, it’s usually in small quantities. Their name comes from the Náhuatl terms “xalli” meaning sand and “tomatl” meaning tomato; therefore, it means “sand tomato”. It is also known as “tinguaraque”, “cachimbo” or “mountain tomato”. The ripe fruit has been used economically in parts of Mexico fresh, dried, in jams or preserves. Only completely ripe fruit are to be eaten, as green berries and the rest of the plant may be poisonous. Jaltomate’s berries are smaller and shinier than other ‘species’ The plant grows like a tomatillo plant and the berries are a decent size and produces well even in poor sandy soils.

Jaltomate is a shrubby bush growing to 5-15 ft with multiple clusters of attractive purple berries. Stems are sometimes prickly, rarely thorny; hairs simple, branched, or stellate, sometimes glandular. Leaves are alternate, solitary or paired, simple or pinnately compound, without stipules; leaf bladeentire, dentate, lobed, or divided. Fruits are glossy black when ripening. Jaltomata procumbens naturalize readily in many climates, and despite their tropical origins actually tolerate some frost; in any case they are more tolerant of cool weather than tomatoes not to mention much tougher and more disease-resistant.

The classic “deadly nightshade” of European folklore is Atropa belladonna (same Solanaceous family, different Solanaceous genus). Europeans also named multiple species in this family as “black nightshades.” Certainly, not everything called a “black nightshade” is closely related, but there seems to be a core cluster of extremely genetically-diverse species associated with the European black nightshade, S. nigrum: including S. villosum, S. americanum (American black nightshade) and S. retroflexum (some claim this as Sunberry’s “species”) among others.

This type of “berry tomato” is very juicy, has lots of seeds and a thick skin, peculiarities which the people who consume it enjoy. Said to taste like a sweet and spicy cross between a tomato and a grape, it can be eaten raw or made in to a delicious jam. Definitely is a plant for super food and gourmet for vegan fans. Plants produced many cherry-sized black berries. They fall off when ripe. It is also a folk medical plant of Kamasa Indians in Columbia and Tarahumara Indians in Mexico. Plants can be grown like commonly tomatoes. This true perennial and can live many years in conservatory. In spring it shoots up from stout roots.

There are a few reasons why this species of berry has not adapted well to commercial farming. Farmers tend not to bother with huckleberries is because they have to be handpicked. Machines that pick blueberries don’t work well with huckleberries, so harvesting is more labor intensive. Research is being done to find ways to make the berry more easily cultivated. The berries of Black Nightshade are edible to humans, if they are fully ripe and eaten in small quantities. Green berries contain the toxic alkaloid, solanum, like the foliage.

Nightshade Jam

2 cups berries
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cup water
½ pack pectin (about

Add berries and water to medium sauce pot and bring to simmer. Cook for about 25 minutes until the berries start to burst. Pop any surviving berries. Mix in sugar/pectin. Boil for 1-2 minutes more, and then promptly put the jam into glass jars.

About zoom50

“It’s amazing how people can get so excited about a rocket to the moon and not give a damn about smog, oil leaks, the devastation of the environment with pesticides, hunger, disease”
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10 Responses to Jaltomate/Creeping False Holly/Jaltomata procumbens

  1. kimkiminy says:

    Very interesting! They look a bit like blueberries. The flavor must be so unique.

  2. akamonsoon says:

    That is really neat. Could you substitute blueberries for the huckleberries in the recipe?

  3. gordon says:

    I’ve grown these and they do not take years to mature, they produced quite a few berries within a few months. They were also very tolerant of poor extremely alkaline soil, which I found to be a plus. The plants grew slowly in shade and would do much better in full sun ofcourse. The flavor is tomato/grape minus initial tartness, then immediately you take pure pepper

    • zoom50 says:

      Ooopss mistake. Thank you for your observation! I had just made the changes. Can’t wait to try it… the flavor sounds delicious!
      Thank you for your comment.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hej, thanks for using my picture. Can you please mention my name, as described in the license?
    Thank you!

  5. M. Lillian says:

    These look so much like the garden huckleberies aka wonderberry aka sunberry I grow. What’s the difference? My berries are the size of green peas at their largest. They taste like tomato when raw and my husband likes them tossed into salads, but he goes ga-ga for the berries cooked into a pie!

  6. Ruben says:

    The jaltomate in the Tarahumara language is called turusí. Péchl’i is a veriety that stays low more like a creeping plant. Péchl’i mature green and are eaten green. Another veriety closly related is the venenus ri’úa, not to be eaten. The roots of the ri’úa plant are used as medicine. Source: native users of the plants.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hace muchos años, yo comía esta fruto silvestre. Le llamábamos “tiguara”. Era difícil encontrarla maduras (negras) de un exquisito sabor dulce. Nos las comíamos verdes, recuerdo de un sabor acido.

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