Physalis belongs to the nightshade family of plants and grows in a variety of areas across the world, particularly in the temperate and subtropical portions of North and South America. Members of the Physalis genus often bear fruit that resembles their close cousins, the tomato and the potato. The large number of edible Physalis fruits are commonly used as ingredients in local cuisines and often for medicinal purposes.
Members of the Physalis genus are hardy plants and not difficult to grow, however they do require large amounts of water in order to flourish properly and need special attention during hot, dry weather. Not all of the fruit produced by Physalis plants is edible, although many types of Physalis are attractive and colourful ornamental plants in gardens and flowerbeds.
The Physalis genus can broken down into two general groups: plants that produce edible fruit, and ornamental plants. Of the Physalis that produce edible fruit, the most popular in cooking and local cuisines are tomatillos, gooseberries and all forms of ground cherries.
Use in Cooking
Physalis fruits are known for their firm texture and mild citrus flavour. Gooseberries and ground cherries are commonly used in all recipes in which fruits such as strawberries, pineapple, figs and other berries are used: salads, desserts, as dried snacks, in baking, and as a flavouring in jams, jellies, or light fruit sauces and syrups. They are also eaten raw.
The tomatillo--the fruit of the Physalis philadelphica plant--is probably the most widely used of all Physalis fruits. Known as the green tomato in Mexico, the tomatillo is a major part of the salsas, sauces, and dishes essential to Mexican cooking, including salsa verde, or green salsa, and green enchilada sauce.
The fruit of Physalis alkekengi, also called Chinese lanterns, have been used by the Chinese for centuries in concoctions for the treatment of a number of ailments, including sore throats, colds, coughing, high fevers, abscesses and eczema. In China, as well as in parts of Europe, the fruit of the Chinese lantern is used to treat bladder disease.