Physalis peruviana Cape Gooseberry, Lantern Berry
WHAT: Lantern Berry is a small shrub in the large Solanaceae family that includes many other edible plants – tomato, potato, eggplant, chillies, capsicum. And, like many of these, as its name peruviana suggests, originates in South America. (That’s why I don’t like using the common name Cape Gooseberry because it is neither a gooseberry or from the Cape (South Africa)
WHY GROW THIS PLANT? There are not many fruits that grow on a non-prickly annual shrub that looks fantastic and tastes delicious!
In the tropics it behaves as a perennial plant – persistent from year to year. In my subtropical garden, where it is a bit cooler, it becomes an annual, but I never have to plant it – it just pops up year after year from fruit that has fallen on the ground the previous season. You don’t see them that often for sale, but when you do I would grab one – you won’t be sorry.
- If you treat it as you would a tomato plant you can’t go far wrong.
- An open sunny position in some good soil and compost, with a bit of a feed every now and again is all they need.
- They are very easy to grow and pretty trouble free.
- They don’t grow that tall – up to 1m and between 1-1.5m wide and you could grow them in a container.
THE FRUIT: The fruit is yellow, sweet and slightly acidic, enclosed in a green leafy lantern – which will turn papery and straw coloured with age and, eventually, skeletonize – as in the photo at the top of the page.
- The fruit is ripe when it turns yellow – don’t be tempted to eat them green as they are quite sour.
- The trick is to pick up the fallen lanterns from the ground and keep them until they ripen – which they happily do off the bush – then peel off the papery outside to reveal the fruit inside.
- If you don’t pick them up, birds and browsing animals will get to them before you do.
- Keeping the berries in their husks after harvesting prolongs their shelf life.
- Mine never last long enough to do anything with them except eat them fresh, but you can stew them or make them into jam.
They are a prized plant in Mexican cuisine where they grow many different varieties in this Physalis family – with fruits of many colours, from green to yellow, orange, red and purple. The tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica) is the most popular – a green variety – which is used to make salsa verde.
These beautiful berries are definitely a hit with the children for their delightful fruiting lanterns and delicious flavour. They had a ringing endorsement from my two year-old grandson today, when he tried them for the first time. “Yum! More Nanma?”.