Eggplant and Indian Mustard, Two More Asiatics

Eggplant (Solanum melongena) is so called because the first varieties known to English-speaking people bore colorful eggshaped fruits.

The Spaniards of the 16th century called eggplants berengenas, or "apples of love," while some of the botanists of northern Europe of the same period called the species Mala insana, or "mad apple," because they thought that eating it would make a person insane. Equally unfounded was the idea in medieval Europe that it had remarkable properties as a love potion.

Eggplant is believed to have originated in the Indian center of plant origins, which includes Assam and Burma. There are many entirely different names for it in ancient Sanskrit, Bengali, and Hindustani, indicating its antiquity in India.

In a secondary center, in China, small-fruited kinds developed that were distinctly different from those of Indian origin.

Although cultivated in India, China, and adjacent areas from remote prehistory, eggplant appears to have been known to the Western World no more than about 1,500 years. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, and the lack of ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate that it was carried into the Mediterranean area by the Arabs in the so-called Dark Ages, or early Middle Ages. Melongena, now part of the scientific name, was a 16th-century Arabic name for one kind of eggplant.

One of the oldest records about eggplant is in a Chinese book written in the 5th century of our era. The next oldest records are from Arabia in the 9th, 10th, and 12th centuries.

Moors Took Eggplant to Europe

The Moors carried eggplant westward as far as Spain, where it was known in the 12th century or earlier. In northern Europe it was first mentioned by Albert of Cologne in the 13th century, but not until the middle of the 16th century was it well known there.

Yellow and purple varieties were introduced into Germany from Naples about 1550. Fifty years later, white, ash-colored, and brown varieties were also known in Germany, including round, oblong, pearshaped, and long-fruited kinds.

Travelers to India in the 18th century described all of these and also green-fruited and variegated varieties grown by natives there. In 16th-century Europe varieties were known both with and without spines on the stems, leaves, and calyx of the fruits.

The eggplant was among the plants introduced early into America by the Spaniards. It was grown in Brazil before 1650. In the United States purple and white varieties for ornament were described in 1806. Until a mere 50 years ago many varieties of eggplant grown in America were for ornament only.

In this country today we grow only the large purple sorts, but people of other lands, especially in the Orient, prefer varieties with small elongated fruits that can be fried or otherwise cooked whole. In Japan eggplant is the third or fourth most important vegetable (after sweet potato, radish, and perhaps Chinese cabbage).

Indian Mustard Grown for Greens

Indian mustard (Brassica juncea) in this country is usually called merely "mustard." Most of our large-leaved, fancy, pungent, garden mustards grown for greens belong to this type. Black mustard (B. nigra) and white mustard (B. alba) are of interest mainly for their seeds rather than for their meager leaves.

Our word "mustard" is derived from the Old French moustarde, which in turn came from the Latin mustum, meaning "must." In this sense "must" refers to the fresh juice or crushed pulp of grapes or other fruit, with which the ground seeds of mustard were mixed for use as a condiment.

Indian mustard has evolved into various types over so much of the middle half of Asia (excluding the eastern and western parts) that three different centers of development have been found. It apparently originated in northwest India and adjacent areas, followed by further development in the secondary center of eastern India, Assam, and Burma and also in China.

Our principal varieties are a large plain-leaved one, Elephant Ear, and two curly-leaved varieties, Fordhook Fancy and Southern Curled.

A number of "Japanese" mustards (B. japonica) are similar in growth habit and in leaf and seed quality to some of the Indian mustards. They are, however, basically different in their hereditary make-up and do not cross readily with varieties of B. juncea..