More than 2000 species in 90 genera are found in tropical and temperate regions. Central and South America are the chief centres of distribution.
The family includes a number of commercially-important crop plants, including the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.), eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena L.), chili pepper (Capsicum annuum L.), goji berry (Lycium barbarum L. and Lycium chinense Mill.), and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.).
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The leaves, which have been used for many years to treat cancerous growths, yield a tumour inhibitory lactone (Kupchan 1970b).
The sap of the plant can cause dermatitis of the hands and face of labourers who cut it and persons handling the berries can develop vesico-pustular eruptions on the face with disorders of visual accommodation (Schwartz et al. 1957, Behl et al. 1961, McCord 1962). Ingestion of the plant can produce persistent erythema, urticaria, vesicular eruptions and hyperhidrosis (Brooks 1958). Atropine was recognised as a cause of dermatitis by Collins in 1888. Atropine, used in the eye, can produce allergenic kerato-conjunctivitis; allergy to homatropine is rare (Duke-Elder 1965). Apparent conjunctival allergy can result from old solutions of atropine in which irritant degradation products occur (Theodore 1953).
Gardiner (1922) noted that dermatitis venenata may be seen after the application of a Belladonna Plaster. The skin of pharmacists and chemists is sometimes affected by atropine (dl-hyoscyamine) (Herxheimer 1912, Dobkewitsch & Sidi 1948, Schwartz et al. 1957).
Six species, native to tropical America and the West Indies, are cultivated as greenhouse or house plants.
A woman who was contact sensitive to Streptocarpus showed a positive patch test reaction to this plant (Agrup and Fregert 1968).
Nausea, violent headache, weakness in the knees, and even torpor may be produced by the powerfully aromatic blooms of Datura candida (Morton 1969).
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Nausea, violent headache, weakness in the knees, and even torpor may be produced by the powerfully aromatic blooms of Datura suaveolens (Morton 1969).
The plant yields poisonous honey (Morton 1964).
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Several thousand chilli pepper cultivars are recognised in the Chilli Pepper Database (http://www.thechileman.org/; accessed August 2013), but these also include peppers derived from other species, including Capsicum pubescens Ruiz & Pavón and Capsicum frutescens L., and also including interspecific hybrids. Black pepper and also white pepper is derived from Piper nigrum L., fam. Piperaceae, an unrelated plant.
Intense skin irritation of the hands in two teenage girls was attributed to working with chillies; the irritant appeared to penetrate rubber gloves (Cleland 1931). The fruit, even when dried, can have a vesicant effect (Aplin 1966). The smoke of burning chillies is irritant to the mucous membrane and was used for torture (Burkill 1935). Red pepper, marketed as a nostrum for rheumatism produced dermatitis (Report of Bureau of Investigation 1929). Submucous fibrosis of the palate and fauces has been observed in India where a high intake of chilli occurs. Recurrent oral ulceration can also occur. Capsicum was used as a home-remedy producing a rubefacient effect and, if its application were continued, vesication could occur (White 1887).
Inhalation of paprika can produce paprika splitter's lung, a form of allergic alveolitis (Morgan and Seaton 1975).
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This species provides a particular type of chilli pepper known as the tabasco, from which the well-known Tabasco™ Sauce has been prepared since 1868. Many other Capsicum frutescens cultivars are described in the Chilli Pepper Database (http://www.thechileman.org/; accessed August 2013).
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150 species are native to warm regions of America and the West Indies. Some can produce mechanical injury (Oakes and Butcher 1962).
The fragrant nocturnal emanations of the flowers may induce intense headache, nausea, dizziness, throat irritation or sneezing (Morton 1969).
The plant is toxic to humans and can cause oral and dermal poisoning (Bull & Burrill 2002).
Ten species are found in tropical and warm temperate regions. Several bear fruits adorned with rigid spines. Gardner & Bennetts (1956) provide a drawing comparing the spiny fruits of Datura ferox L., Datura leichhardtii F. Muell., Datura metel L., and Datura stramonium L.
Morton (1958) asserted that contact with Datura plants can irritate the skin of sensitive individuals.
The plant has spines capable of producing mechanical injury (Verdcourt and Trump 1958).
Scopolamine, derived from the plant, can produce dermatitis of the eyelids (Duke-Elder 1965).
The fruit of this herbaceous perennial plant bears long sharp spines (Gardner & Bennetts 1956).
A number of alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscyamine and hyoscine are present in all parts of the plant especially in the capsule and seeds.
The fruit-capsule is covered with small sharp spines. Gardner & Bennetts (1956) provide a drawing comparing the fruits of this species with those of three other species of Datura. These authors also include Datura stramonium in a list of plants known or suspected of causing dermatitis. The plant causes swelling of the eyelids of those who collect it (Cheney, cited by White 1887). Numerous authors have referred to dermatitis in gardeners, farmers and pharmacists from all parts of the plant but case reports are lacking. Blohm (1962) noted no ill-effect from rubbing the leaf in his hands. Dermatitis from atropine is noted under Atropa. Hyoscine (scopolamine) can cause allergic keratoconjunctivitis (Duke-Elder 1965).
Ocular effects can result from entry of seeds into the conjunctival sac of farmers at harvest-time (Simmons 1957).
The seeds may be present as contaminants of edible seed mixtures and the leaves are used to make tea for asthma (Francis and Southcott 1967).
Dust from the weed can produce mydriasis (Goldey et al. 1966). Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) grafted onto the plant produced adverse effects from a content of alkaloids (Miller 1975) which are hallucinogenic (Mahler 1975).
The plant yields poisonous honey (Morton 1964).
A pharmaceutical worker, engaged in processing the leaf for extraction of hyoscyamine, atropine and hyoscyine, developed dermatitis of the finger webs, dorsa of hands, neck and shins. A similar attack occurred when he was put to work extracting Heliotropium spp. (fam. Boraginaceae). Patch tests were not recorded. The alkaloids of these plants are chemically distinct but both are tertiary bases containing one nitrogen atom in alicylic rings and at least one esterified hydroxy group. This structure was suggested as the connon denominator in the causation of the dermatitis from the botanically unrelated plants (Trautner 1949).
The roots can be mistaken for parsnips (Pastinaca) with untoward effects (Forsyth 1954). Inunction of the skin with Oil of Henbane can cause painful blistering (Schwartz et al. 1957). Agrup et al. (1970) observed positive patch test reaction to methscopolamine, its nitrate and scopolamine hydro-bromide. Dermatitis from scopolamine (hyoscyine) is noted under Datura.
Perhaps 90 species are found in temperate and tropical regions. Many are thorny, Lycium afrum L. (kaffir boxthorn), Lycium ferocissimum Miers (African boxthorn) and Lycium horridum Thunb. certainly being able to inflict mechanical injury. Their thorns are said to be poisonous; injuries from them are said to be slow to heal (Ewart 1909, Hurst 1942, Howes 1946, Aplin 1976).
Other well-known thorny species include:
21 species are native to Australia and Polynesia, 45 to North and South America. Several furnish tobacco.
Chemistry is reviewed by Schmeltz (1972), historical aspects by Redmond (1970).
Agricultural chemicals such as fertilisers and insecticides which are used in the field and chemical additives during processing must be considered as possible causes of dermatitis from the plant and its products. From patch testing farmers Szego (1965), Szego and Szilvassy (1966) concluded that the leaf of the plant contains heat-stable and heat-labile allergens.
Early reports of dermatitis from tobacco processing were reviewed by Prosser White (1934). Mechanical trauma and irritant dermatitis of the hands particularly of the thumb and index finger, hyperkeratosis and nail dystrophy are reported (Nasution et al. 1973).
Waterers and sorters of the leaves in cigar-making tend to develop skin infection unless great cleanliness is observed; the mucous membranes may be affected by fragments of leaf most severely near the lower front teeth (Prosser White 1934). Dust in tobacco factories causes skin infection and paronychia from mechanical or frictional injury by angular fragments of tobacco leaf (Prosser White 1934). A woman sorting out the pressed leaves of tobacco in a cigarette factory developed blisters on the hands, face and uncovered parts of the neck. She recovered on leaving this work but, on return to it, she relapsed (Karrenberg 1927, 1928). Dermatitis is fairly common in the process of stripping tobacco. Tobacco twist is lubricated with olive oil which is irritating (Prosser White 1934). Dermatitis was due to chemicals used in tobacco processing or by the fermenting process itself (Schwartz et al. 1957).
During a nine year period (1941-1949), 1065 cases of hand eruptions were reported in one large plant where cigars were manufactured. Patch tests to tobacco were negative. Wet work and alkali exposure appeared responsible. One per 1000 patients is susceptible to the smell of tobacco; nausea and vomiting are noted within the first 24 to 48 hours (Samitz et al. 1949).
Vero and Genovese (1941) in an observation made over a period of 25 years state that the dermatoses encountered among cigar workers were chiefly due to infections, injuries and chemicals rather than to hypersensitivity to tobacco. They reported 3 cases of hypersensitivity to tobacco in cigar makers. Positive patch tests were obtained to both filler and wrapper in one case, and to the filler in two other cases. In 60 cases of hand dermatitis in cigar-workers observed by Franchi (1937) irritation from gum and tobacco rather than contact allergy was considered to be responsible. Davis (1924) reported dermatitis in a cigar salesman of seasonal occurrence and attributed to handling tobacco.
Patch tests with maceration and decoction products of fresh tobacco leaves and with powdered dry leaves produced positive reactions in four of 19 women employed in tobacco fermentation work (Szego and Szilvassy 1968). Two patients with vesicular dermatitis who were employed in the tobacco industry had positive patch tests to tobacco leaves (Panconesi 1954).
Dermatitis in the tobacco industry is uncommon (Gross 1931, Samitz et al. 1949, Thiers et al. 1965, Shanon and Tas 1958, Panconesi 1954, Silvette et al. 1957). Tests were positive to wet tobacco leaf and negative to dry leaf (Prosser White 1934) and to old partially fermented leaves but not to new leaves (Vero and Genovese 1941). Contact with raw tobacco leaves, dry tobacco and cigars appeared to be innocuous (Vero and Genovese 1941).
Karrenberg (1928) obtained a positive patch test and Vero and Genovese (1941) negative patch tests in workers who had dermatitis attributed to tobacco. Cured and fermented leaf, but not the raw leaf could occasionally cause dermatitis. Dermatitis of the hands followed tobacco-smoking; a patch test was negative, an intradermal test positive (Cormia and de Gara 1965). Allergic dermatitis was found to be rare in tobacco workers; only three persons showed positive patch test reactions to the leaf (Samitz et al. 1949). Nine cases were reported by Chanial et al. (1970). Injections of tobacco extract produced generalised eczema (Harkavy 1939).
Smoking cigarettes with the lighted end inside the mouth produced palatal changes (Jensen and Williams 1964). Pipe-smoking and retention of tobacco snuff in the mouth can produce premalignant changes in the mucous membrane and cancer (Forsey and Sullivan 1961, Stecker et al. 1964). Chewers of betel (Piper) can develop oral cancer probably from Nicotiana tabacum added to the quid (Muir and Kirk 1960). The leaf of Diospyros melanoxylon is used in India to roll tobacco (Behl et al. 1966); this plant is irritant. Formaldehyde and menthol may be present in tobacco smoke. Dermatitis has been attributed to dyes, fungicides, antibiotics, coumarin derivatives, menthol and vanilla (Vanilla) in tobacco rather than the alkaloids of the plant (Gross 1931, Franchi 1937). Dermatitis was attributed to diethylene glycol in tobacco (Newman 1938) and to triacetin in a cigarette filter (Unna and Schulz 1963).
Arsenical dermatitis from tobacco has been reported (Barksdale 1940). Workers in tobacco sheds developed parasitic bites (Szego and Balogh 1965). Workers who have dermatitis in the tobacco industry can become desensitised (hardened) (Szego and Szilvassy 1968).
Cigarette paper made from flax (Linum) may cause dermatitis (Franchi 1937). Cross-reaction of tobacco with balsam of Peru (from Myroxylon balsamum Harms var pereirae Harms, fam. Leguminosae) has been observed.
Certain foods may be involved in unexplained exacerbations of eczema in a patient sensitive to balsam of Peru. The pertinent foods may be synthetic food flavours, but may also be spices, orange peel, and resinoids or essential oils in alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. The significance of tobacco flavours for patients with eczema is entirely unknown, but worthy of attention, as many of the ingredients, such as coumarins, oil of cinnamon and resinoids are well-known sensitisers (Hjorth 1961).
A laboratory worker had chronic urticaria which was traced to exposure to formaldehyde, tobacco smoke (both from the patient's own smoking and that of others in his environment) and certain fried and broiled foods (Rappaport and Hoffman 1941). Investigation showed that the cross-sensitisation extended to aliphatic nonconjugated aldehydes ranging from formaldehyde to an eighteen chain aldehyde. The reaction-producing concentration ranged from 1:1,000,000 for formaldehyde to 1:1 for the aldehyde containing eighteen carbon atoms, indicating that the shorter the carbon chain the more marked was the reaction. Aliphatic conjugated and aromatic aldehydes failed to produce urticarial skin reactions with the exception of acrolein. This case is reviewed by Baer (1954).
A machinist, aged 20 years, had chronic eczematoid dermatitis of the index and middle fingers of both hands; patch tests were positive to tobacco smoke residues. deposited on the cigarette filter and to crude coal tar. This case was carefully investigated and the details may be found in the original paper which suggests that patients with hand eczema who show positive patch test reactions to coal tar should be investigated for tobacco contactants (Weary and Wood 1969).
Nicotine does not play any part in sensitisation to tobacco (Sulzberger 1933a,b).
Handling of uncured tobacco leaves can cause systemic symptoms when the skin is wet with dew possibly from absorption of nicotine (Gehlbach et al. 1974). Several other reports provide clinical evidence that alkaloids of tobacco are absorbed through mucous membranes, damaged and even intact skin (O'Neill 1879, Deacon 1926, Wilson 1930, Lockhart 1933, Burkill 1935) in a quantity sufficient to produce adverse effects. Nicotine addicts do not appear to have tried this route of administration which would seem preferable to inhalation of smoke, provided that the rate of absorption could be controlled. Sporotrichosis of the hands occurred in a cigar maker (Seilin 1919).
Blepharitis and conjunctivitis in workers with tobacco were reported by Jensi and Iserle (1949), Simko (1950) and reviewed by Heinc and Kubena (1969).
A Japanese gardener who did not smoke was affected by nausea, vomiting, greenish pallor and shock twenty minutes after the application of a patch test to a spray containing 40 per cent nicotine sulfate. This resembled the reaction seen in persons inhaling the smoke from their first cigar (Schoch 1976).
40 species are native to South America and to warm regions of North America. This popular garden plant was found to be a minor sensitiser by Shelmire (1940). Detailed reports are lacking (McCord 1962).
The rhizome is rich in alkaloids that exhibit mydriatic activity and is used for similar purposes to Belladonna or Henbane. It is said to be richer in alkaloids than either [Belladonna or Henbane], and for this reason is preferred by makers of alkaloids and plasters (Wren 1975).
Dermatitis from scopolamine derived from this plant is noted under Datura.
Cleland (1925) referred to a case report of a gardener with loss of sight occasioned by entry into his eyes of the juice of this plant. There was full dilatation of the pupil. Morton (1958) was possibly referring to this earlier case when she asserted that in the eyes, the sap can cause temporary blindness.
In the eyes, the sap of Solandra nitida can cause temporary blindness (Morton 1958). Nausea, violent headache, weakness in the knees, and even torpor may be produced by the powerfully aromatic blooms of this plant (Morton 1969).
Some can produce mechanical injury and make useful barrier or fence plants; the wounds are said to be "poisoned" and slow to heal (Howes 1946).
Three forms of Solanum poisoning in animals have been distinguished following ingestion: a nervous form, a gastric form, and an exanthematous form. The exanthematous form is characterised by a vesicular scurfy eczema of the legs, udder, scrotum and neck, together with conjunctivitis, diarrhoea, and ulcerative stomatitis (Verdcourt & Trump 1969).
Urticaria in a child was suspected to have been caused though eating the fruits of Solanum macroscolum (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).
The numerous sharp hooked thorns on the stems and leaves are capable of producing mechanical injury; the plant makes a useful hedge (Williamson 1955).
von Reis Altschul (1973) found an herbarium note on a specimen collected in Peru stating that the seeds of Solanum asperrimum are caustic and are "used for skin spots".
Vesicular dermatitis occurred in a gardener who handled this plant (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).
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Slender prickles are present on the leaves (Fernald 1970). The colloquial names suggest an irritant effect.
Wren (1975) notes that preparations of the twigs and root bark have been used in folk medicine to treat obstinate cutaneous eruptions and scrofula [= scrofuloderma?]. Stuart (1979) is rather more specific in noting that a decoction prepared from the dried stems was formerly used to treat eczema, psoriasis, and pityriasis.
This plant which has been used to treat cancers and warts from the time of Galen (c. A.D. 180) yields a tumour-inhibitory principle, the steroid alkaloid glycoside β-solamarine (Kupchan 1970a).
Some forms are prickly. In an investigation of "weed dermatitis" an extract of this species produced a positive patch test reaction in one of 50 patients tested (Shelmire 1939).
This is a very variable species, which may be armed on most parts, including the leaves, or may occasionally be unarmed (Verdcourt & Trump 1969).
The ripe fruits are eaten. Hurst (1942), citing Ewart (1930) noted that the unripe fruits are irritant to the mouth and throat.
This plant, considered a noxious weed in Australia and elsewhere, forms a woody shrub bearing straight prickles on its twigs, leaves, inflorescences, and on the calyces of its fruits (Vorontsova 2008).The early taxonomic literature was confused. No legitimate name had ever been published for the species long known as Solanum sodomeum L. Some authors, for example Gardner & Bennetts 1956 and Aplin 1976, referred incorrectly to Solanum sodomaeum L. The situation was resolved in 1986 when the plant was re-named by Hepper & Jaeger as Solanum linnaeanum in Linnaeus' honour (Vorontsova 2008).
The common name apple of Sodom is also used for other nightshades and for entirely different plants such as Calotropis procera Aiton f., fam. Asclepiadaceae.
Dermatitis has been reported from handling tomato plants, especially when wet. The reports suggest the possibility of an allergic effect from the leaves and stems rather than from the fruits but detailed patch tests are lacking (Lain 1918, Washburn 1918, Shelmire 1940, O'Donovan 1927, Sneid 1955, Zakon et al. 1947, Schwartz et al. 1957).
Workers processing the fruits can develop dermatitis (Foa 1927, Prosser White 1934, Semmola 1963). Templeton (1945) reported a patient who had dermatitis from handling and from ingestion of the fruit. From patch testing farmers, Szego (1965) concluded that heat-stable and heat-labile allergens are present in the plant. Szego (1970) reported additional cases.
Tomato can produce immediate hypersensitivity reactions by 20 minute patch test taking the form of vesiculation within 20 minutes on previously affected but presently non-eczematous skin (Hjorth and Roed-Petersen 1976).
Aplin (1976) notes that this annual species is spiny.
This shrub or small tree bears densely hairy leaves. It was suspected of causing dermatitis in a woman who handled it (Mair 1968). When clearing or knocking the plant, dust is created which will irritate the skin, eyes, nose and throat (Bull & Burrill 2002).
This plant, which is found in Australia, has rusty-brown stems armed with stout prickles (Gardner & Bennetts 1956).
Referring to Solanum sisymbrifolium, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk (1962) noted that the prickles can cause mechanical injury.
Oakes & Butcher (1962) list the turkey berry as a solanum that can cause mechanical injury.
An eczematous or inflammatory condition of the skin with alopecia may develop in cattle and pigs if they are fed large amounts of raw and cooked potato. The disorder is known as potato disease or potato eruption. The disorder seems not to be specific to potato ingestion since a similar condition may be produced if cattle are fed in large quantities or exclusively any of several plant-derived industrial waste products including maize slop, malt, skins of pressed grapes, beetroot residues, tendrils of the hop plant, molasses, etc. (Steyn 1934).
Contact with the leaf and stalk, used as litter, can produce a similar disorder (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). Shelmire (1940) observed contact dermatitis of the hands of housewives from Irish potatoes. Potatoes are said to cause dermatitis in farmers (Sneid 1955). The plant is said to cause dermatitis but only at certain phases of its blossoming (Schwartz et al. 1957). Irritation from handling potatoes can occur; evidence of sensitisation was lacking (Peck and Clare 1945).
Contact urticaria from handling and scraping potatoes occurred in housewives; prick tests with fresh raw potato juice where positive (Pearson 1966). Cronin (1973) reported aggravation of hand eczema in an atopic housewife from peeling raw potato; scratch tests with raw potato were positive; patch tests were negative. Contact urticaria was reviewed by Warin and Champion (1974) and Maibach and Johnson (1975).
Nater and Zartz (1967) reported a case of a woman aged 24 years who had atopic allergic reactions from inhalation of finely dispersed particles of raw potatoes. Besides upper respiratory symptoms, flares of localised atopic dermatitis followed inhalation. Scratch and intradermal tests with raw potato were positive, negative with cooked potato. Separation of potato proteins was carried out by agar gel electrophoresis. Scratch tests were carried out using some of the fractions. Positive reactions were obtained with both anionic and cationic fractions but predominantly with two cationic protein compounds.
Referring to Solanum xantii, Davidson (1899) described a case of a female who presented with her face and wrists almost completely covered with acute vesicular dermatitis, this having developed after she had stooped down to examine the flower. She also exhibited signs of belladonna poisoning: rapid pulse, extreme dilatation of the pupils, and dilatation of the cutanous vessels of the face producing a purplish look so characteristic of belladonna poisoning. Maiden (1909b) also referred to this report.