Are Potatoes Poisonous?

Are green potatoes safe to eat? In a nutshell, no. But there are some ways you can reduce the likelihood of problems.
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Are green potatoes safe to eat? The short answer is no.

Though we have all heard that potato skins are the most nutritious part, green potato skin may be very dangerous to eat. It isn’t the green color itself, which is actually chlorophyll, but its presence often indicates hazard levels of a highly poisonous substance. Because of this, the United States National Institute of Health recommends never eating green potatoes.

Luckily, few people get green potato poisoning because the tubers have a distinctly bitter taste.

How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

The Situation

Potato plants, like tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, are closely related to tobacco, the deadly nightshade, and other toxic plants, all of which produce solanine.

Solanine is part of these plants’ natural defenses against insects, disease, and predators. The more solanine, the more resistant the plant is to attack. In the past, the alkaloids in leaves, stems and uncooked raw potato tubers were used by people as pain relievers, anti-inflammation, and anti-rheumatic medicine. But such home remedies are not recommended, particularly if they involve eating or drinking the products.

The poisonous alkaloid is found in the green parts of potatoes, including new sprouts, stems, leaves, small fruits, and occasionally the normally-edible tubers if they are exposed to sunlight or stored improperly in very high or cold conditions. When they sprout and start to enlarge, even potato eyes can be poisonous. And because they are still actively growing, small immature tubers and “new” potatoes, especially when eaten with their skins, can be fairly high in the alkaloids.

Depending on how much is consumed, solanine poisoning can have effects ranging from mild discomfort to abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, mental confusion, shortness of breath, weak and rapid pulse, and, eventually, respiratory failure.

Though by far the highest concentration of solanine in tubers is found in or right under the skins, there is a small amount within the tubers, which is why eating raw potatoes can give you an upset stomach. It is a common myth that boiling potatoes will safely remove solanine; truth is, it simply moves into the soup water! Only deep frying has been shown to significantly reduce solanine as it gets absorbed it into the oil, which is not consumed.

Potato Varieties

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Potato ‘Red Duke of York’

A vigorous first early, producing abundant, good-sized, red-skinned tubers with delicious pale yellow flesh. Perfect in salads when small, and boiled or baked when larger. Young shoots need protection from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to midsummer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Mimi’

The ideal first early for containers, producing masses of small red tubers with incredibly tasty, waxy, cream-colored flesh. An excellent salad potato with good scab resistance. Protect new shoots from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Foremost’

Harvest this useful early variety from early summer or lift as required throughout the summer. The white-skinned, white-fleshed crop has a firm texture, ideal for salads and boiling. Protect young shoots from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Charlotte’

A supermarket favorite because of its long, smooth, yellow tubers, with fabulously flavored, waxy flesh.This second early is easy to grow in the garden, and one of the best salad potatoes.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Mid- to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Arran Pilot’

A popular first early, excellent for gardeners eager to enjoy large yields of small potatoes with creamy, waxy flesh. Good scab resistance and tolerance of dry spells. Young shoots need protection from frost.

Plant: Early spring
Harvest: Early to midsummer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Saxon’

For baking, boiling, and french-frying, try this floury textured second early. The large, white tubers have a mild, creamy flavor, and the plants display a useful resistance to both blackleg and eelworm.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Mid- to late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Royal Kidney’

An old maincrop salad variety, ‘Royal Kidney’ produces delicious, yellow-fleshed salad potatoes from late summer. It is also tempting to dig up the plants earlier for crops of tender baby potatoes.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Kerrs Pink’

This versatile and high-yielding maincrop variety is reliable in most soils. The blush pink tubers have delicious floury cream flesh that is perfect for mashing, french-frying, roasting, and baking. Stores well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From early fall
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Ratte’

The long, slightly knobby tubers harvested from this maincrop variety are a real treat. Their dense, waxy, yellow flesh has a strong nutty flavor, making them perfect for salads.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: Late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Sante’

An excellent choice for organic gardeners because of its excellent pest and disease resistance, this maincrop variety yields large cream tubers that are great for baking, boiling, and roasting. Stores well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From late summer
Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Pink Fir Apple’

A curious old maincrop variety, producing long, irregular tubers with pink-tinged skin that is best left on during cooking. The waxy flesh, with its earthy flavor, is popular in salads, and the tubers store well.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From early fall
Soil Preferences: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Potato ‘Nicola’

Resistance to eelworm and blight makes this variety a good option for maincrop salad potatoes. Large crops of long, yellow, waxy tubers are reliably produced and store well over winter.

Plant: Mid-spring
Harvest: From late summer
Soil Preferences: Well-drained soil, moist soil
Sun or Shade: Full sun

Photo By: DK - Vegetable Gardening ©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

The Good News

A lot of older and wild varieties of potatoes have high concentrations of solanine; some new varieties tested high as well, but most have been taken off the commercial market. Luckily, modern agriculture researchers have come up with potato varieties with less solanine, so we are unlikely to run into trouble with it in our part of the world. In fact an average adult male would have to eat more than four pounds of deeply green, bitter potatoes to get seriously ill.

So an occasional green potato chip won’t harm anyone. But it is a good idea to discard any potatoes that have green eyes, sprouts, or greenish skins, especially when preparing them for children whose smaller bodies make them more susceptible to the effects.

Reduce the risks by cutting away sprouts ("eyes") from potatoes and peeling them below any green layer. And don't eat any potatoes that taste bitter; the flavor might indicate the presence of solanine.

Bottom Line

Is it okay to eat green potatoes? In a nutshell, no. But if you find yourself with some lightly green spuds, you can reduce the chances of illness by peeling them well and removing the eyes and any sprouts.

What If?

If someone eats potato plant parts, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 or another local emergency number, or contact the U.S. Poison Control Center toll-free from anywhere within the United States (1-800-222-1222). You will be asked the condition of the victim, weight, time the green potatoes were eaten, and how much. Do not induce vomiting unless specifically directed by medical professionals.

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Growing Waxy Potatoes

Waxy potatoes can be any shape, size, or color, but tend to be relatively low in starch, which causes them to retain their shape when cooked, making them ideal for boiling and chopping, not for mashing or baking.

Growing Yellow Potatoes

Easy-to-grow yellow flesh potatoes are a bit sweeter and have more antioxidants than America’s more popular white fleshed potatoes.

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Growing your own potatoes? You should know that a ‘tater isn’t just a spud – there are several different types of potatoes, each with predictable characteristics, plus many varieties of each.

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Many gardeners harvest a few small, immature potato tubers early in the season, because they are extra tender and sweet.

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A lot of new gardeners are surprised to discover clusters of potato flowers atop their garden plants. The small but pretty potato blossoms are usually purple, but may also be white, pink, red, or blue, all with bright yellow stamen.

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