When I got another Aerogarden and decided to grow my own seeds, I went rifling through the garage and stumbled upon the chinese lantern plant. The seed packet boasting a photo of an orangey-red papery flower-calyx that looks, well, like a chinese lantern, encouraged me to grow it if only for purely superficial/visceral reasons--it looked cool. So, I'm sure you can imagine my excitement when later I learned that it is an herb!
The chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi) also called the winter cherry or bladder cherry is, get this, a member of the potato family. Usually ripening around Halloween, the chinese lantern plant is used mostly for decorative purposes but is also harvested for its fruit. The fruit has twice the Vitamin C of lemons and resembles a blonde-red cherry tomato with a sweeter taste than its relative, the tomatillo.
Eat the fruit with caution, for if it is unripe, like a potato, it can be toxic, containing something called solanine. Solanine normally causes problems with the gastrointestinal system, (i.e. diarrhea, gastroentinitis, etc) but again, it is only apparent in unripened fruits.
Herbal Uses: The whole plant is antiphlogistic (inflamation-reducing), antipyretic (fever-reducing), antitussive (cough-suppressing); and expectorant (phelgm-promoting--kind of like Mucinex). The leaves themselves have been used to prevent fever (febrifuge), to promote early labor, and to treat malaise from malaria, for weak or anaemic people. Historically, it was used to treat gravel and Lithiasis (kidney-stone like conditions), fever and gout.
The herb is marketed today for myriad medical uses, such as bed-wetting, facial paralysis, nocturnal incontenince, hoarse voice and ... the desire to talk constantly. There really is an herb for everything!
Now is the perfect time to start the seed indoors for planting later this spring. Generally, it blooms in July forming the green calcye (or the papery outer-part of the flower) which should be harvested immediately after they turn red. Hang the flower upside down in a dark room to dry for a few weeks then enjoy your new decoration - the chinese lantern!
Or, if you have bed-wetting, unexpressive trick-or-treaters who won't shut up and cough too much, sneak a few fruits in their bags and call it a night.
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