In a previous post on growing ground cherries and making ground cherry jam, I noted that the leaf, stem, husk, and unripe fruit of the plant were toxic. A comment on reddit questioned the validity of that statement and another comment to that post asked (in my own words), how toxic is toxic, or what would the effects be? I hope this post will at least point readers to some resources I found dealing with this issue.
Solanine belongs to a family of poisons called glycoalkaloids that are commonly found in the nightshade family. Glycoalkaloids (alkaloids + sugars) are potentially toxic. They cause a burning feeling in mouth and side of tongue and have a bitter taste. Solanine acts as a natural defense from being eaten by herbivores. It can be found in any part of the plant. Solanine is the reason why one should avoid eating potato tubers that started to turn green because they have been exposed to light. Light increases solanine production to protect the exposed tuber from being eaten.(1)
Common effects of solanine poisoning can be stomach cramps, nausea, throwing up, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and headaches. More severe effects can be dilated pupils, fever, hallucination, loss of sensation, paralysis, jaundice, hypothermia, and death.(1)
I will post some links below to some of the sources I found discussing the toxicity of the ground cherry (Physalis pruinosa). All sources I could find were consistent on stating that the leaves, stems, calyx (paper husk around fruit) are toxic. As far as the toxicity of the fruit, Plants for a Future states that the fruit is not toxic and does not specify ripeness of the fruit.(2) Poisonous Plants of North Carolina as well as a number of other sources state that the unripe fruit is toxic.(3)
It has been suggested that the lowest dose of solanine to cause nausea in an adult is 25mg and a 400 mg dose of solanine to be potentially fatal for an adult.(1) This doesn’t translate to me how much of a ground cherry plant (leaf, stem, calyx, unripe fruit, etc) it would take to make one feel the symptoms of solanine’s toxicity. My question would be how much (mg) of solanine is found in a part (leaf) of a ground cherry? I’m concluding from the resources I have found that one should avoid ingesting any amounts of the leaf, stem, calyx, and (for now) unripe fruit of any ground cherry species (Physalis spp.)
Please feel free to leave a comment on any experience, opinion, or sources concerning ground cherry toxicity.