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Discussion in 'Plants: In the News' started by Junglekeeper, Oct 4, 2018.
This wild plant could be the next strawberry
Definitely not as tasty as a strawberry in my opinion.
Physalis spp. have lightly acid, somewhat seedy yellow to orange small fruits. The various species have some minor difference in taste and utility, but they all seem to prefer benign neglect. They sell Physalis pruinosa fruits in my nearby groceries, but I don't know what culture would be buying them generally. Not as strong a market area for Central America immigrants, these may be sold to more urban eccentrics here. That doesn't include me, mostly because I could gather from the wild if I were interested. I know they are made into a popular jam in Hawaii, and I've had some in a chutney. Moderate amount of pectin, so there's that utility.
Certainly worth exploring as a potential food source and an interesting experiment in increasing productivity. Based on my backyard notes, the plants that get run over by wayward lawnmowers seem to do best. That was Physalis viscosa, the aptly named Slimy groundcherry.
I grew up with this fruit. My mother won prizes for her groundcherry pie. I find them delicious, but it seems to be an acquired taste. I don't always get an enthusiastic response when I offer people fruit from my garden. I did note that when offered to neighbors they liked the third berry much more than the first one they ate. Then they started eagerly munching them. I think a little breeding work could turn this into quite a wonderful crop.
I bought some groundcherries from Colombia at the local T&T to try. 'Physalis' is printed on the label, Physalis peruviana I presume. Indeed the taste is like that of strawberry but not as sweet and with a bit of tartness. The article is in reference to Physalis pruinosa but I guess it has a similar taste. If domestication, along with mass cultivation, results in a lower price (in line with that for strawberry) I would buy them.
I just visited my childhood home (what is left of the farm) and my sister gave me some of the berries she had harvested. I don't know what species they grow, but the flavour is sweet and pineapple like. I grow P. peruviana and the flavour is tarter. There are a lot of species the breeders can work with. Even the P. alkekengi can be eaten. I have heard there is a purple fruited species. The plants surely fruit well.
Are there Physalis species in the wild that look like the ones at retail but are poisonous that we need to be aware of?
None that I've heard of. Some, like my slimy groundcherry can be sort of unappetizing. Not a problem for me. The fruit was sticky within the papery sheath which protected it from sand and other ugly things. It is a Solanaceae, so there's the usual caution as with any night shade. And tomatillos are also Physalis spp. as in P. philadelphica. Interesting name that...
Of course there are others in the nightshade family that may look similar. I've eaten random singular fruits here and there throughout Florida wild lands and am uncertain of which species. I would imagine the immature fruits are full of solanine and quite bitter. Toxic in quantity.
Searching a bit further afield, I find my ex claiming he used to pick smilax and groundcherry in the same field. Nuh-unh. That was me... I'm sure he's eaten them each many times since then. Don't accept what anyone says or writes about wild food edibility without cross checking. 95% accurate is not good enough. Let's just say I've never landed in the hospital after sampling something I've ID'd in the field.