Cape Gooseberry, Physalis peruviana
The first time I encountered and tasted a cape gooseberry was at the Sonoma garden of Peter and Louise Hassen (a multidisciplinary artist and the founder of Sonoma Apothecary, respectively). Thinking at first that Lousie was handing me a tomatillo, I almost politely said “No, thank you.” Luckily I didn’t. I peeled away the brown husk, bit into the orange orb, and was pleasantly surprised. Immediately I wondered where this edible plant has been my whole life.
Please keep reading to learn more about this underused edible.
Photography by Marie Viljoen.
Native to Brazil, Cape gooseberry is also called ground cherry and goldenberry, among other names. Its common name is actually derived from South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, where the fruit was very popular after emerging there in the early 19th century. This explains why my friend Louise has it in her garden. “I grow it because it reminds me of my childhood in South Africa. They were very common there and the fruit was made into a yummy jam,” she tells me.
This small 1- to 3-foot tall shrub is notable for its small orange fruit that is roughly the same size as a grape or a cherry tomato. Like its cousins the tomatillo and Chinese lantern, the fruit is delicately wrapped in a thin protective papery husk. Peel this away and you find a tropical tasting orange surprise. I found the flavor both sweet and tart at the same time, like if you put a pineapple and a tomato in a blender. “I eat them when I’m gardening as a snack, and I like to put them on a dessert plate as an edible decoration,” shares Louise.
Considered an annual where frost occurs and a perennial elsewhere, this fast-growing shrub is self-fruitful, but you can help the pollination part by lightly taping the stems behind the flowers. “Cape gooseberries reseed easily, but they take a long time to mature and fruit. I usually don’t have much time before the first frost comes along,” says Louise. She adds that this year she is going to try and find a large nursery-grown start so that she can enjoy the fruits of her labor longer.
- Very adaptable to being grown in a large pot or container.
- Add to your vegetable garden or grow on a patio with other edibles.
- Can be enjoyed raw, in desserts or salads, or in jams, jellies or chutneys. Also, you can try them dried.
- Be aware, underripe gooseberries may be toxic. You will know the fruit is ripe when the stem holding the tan husk is brown.
- If kept in their husk, cape gooseberries can be stored for several weeks.
- Bees are frequent visitors.
Keep It Alive
- Plant in full sun and in a warm but not blazing hot spot.
- Protect from frost, or if you live below USDA 10, consider this plant like an annual.
- A wee bit thirsty leading up to fruit ripening time.
- Tolerates most types of soil and requires little to no fertilizer.
- Can be vulnerable to the same pests and afflictions as tomatoes. Pro Tip: Rotate your crops yearly to prevent build-up of diseases that attack nightshade plants.
- Self-pollinating and easy to propagate from seed.
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- Let the Sun Shine In: Cattail Pollen in the Kitchen
- My Mother’s Garden: Summertime in South Africa