Chinese Lanterns - (Physalis alkekengi)
Height 24 in
The Chinese Lantern plant is a herbaceous perennial that grows to less than one meter in height, and belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. This is a highly ornamental plant - the erect stalks that bears broad and flat, heart-shaped leaves with creamy white flowers and brightly coloured, bulbous seed pods. It is mostly grown for its the papery orange decorative 'lanterns' (calyces) that encloses round berries in autumn.
The white flowers contain five petals with a slightly curved shape, averaging 1 to 2 cm in diameter; as the flower matures the petals will drop, allowing the calyx to expand, and envelop a growing berry. The inflated calyx, (seedpod), is green when young, transitioning through shades of yellow, orange, to orange-red with maturity. As the pod develops, it will also become thin and brittle with a paper-like consistency, averaging 4 to 5 cm in diameter; these can be utilized in culinary and medicinal applications when ripe
Chinese Lantern Berries:
- Berries average 1 to 2 cm in diameter and are aqueous, encasing many small, ivory seeds. The berries change from bright red to an orange, cream-coloured hue when ripened, mellowing in flavour from very sour and acidic to subtly sweet, acidic, and tangy with maturity.
- Chinese Lantern berries can be used fresh, cooked, or dried. Raw berries can be eaten whole as a snack, or the berries can be tossed into green salads, chopped into relishes, sliced into salsas, or blended into juices and smoothies.
- Chinese Lantern berries can also be cut and layered over toast, used as a substitute for sweet tomatoes in dishes, or simmered into sauces for roasted meats.
- In addition to savory preparations, the berries can be cooked into jams, incorporated into pie fillings, or baked into cakes, tarts, and scones.
- Chinese Lantern berries pair well with meats such as pork, turkey, poultry, and fish, cucumbers, avocadoes, corn, dark chocolate, honey, citrus, peaches, and herbs such as basil, rosemary, and parsley.
- The berries can be stored in their papery husks until ready for use and will continue to ripen.
- Once husked, the berries will keep 1 to 3 days when stored in the refrigerator.
- Chinese Lantern berries are an excellent source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that increases collagen production in the skin, reduces inflammation, and boosts the immune system. The berries also contain vitamin A, a nutrient that helps maintain healthy organ functioning, calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, and lower amounts of iron and phosphorus. In traditional Chinese and Unani medicines, Chinese Lantern berries were used in ancient times as a diuretic and were believed to contain anti-inflammatory properties.
- Roots can be dug up in fall and roasted for use as a coffee substitute.
Note: Only the ripe berries of Chinese Lantern plants are edible, and the leaves, calyxes, and unripe berries are considered toxic and should not be consumed as they are inedible.
Prune dead wood back in late fall. Makes excellent cut and dried ornamentals. Perfect for container growing.
- Full sun
- Rich moist soil
- Seeds can also be direct sown in spring or summer.
- OR start seeds indoors 6 weeks before last frost. Surface sow and press in to create contact; seeds need light to germinate-leave them uncovered. Harden off seedlings over 1 to 2 weeks and then transplant seedlings when large enough to handle, and after all risk of frost has passed.
- Germination: can take several weeks to germinate typically 15-30 days.
- Spacing: 24 in
- Seed count: 25