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All about “Physalis”

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Nutritional value of Physalis

Fresh ground cherries, 75 g / 125 ml (about 16 ground cherries)
Calories 39
Protein 1.4 g
Carbohydrates 8.3 g
Fat 0.5 g
Dietary fiber No data available
Glycemic load No data available
Antioxidant power No data available

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File, 2007.

Health profile of ground cherry

The ground cherry is well suited to making jams to jellies and compotes . The compounds it contains are said to have antibacterial, anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects .

The benefits of ground cherry

The ground cherry consumed in Quebec has the Latin name Physalis pruinosa . However, no scientific study has focused on this particular variety. Most of the research, including that presented below, was carried out with varieties found in Europe, Asia or South America ( Physalis angulata, Physalis minima and Physalis peruviana ). In addition, the plant extracts used in the various studies concern the whole plant and not only the fruit.

  • Various benefits. Ground cherry is used in folk medicine to treat several conditions such as asthma, hepatitis, malaria and rheumatism . Extracts from ground cherry leaves (traditionally used in the Congo) have shown strong activity against the parasite plasmodium , responsible for malaria 19 .
  • Cancer. Several in vitro studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of ground cherry extracts in inhibiting the growth of various human cancer cells (liver 3 , lungs 11 , 12 , ovaries 13 , breast 14 ). However, clinical studies will be necessary to find out if the simple consumption of ground cherries has an effect against cancer in humans.
  • Inflammation . Extracts of ground cherry produced a decrease in edemaand had anti-inflammatory effects in mice and rats suffering from arthritis and dermatitis , 15,16 . Compounds isolated from the root of the ground cherry also have anti-inflammatory effects by decreasing among others the production of compounds that cause the inflammation 17 .
  • Immunity . Compounds from ground cherry extracts have the potential to influence the immune system’s response , 18 . Researchers suggest that they have interesting potential to replace certain immunosuppressive drugs (used, for example, for the treatment of allergies or autoimmune diseases), without presenting significant side effects.
  • Antimicrobial effect . Extracts of ground cherry have shown antimicrobial activity in vitro against certain bacteria, including that of tuberculosis , 9 . Certain physalins contained in ground cherry play a major role in this antimicrobial effect, by binding to the cell walls of the bacteria to inhibit its growth.

What does ground cherry contain?

Antioxidants . Antioxidants are compounds that reduce the damage caused to the body by free radicals . They help prevent the onset of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and various chronic diseases. Researchers have shown that ground cherry could have an interesting antioxidant power 1 . Others have concluded that certain extracts of ground cherry demonstrate an antioxidant power in vitro equivalent to or sometimes even superior to that of vitamin E (a natural antioxidant) 2 . Some flavonoids and other as yet unknown compounds may contribute to the antioxidant activity of ground cherry.

Beta carotene. Ground cherries contain beta carotene, an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Beta-carotene is the most effective carotenoid for conversion to vitamin A. Vitamin A promotes the growth of bones and teeth , promotes good vision , keeps the skin healthy and protects against infections .

Physalines . Physalines are steroids characteristic of ground cherries ( Physalis ). The anticancer effects of ground cherry are partly attributable to them. Physalines have demonstrated in vitro their effectiveness in inhibiting the growth of several human cancer cells (colon, lungs, liver, larynx and white blood cells , 5 ). Some antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects are also due to them. Interestingly, physalins work differently from dexamethasone (an anti-inflammatory drug) and may not have the same side effects. They also have an effect on the activation and proliferation of cells of the immune system. The potential toxicity of physalins in concentrated form remains to be determined, however, as well as the effectiveness of the simple consumption of ground cherry.

Phytosterols. In addition to being a source of essential fatty acids and vitamin E, the oil extracted from the whole ground cherry contains phytosterols in high quantity 10 . These compounds present in plants are of increasing interest given their antioxidant activity and their positive effects on cardiovascular health. The oil of ground cherry could therefore present an opportunity for the development of new functional foods .

Main vitamins and minerals

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) Ground cherries are a source of vitamin B1.
Vitamin B3 (niacin) Ground cherries are a source of vitamin B3.
Vitamin C Ground cherries are a source of vitamin C.
Iron Ground cherries are a source of iron for humans.

Recipe ideas

with ground cherries
  • Add the ground cherry to the fruit salads .
  • In sorbets , ice cream or granita .
  • In pies , clafoutis and other overturned cakes.
  • In ketchups and chutneys .
  • In grout or foam .
  • Fold the envelope and dip the fruit in melted chocolate , caramel or a frosting .
  • Very rich in pectin and pectinase, the juice of the ripe fruit is particularly suitable for making jellies and jams . It can be used for sauces and ice cream intended to enhance meat or seafood .
  • You can cook the fruit as a compote with honey, as you do in Colombia. It is served for dessert with ice cream or plain yogurt.
  • It can be used in place of fresh grapes in the cooking of quail .
  • Dried , it resembles a raisin and lends itself to the same culinary uses.

Choice and conservation

To choose

The ground cherry is found on that market during the summer and fall . At other times of the year, you can find imported Cape Gooseberries in specialty stores, but they are very expensive.

As immature fruits are difficult to digest, consume only those that are a beautiful golden yellow . Let the others ripen for 1 or 2 weeks.

Some companies offer dried fruit .


Refrigerator or cool cellar . The fruit can be stored for many weeks in the cool, provided that its envelope is intact and that care has been taken to dry it a few days in the sun after harvest.

Freezer . Remove the envelope from the fruits and place them on a plate that you will put in the freezer for 1 or 2 hours before enclosing them in an airtight bag and putting them back in the freezer.

Dehydrator. The fruit dries easily in the dehydrator or in the oven set at very low temperature.

The little story of the ground cherry

Common names  : ground cherry, Cape gooseberry, cage love, alkenkenge, shirt cherry, cockerel, coccigrole, blister grass, winter cherry, Jewish cherry, Corsican mirabelle, beat-around, poc-poc, etc.
Scientific names  : Physalis pruinosa , Physalis peruviana and Physalis angulata .
Family  : nightshade.

The ground cherry is in reality neither cherry, nor currant, nor mirabelle. The fruit is, in fact, much closer to the tomato, a cousin belonging to the same family (solanaceae).

The term ”  winter cherry  ” appeared in the French language in the XIV th  century. This word comes from the old French “alquequange” or “alcacange”, which derives from the Arabic al-kakang . In its narrow sense, it designates the Chinese lantern , an ornamental plant of the species P. alkekengii whose fruits are enclosed in a bright orange envelope. However, in popular language, the word can designate any plant of the genus physalis.

The genus physalis includes a hundred species distributed in all tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions of the world. In Central and South America, it grows many wild and cultivated species. The ground cherry ( P. pruinosa ) comes from the eastern United States. The Cape gooseberry ( P. peruviana ), contrary to what its name suggests, comes from the Peruvian and Chilean Andes. A minor food in most cultures, the physalis fruit has hardly been the subject of archaeological and paleontological studies, so that almost nothing is known about the history of the plant and its evolution. We know that the Incas knew the Cape gooseberry and they certainly consumed it, but that stops our knowledge.

We find the plant in the botanical gardens of Europe in the XIX th  century and in private gardens. Apart from the alkenkenge ( P. alkekengi ), sought after for its orange bells, the plant will arouse mixed interest, considered halfway between the weedand the cultivated plant. It is true that it is easily installed in crops and monopolizes the precious minerals that other plants need to grow. In addition, unlike the other edible plants of the nightshade family (pepper, tomato, eggplant), the breeders did not spend much time on it. Thus, there are few or no cultivars with the characteristics that would allow it to be grown on a large scale. Although abundant, the harvest must be done by hand , a long and tedious job that requires a significant workforce. Finally, the flavor of the fruit can vary considerably from one variety to another.

However, the Cape gooseberry ( P. peruviana ) has been introduced to many parts of the world, including Africa, China, India, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, where it has been grown commercially since. minus 200 years. Despite everything, its potential remains clearly under-exploited. In Hawaii , it was cultivated intensively, then practically disappeared from the fields. There have also been attempts to grow it in Israel , but as consumers showed little enthusiasm, it was replaced by more profitable plants.

The same thing has happened for the ground cherry ( P. pruinosa ) which has had mixed success, except among amateur gardeners who have always cultivated and appreciated it. However, for the past ten years, the demand for local products has been increasing both in North America and in Europe. Jams, jellies and liqueurs are available in specialty stores, and the little fruit is now on the best cards.

Organic gardening

In Quebec, the ground cherry grows better than the Cape gooseberry. The culture of the latter can still be attempted knowing that the results could be disappointing. Sow in a container indoors, 4 to 6 weeks before the last scheduled frost. You can also sow directly in the garden when the soil is warmed, but the harvest will be less abundant. Transplant when the risk of frost has passed, spacing the plants 45 cm to 60 cm in the row and 1 m between the rows. The ground cherry tolerates a little shade, but still needs the sun to ripen its fruit. Avoid over-fertilizing the soil, at the risk of favoring the development of the foliage to the detriment of the fruit. You can stake the ground cherry plants, but it is not imperative, unlike the Cape gooseberry, which requires good support and regular pruning .

pH: indifferent.

Do not force the irrigation, the plant prefers rather dry soils , but water in case of prolonged drought. Thanks to its envelope, the fruit has its own system of protection against insects and diseases. Without being infallible, this system is very effective. However, the striped beetle attacks flowers and leaves. To limit the damage, treat with rotenone. For the harvest, we can put the cloths on the ground and shake the plants to bring down the ripe fruit.

Ecology and environment

All plants of the genus physalis constitute an excellent ground cover and protect the bare land against erosion. Undemanding in fertilizers and water, the plant will quickly establish itself on sandy or rocky soils. However, once established, it can be difficult to eradicate. It must therefore be ensured that the location chosen for installing it is not intended for another short-term agricultural activity. In the South, it is considered a weed , especially in corn fields. In Quebec, there is a small wild variety ( P. heterophylla ) which is particularly suitable as a ground cover and whose ripe fruit is edible.

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