Tomatoes were brought to Europe from Chile, Columbia and Peru in the 1500s by Spanish explorers. Europeans believed the fruits were poisonous because of their membership in the nightshade family. In 1820, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson dispelled this myth by eating a tomato on the courthouse steps in Salem, New Jersey. Today, tomatoes are one of the most popular homegrown vegetables. An average American consumes more than 80 lbs. of tomatoes annually.
While southerners have long enjoyed fried green tomatoes, green tomatoes are toxic to pets, causing gastro-intestinal symptoms. Raw, green tomatoes may cause upset stomachs in people, as well. Cook green tomatoes, and keep them away from cats and dogs.
Tomato plants are part of the Solanaceae or nightshade plant family, which includes peppers, potatoes, paprika, nicotiana and belladonna. Tomato vines produce toxic alkaloids and are poisonous to people and animals.
Tomato leaves are also toxic if eaten and may cause skin irritation. Keep tomato plants away from children and pets. The plant's botanical name, Lycopersicon, means "wolf peach" in Latin, referring to the plant's toxic properties.