Is it a pumpkin? Is it a tomato…? No! It’s actually an eggplant!

Seeds arrived in the mail from GardensAll Facebook community member, Kathlyn Pykosz Cairns, so we had to grow some! Gardeners with seeds in hand… #planted!

It’s been fun learning more about these and to see ours developing from lumpy green fruit to more and more resembling their namesake: Pumpkin on a stick plant.

Ornamental Eggplant

Also called “ornament eggplant”, ours are doing very well. Whatever has nibbled the leaves hasn’t been a problem. Likely because the leaves are large enough to sustain the photosynthesis necessary for the fruit.

Solanum Integrifolium, also call: “Pumpkin on a Stick”, and “Ornamental Eggplant”. Image by GardensAll.com
Solanum Integrifolium, also call: “Pumpkin on a Stick”, and “Ornamental Eggplant”. – Image by GardensAll.com

Although the fruit looks a bit like a pumpkin… or an fire orange tomato, it’s actually an eggplant. The botanical name is solanum integrifolium. Sometimes the species gets confused with an African “cousin”, solanum aethiopicum, and there’s a lot of cross-over in the common names as well (see list below).

For ornamental pumpkin sticks, allow the fruit to dry on the stem.

Also common to Asia and South America, in North America, this nightshade eggplant is more often used as an ornamental, where people trim the branches “sticks”, strip the leaves and allow the fruit to dry on the stem. These bright colored “pumpkin sticks” are then used as decorative accents to flower arrangements, especially in fall.

Dried pumpkin on a stick, ornamental eggplant, favored for fall decor. Image by Kathlyn Pykosz Cairns for GardensAll.com

Solanum Aethiopicum Common Names

These are some of the more common English names for solanum aethiopicum.

  • Gilo / Jilo
  • African aubergine
  • African scarlet eggplant
  • Bitter tomato
  • Chinese scarlet eggplant
  • Ethiopian eggplant
  • Ethiopian nightshade
  • Garden egg
  • Golden apple
  • Love apple
  • Mock tomato
  • Pumpkin on a Stick / Pumpkin Stick
  • Ruffed tomato
  • Scarlet eggplant
  • Silverleaf nightshade
  • Tomato-fruit eggplant

Below are some photos of our pumpkin on a stick plants. We’re gardening organically, which means that plants, leaves and fruits are often not picture perfect. Here, the leaves of our ornamental eggplant bush have been mottled by flea beetles, a common garden pest and particular enemy to nightshades. This can be helped by natural pest control but we’ve gotten a bit behind on garden maintenance in this busy season.

Time to get some more beneficial nematodes!

However, appearance aside, the fruits are producing beautifully and appear unaffected by the straggly leaves. Perhaps it has allowed more energy to flow into the fruits in much the way some people advise trimming the leaves from tomato plants.

 

pumpkin on a stick, solanum aethiopicum
Ornamental Eggplant flowers are attractive to pollinators. Image by GardensAll.com
ornamental eggplant
“Pumpkin on a stick” flowers are nondescript, but pollinators like them. (Leaves ravaged by flea beatles, a common enemy to nightshades). Image by GardensAll.com
Green pumpkin on a stick are less bitter than when fully ripe and reddish-orange. Image by GardensAll.com

The leaves of these ornamental eggplants have wicked thorns ALL OVER!

But are Pumpkin Sticks Edible?

Yes! You can eat the fruit of pumpkin sticks, and the green fruit extract. In particular, the leaves of the solanum integrifolium has been proven to have anti-inflammatory benefit, however, some varieties have many sharp thorns all over the leaves and stems.1)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4123553/#sec5title

ornamental eggplant
Pumpkin on a stick have lots of thorns all over the leaves and stems. Image by GardensAll.com
Pumpkins on a stick have lots of thorns all over the leaves and stems. Image by GardensAll.com

 

After all, it’s eggplant, named “ornamental” in the west where it’s not a familiar taste or food. However, these can be bitter, and so most people in the western parts of the world prefer to use these ornamentally, especially in fall.

When young and green, or when orange and fully ripened. Native to Africa, the fruits are typically eaten green when they’re sweetest, however, they’re also used in recipes good for bitter fruits when they’re bright and ripe. Bitter foods can certainly be an acquired taste, and is totally dependent on how you prepare them.

The tender shoots and leaves as well as the roots are consumed for food and medicine in parts of Africa. There is a study indicating medicinal benefit of the fruit, as green extract, however, alway use caution and properly researched information, and if traditional healing or folklore, verify and validate carefully.

We’ve found one simple recipe to try and will search some more to test. Whatever turns out good, we’ll publish here.

Brazilian Jilo Recipe

Recipe from ThePerfectPantry.com2)

  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • 6 African eggplant, sliced or chopped
  • 1-2 Onions, sliced or chopped
  • Garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Sauté onions, add garlic in olive oil. Stir for a couple minutes on medium heat. Add eggplant, continue to sautéing until onions are lightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you have recipes using this exotic vegetable, please share them in the comments, on the GardensAll Facebook page or via email.

RESOURCES

DISCLAIMER: Information in this article or on this website should not be construed as medical advice of any kind.

Happy Harvests!


References   [ + ]

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I’m LeAura Alderson, entrepreneur, ideator, media publisher, writer and editor of GardensAll.com. Pursuits in recent years have been more planting seeds of ideas for business growth more than gardening. However, I’ve always been interested in medicinal herbs and getting nutrition and healing from food over pharmacy. As a family we’re eager to dig more deeply into gardening and edible landscape for the love of fresh organic foods and self sustainability. We thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the creative ingenuity of the GardensAll community.