Ground Cherries

We have been growing ground cherries in our garden for nearly four years now. Originally we ordered a few plants from The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Since then we have been growing our heirloom plants from the seeds that we save each fall.

Ground cherries, which are known by a number of names such as husk tomatoes, Cape gooseberries, strawberry tomatoes and my favorite poha, are a new world plant for the most part. They are a member of the nightshade family. They produce miniature fruits that are protected and preserved in tight husk that resemble a Chinese lantern. While not much bigger than a blueberry they produce a large flavor. If eaten while immature they have a bitter green tomato taste. If they are mature they have a wonderful flavor that has been described as mango, vanilla and even pineapple. They really do have a taste of their own and while I don't necessarily think it taste like any of the descriptions I just mentioned it is very delicious. The immature fruit is rather obvious it hangs on the plant in a green case while the ripened fruit is in a brown husk. They most delicious of the group are those that have fallen from the plant and are resting on the soil within their delicate casing. Surprisingly their husk preserves them for weeks before decay sets in. That is rarely a problem in our garden though. The kids eat the precious little berries before they hit the ground. In fact I find myself only eating a small handful each season because the kids devour them!

Ground cherries are a good source of niacin, also known as vitamin B3, which is associated with preventing heart disease. They also contain fair amounts of vitamin C, which is a great antioxidant, and vitamin A which is good for the eyes and helps lower cholesterol.

If you can get your hands on ground cherries I would certainly recommend giving them a go. They are an interesting addition to fruit salads and a great conversation piece in the garden. We did have one season in which they simply did not take but aside from that I have found them to be a rather robust plant and easy to grow in our northeastern climate.  

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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