Tomatoes are native to western South America and Central America. Zictoatl, as it was known by the Aztecs, was observed in 1519 by Cortez who saw the plants growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not as food.
The English word tomato comes from the Spanish tomatl, first appearing in print in 1595. French botanist, Tournefort gave the Latin botanical name, Lycopersicon esculentum, which translates to “wolfpeach.” Peach is in reference to its being round and luscious and wolf because it was erroneously considered poisonous. As a member of the Nightshade Family (along with potato, eggplant, tobacco and deadly nightshade), tomatoes were once thought poisonous (although the leaves are poisonous) by Europeans who were suspicious of this shiny bright fruit. (Tomatoes technically are a fruit, not a vegetable)
Early varieties to reach Europe were yellow in color, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomi d’oro, meaning yellow apples. Italy was the first to embrace and cultivate the tomato outside South America. The French referred to the tomato as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties.
Up until the end of the eighteenth century, physicians warned against eating tomatoes, fearing they caused not only appendicitis but stomach cancer.
Tomatoes are cool in energy and sweet and sour in flavor. Although they are acidic, they have an alkalinizing effect on the blood. They have antiseptic, antiscorbutic (preventing scurvy), and laxative properties, and they aid digestion in cases of inadequate stomach acid secretions. They are considered beneficial to the liver and help the body eliminate uric acid. They have been used in treatments for headache, tuberculosis, high cholesterol, hypertension, and constipation.
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