Ground Cherry (Physalis pruinosa) is a new food crop we experimented with this year. The ground cherry is in the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, etc) and a close relative to the tomatillo. The fruit, which is encased in a paper-like husk, tastes like a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple with sort of a tomato like texture. The fruit can be eaten raw, or used in jams/pies/breads. We ate many raw while working in the garden this year and also made ground cherry jam.
Wait to harvest ground cherries once they have fallen off the plant onto the ground and have turned from green to golden yellow and the husk becomes a papery, straw color
Growing Ground Cherries
The ground cherries were started from seed around 6 weeks before our last expected frost date (April 20th for Zone 6). After they germinated and had established we moved them out to our smallgreenhouse. Like tomatoes, ground cherries require full sun. Ground cherries and tomatillos were both experimental food crops for us this year so we devoted one of our 3′x10′ raised beds to them and planted 2 ground cherries and 2 tomatillos spaced equally down the center of the bed. We didn’t stake either of the two and just let them sprawl on the ground. I’m a firm believer in trying to plant and develop polycultures but this bed didn’t have a very well thought out polyculture design. The ground cherry and tomatillo bed also contained cleome and garden balsam which self seeds all around the garden as well as common marigold, nasturtium, and lemon balm. All of these acted to attracted beneficial pollinators and predators.
We provided no irrigation for our ground cherries and only provided a top layer of compost that was worked into the soil before transplanting. A layer of mulch was added in the form of grass clippings after plants were well established. Even with no irrigation we could barely keep up with the harvest. Two to four plants would be plenty for a family of four.
Note of Warning: Ground cherry leaves, stems, and unripe fruit are toxic. Wait to eat ground cherries once they have fallen to the ground and the fruit inside the husk has turned to a golden yellow.
Ground Cherry Jam
Below are the step by step instructions I used to make ground cherry jam. I would like to use them in different ways next year, maybe in a pie. If anyone has any good recipes leave a comment.
1. Remove husk from 3 cups of ground cherries and combine them with 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup of water, and 1 box of powdered pectin.
2. Boil and mash the ground cherries when they start to bust.
3. Once they have been well mashed, stir in 3 cups of sugar.
4. Return to a boil for approximately 3 minutes.
5. Ladle into sterilized jars leaving 1/8 of an inch at top, screw on lids, and invert jars for approximately 5 minutes.
6. Turn over to cool and wait for lids to pop. The seal is then tight.
7. This filled 3 medium jars.