This is my first year growing ground cherries, and so far, I’ve been pleased with the results. Ground cherries or husk cherries, Physalis pruinosa, offer an easy to grow, unique summertime fruit. I’m growing Aunt Molly’s ground cherry this year and enjoying every bite.
Ground Cherries or Husk Cherries, Not Tomatillos in Disguise
Growing ground cherries meant sneaking them into the garden.
My conversation with Hubby when he discovered Aunt Molly’s ground cherry, Physalis pruinosa, went like this:
“What is this thing?”
“It’s a ground cherry. A type of fruit.”
“It looks like a tomatillo.”
“It’s similar but different. You can make this one into pies, jams, or eat it fresh.”
“I didn’t like tomatillos.”
“If it’s a tomatillo,” he threatened, “I don’t want to know.”
Ah, the great tomatillo debacle of 2000. I planted tomatillos in the garden bed next to the patio at our apartment in Huntington, New York. I had no idea that by the end of the summer, not only would we be eating tomatillos daily, but our landlord would be upset because they reseeded so freely. Luckily, our landlord was my father-in-law, but no one except me enjoyed the tomatillos.
Not so with ground cherries. Growing ground cherries this year was a stroke of luck, for these sweet, tasty little fruits are wonderful with fresh cantaloupe, and my Hale’s Best cantaloupe from last year reseeded so I’ve had plentiful small fruits.
Growing Ground Cherries
This particular variety is called Aunt Molly’s ground cherries. It’s a Polish heirloom variety I bought from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Start seeds indoors, about two weeks before the tomato seeds.
Keep the seeds moist throughout germination and beyond. Ground cherries love moist soil. Ours only took off and began producing abundant fruit when Hubby hooked up the sprinklers to help with watering.
Transplanting and Spacing Husk Cherries
Transplant them to the garden when the young plants are a few inches tall. Space them at least one foot or more apart. At first, you will wonder why all that space is necessary. Then, as the plants grow, you’ll wish you’d spread them out more. They sprawl rather than grow upright and need plenty of room to spread out.
Full sunlight for ground cherries, please. Growing ground cherries in partial shade is possible but shade may affect the yield of fruit.
Don’t. That’s it. You don’t need to fertilize ground cherries. If you plant them in good, rich soil with plenty of compost and keep them moist, you’ll get abundant little husk cherries.
The Secret to Harvesting Great Ground Cherries
A discussing of growing ground cherries wouldn’t be complete without this secret to harvesting them. Just let them fall to the ground. Do not attempt to pick them directly from the plants. Anything still attached to the plant tastes bitter. Once they fall to the soil in their little husks, they are ready to be scooped up and husked, then eaten fresh or used in your favorite recipes.
Once harvested, use your fingers to peel off the paper-like husks. The tender fruit inside can be eaten immediately. Aunt Molly’s ground cherries are golden yellow to greenish-yellow. The richer the golden color, the sweeter they taste.
Enjoying Ground Cherries – Nutrition, Recipes and Fresh Eating Ideas
According to the Permaculture Institute, ground cherries offer excellent nutrition. One cup contains 74 calories and an abundance of vitamins A, C, and B-3 (Niacin). They are also a good source of Vitamins B-1 (Thiamin) and offer vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin) and the minerals non-heme iron, calcium, and phosphorus. If you’re enjoying a flexitarian, nutritarian, or vegetarian diet, eating an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables is a must, and ground cherries provide excellent nutrition as well as antioxidants.
As a nutritarian, my goal is to eat a wide range of plant foods for all the micronutrients and antioxidants I can enjoy. Growing ground cherries is part of my efforts this year to grow plentiful organic fruits and vegetables for my family’s new way of eating.
Speaking of eating…of course, you want to know how to eat these fruits! I love sprinkling fresh ground cherries on top of fresh cantaloupe. The taste together is incredible!
- Smithsonian Magazine has five ways to eat ground cherries.
- Ground Cherry Coffee Cake sounds wonderful!
- Ground Cherry Jam offers another unique way to use the fruit.
Next year, I’ll be growing ground cherries in a larger raised bed. Three plants yield about 1/2 to 1 cup of fresh ground cherries per day. Not nearly enough in my book.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.