Lycopersicon esculentum

General Information

Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family along with potatoes and eggplants. They are either upright and bushy in habit, or they grow in trailing vines. They have pinnate leaves with 5-9 leaflets, both leaves and stems are hairy. Flowers have five petals, are usually yellow, and the fruit is watery with many seeds. It is usually bright red in color, but may also be orange, yellow or green, depending on the variety.

History and Folklore

Tomatoes are native to South America, their name comes from the Nauhatl word for them, Tomatl

The botanical name for tomatoes means “edible wolf peach”.

Tomatoes are native to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador where they have been cultivated since time immemorial. Common folklore says that when Christopher Columbus first landed in South America he decided the Orinoco River in Venezuela (where he discovered tomatoes) was the gateway to the Garden of Eden.

Tomatoes were once considered a powerful aphrodisiac and associated with the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Their French name, Pomme d’amore (apple of love) and the Spanish name poma amoris, reflect this. Hungarians called it paradice appfel (Apple of Paradise). The Greeks called it pomadora, Golden Apple, and associated it with the Hesperides and the golden apples of Hera.

At any rate, it was about 150 years after their discovery before Europeans considered them safe for civilized consumption and even then they were only suitable as ingredients for sauce. Those who weren't afraid they would succumb to uncontrollable lust at the taste feared their teeth might fall out.

In 1820, Robert Johnson of New Jersey announced that he was going to publicly eat a tomato. People came from miles around to see what they were sure was a foolish act that would end in a horrible death. He, of course, survived.


Tomatoes like lots of sun, at least six hours. Plant them deeply in good soil in the sunniest location in your yard. Compost the base of the plant. As your plants get taller, you will probably need to stake it to keep it upright. You can do this with a stick and some string, tie the string to the plant and then to the stick (Don’t hogtie the plant to the stick) or you can also use a tomato cage. Occasional pruning will produce bigger fruits.

Tomatoes grow well in containers. Use 3 gallon buckets or larger. Don’t let the soil dry out completely, but don’t over water either. Be sure to water the soil and not the leaves to prevent fungal infections. Cut back on watering and stop fertilizing when the tomato begins to fruit. Tomatoes reseed readily.

Depending on the variety, tomatoes may be red, orange, yellow or green when they are ripe. Tomatillos (little green tomatoes inside husks that look like Chinese lanterns) are ready when the husks start to split. Be sure to harvest your tomatoes the moment they are ripe, or their skins may start to split or the birds and squirrels will eat them. Tomatoes reseed readily. A fruit abandoned to rot on the ground will return next year, whether you want it or not.

Tomatoes often have problems with hornworms.

Harvesting & Storage

Tomatoes will last for several days at room temperature. Their flavor is best if they are not stored inside a refrigerator. If they aren't completely ripe when picked, they will ripen off the vine.

Tomatoes do not freeze well, but they can beautifully and can be made into sauces and salsa and canned for use later in the year. Sun dried tomatoes are delicious.

Magical Attributes

Tomatoes are associated with Venus and with Aphrodite and Hera. This plant is feminine in nature.

The presence of a tomato help protect from negative influences. Putting one on the window sill will prevent evil from entering the house.

Eating the fruit inspires love and passion. It is a good addition to romantic dinners and also good to eat to inspire creativity.

A much anticipated summer treat, tomatoes are suitable offerings for first harvest festivals and are especially suitable for Native American deities.

Although the flavor is completely different, tomatoes can be used in place of apples in many magical spells. They can also be used in place of other members of the nightshade family.

Healing Attributes

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, lycopene (an antioxidant), potassium and citric acid making them a valuable addition to the diet for the general maintenance of health. They aid in liver function and help cleanse the body of environmental toxins. They are also said to aid in the digestion of fatty foods and help maintain the health of the circulatory system. They are also excellent for re-hydration after a fast or strenuous exercise.

Tomatoes are acidic in nature and they may upset some peoples’ stomachs. Some people are also very allergic to them.

Culinary Use

Tomatoes are great raw or cooked. They are excellent marinated, in salads, or sliced and sprinkled with sugar or salt, or not as you prefer, or made into sandwiches with mayo or cream cheese. They are great roasted with other vegetables, stewed and served with pasta or as a soup base, or made into sauces for pasta, rice or couscous. Some tomato varieties are more acidic than others. Adding a bit of sugar will help cut the acidity.

See Also

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