CHINESE LANTERN PLANT: More than just Ornamental

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Common Name: Alkekengi,  Chinese Lantern Plant, Winter Cherry

Species: Physalis Alkekengi

Family: Solanaceae

 

Chinese Lantern Plant or Physalis Alkekengi is closely related to Physalis Peruviana (Ground Cherry) and Physalis Philadelphica (Tomatillo). This annual/perennial plant grow in warm temperate and subtropical regions. The real delight is their large, red-orange, inflated seed pod from which the plant gets its common name. These papery pods contain a fruit that is edible and nutritious, while the leaves and unripen fruit are mildly poisonous.

Cultivation

These plants can grow in partial shade, but especially in colder climate region, prefer a position in full sun, and well-drained soil. Growing Chinese lantern plants is similar to growing other members of the Solanaceae family such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.

Seeds need temperatures in the range of 14-20 degree and light to germinate and the process could take about a month, the plant is considered invasive in some region spreading easily by underground rhizomes rather then self seedling. Today, it’s cultivated mostly as an ornamental plant since its dried pods are excellent material for floral arrangements and decorations.

CULINARY USE

Pick the berries only when the pod turns into a creamy color rather then when still red, otherwise they will be too sour to eat or use. The fruit harvested when fully ripe can be used fresh, juiced or dried. This delicacy is also rich in vitamin A and C, as well as phosphorous, calcium and iron.

They are also rich in pectin which is a complex carbohydrate that may help prevent constipation. Compared to Physalis Peruviana, Alkekengi taste more sour, so they do especially well added to salads, juiced or made into a delicious jam.

The fruit is strongly diuretic and is highly recommended in case of fevers, common colds and gout due to its high vitamin content. The best places in which to dry the harvested pods are dark, cool places with good ventilation.


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