If you’re a fan of the sweet flavor of cherries and tropical flavors like pineapple, then ground cherries should be right up your alley. Ground cherries are the golden fruit of plants in the genus Physalis that grow inside papery skins. So, what are ground cherries exactly, where do ground cherries come from, and why should you start eating them?
Ground cherries (Physalis pruinosa) belong to a family of nightshade plants, including eggplants and tomatoes. Tomatillos compared to tomatoes also have a papery shell like the ground cherry. Due to a ripe ground cherry resembling a cherry tomato, this fruit is sometimes referred to as a husk tomato because of the husk that encloses the fruit.
P Pruinosa is an excellent source of vitamin A, C, and B-3, as well as vitamin B-1 and B-2. The orange color of ground cherries comes from carotenoids which provide ground cherries with anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. Eating ground cherries may also protect you from heart disease and improve eye, skin, and bone health.
Where did Ground Cherries Originate?
Many believe ground cherries came from Brazil before they spread to other locations throughout South America. From the 18th century and into the 19th, ground cherries became popular in South Africa, Australia, and the Hawaiian Islands.
In the 20th century, these fruits became established in the rest of the United States, where their popularity continues to rise. Continue reading to find answers to the question, “What is a ground cherry?”
What is a Ground Cherry Plant?
Physalis pruinosa produce low-growing vines, making ground cherry plants perfect cover crops for your garden as the plant spreads. While growing, the sepal of the blossoming flower forms a papery husk over the fruit. This husk dries and develops a papery texture as the fruit inside ripens.
Once the fruit ripens to its signature yellow color, it is safe to eat; however, the other plant parts are toxic to humans. Their toxicity comes from the presence of solanine, a poison that causes gastrointestinal and neurological disorders such as nausea, vomiting, headache, and inflammation.
Ripe fruit from ground cherry plants comes with a bright citrus flavor that is unique among other fruits. Because ground cherries taste like a mix between sweet fruit and tomatoes, they are versatile enough to eat in different dishes, from salsas to desserts.
Planting Ground Cherry Seeds
To grow ground cherry plants, start from seeds or transplant seedlings directly into your garden. Ground cherries grow quickly in one growing season, so plant them in spring after the last frost to enjoy these fruits in time for summer.
Ground cherries grow best when temperatures remain between 55 to 65°F, but with tolerance to heat, ground cherries grow even when temperatures climb up to 85°F.
To grow ground cherries in a cooler growing zone, protect your plants from frost with a cloche, or plant ground cherry seeds inside up to eight weeks before frost in your area is expected to end.
When planting outdoors, select a site that receives full sunlight and has well-draining soil-plant seeds, or plant tomatillo seedlings, with two feet of space between each plant.
Growing Ground Cherries
Provide your ground cherry plants with an inch of water per week, and add organic fertilizer or compost if your soil quality is poor. To help your soil maintain moisture between waterings when growing ground cherries, add a layer of mulch around your plants. Organic material mulch also keeps weeds from sprouting.
If you are low on space in the garden, add a cage to your garden to keep your plant from overlapping with other plants or being pulled down by the weight of its fruit.
A tomato cage around your ground cherry plant allows its vine to grow with support and keeps it from touching other plants. Ground cherries are plants that self-pollinate, but their blossoms may draw beneficial insects to your garden to help pollinate other plants.
Harvesting Ground Cherries
Approximately 70 days after planting, your ground cherries should be ready to harvest. With ground cherries, you may find fallen fruit littered around your garden bed as these fruits fall away from their plants as they ripen. This habit is normal and once you gather the fallen fruit, store them at room temperature with the husks intact.
After a week at room temperature, they darken to a golden yellow, signifying they are ripe. At this time, to store your ground cherries, leave their husks on and place them in a breathable bag in a cool place. Storing ground cherries like this allows you to keep them for up to three months.
To freeze ground cherries, remove the husk, wash and dry the fruits, then lay them on a flat sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer your cherries into a freezer-safe plastic bag and store them.
What are Ground Cherries Used for?
Because of their unique flavor, ground cherries find their home in many recipes. Make ground cherries into a tasty dessert with oats to create a ground cherry crisp or a salsa because its taste is similar to tomatoes.
To prepare your ingredients, remove the seeds from your jalapenos and chop them. Remove the core and seeds of your tomatoes and place them in the oven to broil for five to ten minutes.
Remove the husks from your ground cherries and thoroughly wash them. Remove the skins from your tomatoes and use the meat of the tomato for your salsa.
In a food processor, pulse your ingredients to combine. Add lime juice and salt to taste. Pour the salsa into a bowl and chill it in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
What are Husk Cherries?
There are nearly 100 species of ground cherries, and a majority of ground cherry species are native to the Americas, with almost 50 species found in Mexico.
Many species have similar names that reference their fruit color or the husk. A Mexican Husk Cherry is a member of the tomato family with fruit that starts green before developing into the signature yellow color of ground cherries.
Aunt Mollys ground cherry is a popular variety of Physalis pruinosa. These ground cherries are a heritage variety known for their tropical flavor shaped like cherry tomatoes.
Gardeners believe Yellow Nightshade comes from the deserts of the North American Southwest, where it grows wild. This variety grows small plants and small fruits compared to others. Carrots, parsley and basil are ideal companion plants for ground cherries.
Sunberry ground cherries exist as the result of two wild species crossing. The fruit of these species fell, and their seeds grew to create the Sunberry species. The fruits are small with a deep blue color and a riper taste than others.
Yantar plants grow fruits like regular cherries that ripen to a golden orange instead of yellow. This variety is among the smallest and only spreads up to 18 inches.
Chinese Lantern ground cherries are another popular choice. This plant grows a red-orange husk is popular as an ornamental plan. These ground cherries best grow in warm areas but are cold-hardy to temperatures of -4°F.
Waterfall is the common name of Physalis grisea or the downy ground cherry. The soft hairs that cover the leaves, stem, and husk of this plant give it a gray cast. This variety grows in the northeastern U.S. in Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont, among other states, and is sometimes called the strawberry tomato for its rust-colored fruit.
What are Golden Berries?
Although all ground cherries grow a bright yellow-gold fruit, when someone asks, “What are golden berries?” it can be confusing because this name does not refer to types of ground cherries. Specifically, golden berries are what gardeners commonly call Physalis peruviana.
There are at least 75 species of groundcherry plants, each with unique properties, including taste, color, and growth habits.
The name golden berries belong to a common species from South America, sometimes referred to as the Cape gooseberry, which differs from the gooseberries of the Ribes species. P peruviana is native is closely related to the tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) or the Mexican husk tomato.
So, what is a ground cherry? They’re delicious and easy to grow fruits that more people should know about and eat. Ground cherries may not be a common sight at the local grocery store, but their versatility in the kitchen and their unique flavor profile mean they have a place in any home garden.
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