growing your own healthy Incan berries is no sacrifice

Incan berries (Physalis peruviana) are the new kid on the block in superfoods but really they been growing round the block for a long time as an ornamental garden plant – still sold in your local garden centre as Physalis. My dad grew them when I was a child and not for eating but for their burst of colour at this time of year

You will have seen it on supermarket shelves lately– a yellowy orange tomatillo-like orb in brown papery Chinese lanterns. It is in the Solanaceae family and like its cousins (tomatoes and potatoes) do not eat the unripe or green fruits – wait for the lanterns to change from brilliant orange to dull beige and there after the fruit inside will fully ripen to a golden hue.

The fruits are nutrient dense and tasty (earthy or musky, with a hint of tropical sweetness). Peruvians eat them raw as a bush fruit or in salads; North Americans eat them in desserts and jams. Across Europe I’ve seen then dipped in chocolate and dried like figs. As a product it is expensive enough – harvest is labour intensive by commercial standards- so ideal to GIY.

What put them in my sights – as someone interested in natural medicines – was an evaluation back in 2009 (published in the Journal of Medicinal Food) outlining their anti-diabetes and anti-hypertension properties. They also have phytoconstituents known as ‘withanolides’ – currently under study for their anticancer potential. The nutrient dense part comes in the form of an abundance of vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B6, B12. They are high in phosphorous and other minerals too. Each fruit contains around contain 16% protein – very high for a fruit.

Growing tip – they like sun but tolerate partial shade too. free draining soil is beneficial but they preference a slightly nutrient poor soil – if the soil is too rich for their blood they will put on masses of foliage but barely fruit. so add some grit.

They may not survive an arctic winter but are considered hardy to -10°C (14°F). You can of course lift and overwinter indoors. Under their other name of Cape gooseberry they are often sold as houseplants or conservatory specimens. My dad grew them against a sunny wall and they came back perennially without any palaver. I grow mine in pots and do the old December pot shuffle into the polytunnel to avoid the winter wet as much as any winter cold.

About The Holistic Gardener

author of wellness books, columnist, keynote speaker.
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