Name: Physalis alkekengi
Common names: chichingero, cherries, flasks de corai, vingenze
Habitat: in shady areas in the undergrowth, up to a height of 1300 - 1500 meters.
Parts used: the berries, without the peduncle and the chalice
|Family and Gender||Fam. Solanaceae, gen. Alkekengi franchetii or pubescens|
|Type of plant||Deciduous herbaceous annuals or perennials|
|Exposure||Sun or partial shade|
|Ground||Loose, calcareous and permeable|
|Culture||Easy on average|
|Height||Maximum 1.2m, typically 50cm|
Harvest: when they are fully ripe in August
Storage: dry in the oven at a moderate temperature, then store in closed and dark containers.
Properties: anituric, deprurative, diuretic, emollient, refreshing, anti-inflammatory.
Use: Internal with fresh juice, infused.
Notes: other uses: for compresses against inflammation, boil 100 grams of fruit in a liter of water, apply to the affected area.
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The plants in cultivation are native to the warm or temperate areas of the American continent. However, some species are also indigenous. Their name refers to the shell that encloses the fruit. Physalis in fact derives from the Greek and means "bubble" or "full of air". Its popular names are: balloons, chichingero, vigenze, Chinese lanterns.
They are annual or perennial plants belonging to the Solanaceae family (such as tomatoes and potatoes). They can be both erect and creeping. Perennial varieties are the most interesting from a horticultural point of view (but less from a gastronomic point of view). Their flowering occurs in the summer. It must be emphasized that the flowers, bell-shaped, are mostly insignificant and not very decorative for the garden. Their color is yellow (with some purplish reflections) and they closely resemble those of peppers. What makes these plants precious is instead the red or orange lantern-shaped envelope that develops around the seed towards the end of summer. As it unravels, it will let us glimpse the internal seed through a delicate network of ribs. The leaves are simple or finely engraved, triangular, medium green. In some species they are hairy, in others smooth.
Alkechengi are quite adaptable plants. They grow well both in the sun and in the shade (although, in the North, a very sunny position is definitely preferable). They are also not very demanding when it comes to terrain. However, to have excellent results you need to give them a calcareous soil that is well permeable to water, avoiding water stagnation.
All cultivated varieties are rather sensitive to cold and especially to frosts. It is therefore better to sow them in warm beds or at least in a greenhouse and once planted, protect them very well in winter with a mulch of leaves or mature manure. If the winters were too harsh, it may be necessary to re-sow every year, thus treating the plant as an annual.
They are plants that need fairly frequent irrigation (especially if well exposed to the sun).
If they are in pots, it is best to avoid the soil from drying out too much. At the same time it is very good to intervene at least twice a week if the plants are in the ground. However, it is equally important to avoid water stagnation which could lead to rot in the rhizomes. These occur more easily in pot cultivation: it is therefore necessary to prepare a good layer of expanded clay or gravel on the bottom of the container in order to facilitate the drainage of excess water.
As with all Solanaceae, fertilization is very important. At the time of planting it is necessary to place a few handfuls of mature manure on the bottom of the hole, excellent as basic fertilization. To obtain good results, whether we are growing purely decorative varieties or if we are growing those that give edible fruit, it is good to give a liquid fertilizer with a high potassium content every 15 days. This will stimulate the abundant production of flowers and consequently of lanterns containing the fruits that will ultimately be tastier. Their cultivation does not differ particularly from that of tomatoes.
The most used method for reproduction is sowing.
This must be done at the end of winter in a sheltered place. The seeds must be mixed with sand to distribute them evenly (they are very small). First they must be sown in a small bed, covered with light soil or vermiculite (they will germinate within one to two weeks), and then repotted them in alveoli. It is important to always keep the soil moist and a temperature around at least 15 ° C. It is best to expose the alveoli to light and wait for them to reach at least 10 cm in height (more or less when they have produced the fifth leaf) before transplanting a mansion. The ideal distance between one plant and another is 60 cm (especially for edible varieties). For the franchetii, 30 cm is sufficient. It is a plant that, under the right conditions, expands very easily through rhizomes. It is therefore easy to reproduce it by division of the head. Simply insert the spade in one point by dividing the portion with a sharp blow from the rest of the bush, extract the section from the ground to move it to another area of the garden. It is an operation to be carried out in spring (even in autumn where winters are milder).
they are very healthy plants and are not particularly attacked by insects. The only problem that can be encountered is root rot. Above all, prevention must be given by giving a soil that is not too compact and controlling irrigation.
If, despite these treatments, we should see the plant in pain (which manifests itself with a yellowing of the leaves), irrigation must be reduced and products that fight root rot (based on propamocarb or fosetyl aluminum) must be scattered on the ground.
As with all lively plants, the only care is to intervene in the spring to clean up the dried stems of the previous year by cutting them at ground level.
Physalis alkekengi: it is widespread all over the world and in Italy it has become practically spontaneous in some areas. The plant is hairless and the lanterns are very decorative because they can reach 10 cm in diameter. Generally, especially in cold areas, it dries up at the beginning of winter and therefore the plant must be cleaned.
If, on the other hand, you live in not very rigid locations, you can keep the stems even throughout the winter and the orange casings become very decorative after the morning frosts.
It is a plant that, if found well, tends to spread a lot and could therefore become invasive. It is therefore important to keep an eye on it and, if necessary, commit to making it remain confined to its spaces.
Var franchetii: some consider it a separate species, others just a variety. It grows more (90 cm) and has more pointed lanterns. The var. Gigantea presents even more important lanterns.
Var. Franchetii “Variegata”: decorative also for the leaves, variegated in yellow and cream.
Physalis pubescens: it is an annual variety, with a height of 20 cm (it has a prostrate habit).
It is one of the varieties grown for the production of edible berries, similar to yellow or orange cherries (also called earth cherries). They are sweet, slightly acidic fruits. After harvesting it is very easy to keep them in the refrigerator and they will keep until Christmas.
Physalis peruviana (or edulis) also produces berries suitable for human consumption. The plant is more upright, but the fruits are almost always less sweet.
Use in the garden
The perennial varieties of physalis find their use both in the mixed border and in the more spontaneous part of the garden. It should be borne in mind that in themselves they are not particularly decorative plants (even if the light habit can find good locations). They should be seen with a view to giving the garden continuity in the blooms. In fact, the alchechengi has the undoubted advantage of showing off its lanterns in late autumn when the rest of the garden is preparing for winter rest.
In addition, the capsules become more and more decorative as the season progresses, elegantly revealing the colorful internal berry. A further advantage derives from the fact that the drums can be easily removed and dried. They can also be used as cut flowers or in potpourris that will last a long time decorating our homes in the winter months.
First of all, it must be pointed out that, as with many solanaceae, it is a mostly toxic plant. In fact, all its parts are, except the ripe berries. Contact with the leaves can cause irritation and allergic reactions. We must therefore pay the utmost attention.
It should also be noted that the fruit of the perennial garden varieties is edible, but its taste is too acidic to be pleasant.
If you want to grow the plant for food, you must therefore buy seeds of the annual varieties such as edulis or pubescens.
Alchechengi - Physalis alkekengi: Recipes with alchechengi
Alchechengi with chocolate
Very often, during the winter, berries are wrapped in chocolate and surrounded by their capsules in pastry shops.
It is actually very easy to make them at home. Simply melt some dark chocolate in the microwave (or in a double boiler) and then dip the berries into it. The chocolate will congeal earlier if we have kept the berries in the refrigerator (even in the freezer) so that they are very cold. To give a final touch we can again dip them in granulated sugar so that a frost similar to winter is created around the chocolate.
Ingredients: 700 gr of alchechengi
400 grams of sugar
A bag of pectin (or a few slices of apple with peel)
Optional: a little fresh ginger
Wash the fruits well and put them in the saucepan with the sugar, the pectin (or the finely chopped apple), the lemon juice and the ginger. Bring to a boil and cook until the consistency is not too liquid (the less you cook, the better to preserve the flavor).
Put very hot in clean jars. If you want, before carrying out this operation you can filter with a metal strainer in order to remove the seeds.