(Note: Lupa, a totemist, author, and creator of the blog Therioshamanism has also written about the totem Tomato which is well worth reading if this plant is calling you. I purposely didn’t read it until after my research on and contact with Tomato, but it turns out that our impressions of this totem are very similar. A link to her essay is found below.)
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Keywords: Celebrating diversity, community, patience, learning wisdom from the past, working with the Sun and solar energy, being misunderstood and unjustly maligned, a connection to witchcraft and werewolf myths, a possible connection to Wolf, romantic love, having a tolerant and forgiving attitude, generosity
Tomato as an ingredient can be served in many ways from sliced raw, roasted, and pureed into a soup. It is perhaps most commonly associated with Mediterranean cuisines, where it can be found in many salads, soups, and pasta dishes. Although China is the largest exporter of tomatoes today, it is estimated that the United States is the largest consumer of them, mainly in the form of the country’s two favorite condiments, ketchup and salsa. While the popular image of the tomato is of a bright red fruit, tomatoes can come in a wide range of colors from orange, yellow, green, purple, and even white. The fruit of the tomato plant is usually eaten after it has ripened, but some dishes, such as fried green tomatoes from the southern United States, call for unripened fruits.
Tomatoes are very dense in vitamins and nutrients, and have particularly high amounts of vitamins C, A, and K. Some studies indicate that lycopene, a substance found in tomatoes may reduce the risk of diabetes and many forms of cancer. The human body absorbs lycopene more easily from processed tomatoes rather than raw ones, which makes tomatoes one of the exceptions to conventional wisdom that says that fruits and vegetables are more beneficial eaten raw.
The earliest ancestors of the tomato were native to the western coastal highlands of South America and its domestication began in Mexico. The Aztecs were said to have enjoyed a salsa-like dish made of tomatoes, chiles, and ground squash seeds. The word “tomato” is derived from the Aztec word “xitomatl” which means “plump little thing with a navel”. Tomatoes were first introduced to Europe by Spanish and Italian explorers returning from Mexico and Central America.
Although tomatoes are a staple of European and American cooking, the plant was at first met with much suspicion. The reason for this is largely in part due to tomato’s close biological relationship to poisonous plants such as datura, mandrake, and especially deadly nightshade. (Incidentally, tomato also shares the same botanical family as potato, eggplant, tobacco, and petunia.) The leaves and fruits of the tomato plant look very similar to those of deadly nightshade, and the tomato was given the same sinister reputation in some areas. Although we now know that the fruit of the tomato plant is edible, it is true that its leaves and stems are toxic to humans. In German folklore, witches used nightshade to summon werewolves to ride to their sabbats, and it may be in connection to this that the tomato was given the name “wolf peach” in Germany. The species name for tomato, lycopersicum, means “edible wolf peach”.
Another connection between tomatoes and poison in the European mind was made when people of the upper class ate tomatoes off of pewter plates which contained lead. Tomatoes are high in acid, and its juice would cause lead to leach out which did poison those eating off them. While peasants, who ate on wooden plates, continued to eat the fruit, among high society tomatoes were strictly used for ornamental, not culinary, purposes for quite some time. This prejudiced against the plant was brought with the European colonists to America. Over the years tomato eventually became accepted on both continents.
The totem Tomato is familiar with being misunderstood, misidentified, and mislabeled (I didn’t have the space to go into the long history of why this *fruit* is legally considered a vegetable in the United States). Tomato can help those who feel similarly treated by those around them. Tomato may be able to help you pinpoint exactly what about you is being misunderstood and, if possible, how to help others see your real truth. Tomato may also ask that you take a good look at the people you yourself feel frightened by or are uncomfortable with. This totem can help you work out whether or not those feelings are justified and, if not, can help you acknowledge and work through those prejudices. As an extra note, Tomato’s folkloric connection to wolves could be looked into by those who work with that animal totem. Like Tomato, Wolf has knowledge about being unreasonably feared and connected to maliciousness, so it is possible that the two may have compatible teachings on this issue.
Fortunately, the tomato plant has shed its bad reputation and lately there has been a growing renaissance of appreciation for it from environmentalists, foodies, and beginning gardeners. Tomato is a tropical plant and care must be taken to protect outdoor plants growing in colder areas, but otherwise it is a very tolerant and forgiving plant, making it a great teacher for those new to gardening. It also takes very well to growing in greenhouses and even, while it is young, inside homes (this is not recommended if you have children or pets who may eat the toxic leaves, however). It is a vine that can grow to great heights if given the chance, or it can sprawl over the ground developing new roots from its stems and creating new plants. Healthy tomato plants are known for producing an abundance of fruit and often gardeners will find themselves practically pushing their bounty onto friends and neighbors so as not to let anything go to waste.
Tomatoes have lately been at the forefront of debates about pesticides, GMOs, and the use of chemicals to artificially ripen and preserve mass produced plants for transport. There has also been a growing resistance to the tendency of large agricultural companies to use only a few varieties of the same plant to sale worldwide thus greatly decreasing the diversity of the plants we rely on for food. To answer this concern, there is increasing interest in heirloom tomatoes of many varieties that can grow in different climates as well as produce a far wider (and many say tastier) range of flavors. This author will admit to fastidiously picking bits of tomato out of salads and sandwiches until she was once served a salad containing organic heirloom tomatoes. She is now not as hesitant to eat tomatoes so long as they are organic.
Tomato as a totem asks us to examine where our values lie when it comes our behavior as consumers. Do we see the foods and other products we buy as commodities that we need to have at all times even at the expense of quality, benefits, and even the health of ourselves and the environments? Or are our foods and other products worth being patient for, accepting that, while we can’t have them on demand all the time, letting them come to us in their own time provides us with greater benefits and perhaps fosters an attitude that appreciates and treasures what we receive. The totem Tomato suggests patience and understanding not just for plants, but for all things and people. It asks us to have patience with the people around us and understand that we all have our own pace and should not be made to feel forced to do things before we are ready. Everything happens in its own time and everyone does what they must when they must.
Tomato also urges a sense of connection in our lives. This can come in many forms large and small. You may be asked to form stronger bonds with romantic partners (tomatoes were symbols of love and sex). You may be asked to foster a greater sense of community and shared purpose among a particular group of people. You may be asked to strengthen your own partnership with the land and the beings you share it with. Chances are you will be asked to do all this and more. Working with Tomato indicates a time to deepen your sense of interdependence with all around you and to work with others to create bounties that can be shared.
Tomato normally doesn’t force contact on potential students, but it almost never turns away students who approach it with joyful respect (Tomato is rarely somber). This totem enjoys the company of humans and can be quite gregarious and talkative when it knows it has an appreciative audience. Tomato is patient, quick to forgive, and a lover of diversity and wishes its students to be the same. It is possible to communicate with Tomato while preparing and eating a tomato dish but even better is sharing time with a tomato plant while enjoying a sunny day should you have the chance.
“Heirloom tomato.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heirloom_tomato
“The Secret History of the Tomato.” Environmental Graffiti. http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/plants/news-wolf-peaches-bring-out-animal-you
“Tip of the Week: Tempting Tomatoes.” The New York Botanical Garden. http://www.nybg.org/plant-talk/2009/08/tip-of-the-week/tempting-tomatoes/
“Tomato.” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomato
“Tomato: The Apple of Peru.” Botany Global Issues Map. http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/pae/botany/botany_map/articles/article_35.html
“Tomatoes: One of the World’s Healthiest Foods.” Tomato Wellness. http://www.tomatowellness.com/health/tomato-are-healthy
- Domestic Tomato as Plant Totem (therioshamanism.com)