|Ground Cherries--Upper left: 2 free-floating samples |
from a Farmer's Market Vendor. On the stem: some
from my backyard.
its home in the garden and in a shady, back corner of the yard occupied by dandelions, the mulberry tree, and
At first, I thought it was Deadly Nightshade, which is poisonous (1). Something you definitely DO NOT want to nibble. After looking it up, I think there is Nightshade nestled in the yard, but in different places. The stranger also looked a little like decorative plant Japanese Lanterns. But it is, instead, a Ground Cherry, which I found out serendipitously.
A few weeks ago I went to the Northville Farmer's Market. I stopped by an amazing booth, which specialized in native (or some might uncharitably say "weed") edible plants. The vendors had dandelion leaves the size of swiss chard leaves; big honkin' tubers of Jerusalem Artichoke; and mounded boxes of Ground Cherries.
I've read about Ground Cherries when drooling over the penultimate winter-favorite-required-reading-book for serious and pantheistic gardeners who support biometric living: Seed Saver Catalogue (2). But never--knowingly--had I encountered one. My folks, farmers in rural Southern Illinois, undoubtedly knew them. Once I sent my Dad, an avid gardener, some Jerusalem Artichokes (3). I thought, "Wow, natural food, full of vitamins and easy to grow! And pretty flowers!" He planted them, because I sent them. They grew. And grew. And spread prolificially but still grew, after being burned, plowed, and cursed. He said once, "Why did you give me those weeds? They grow in the ditches around here." I looked around after that, and darned if it wasn't the truth. But he planted them, knowing the trouble anyway. My folks knew a lot of edible plants in the woods and ditches and fields, but considered them weeds. Growing up in the Depression, they knew desperate people who picked dock and other weeds and ate them; they wanted to distance themselves from that kind of poverty, I think. Then, I guess it was considered desperation. Now, it's considered wholesome and earth-friendly. "Choice" makes all the difference."
In the photo above, the Farmer's Market GCs are in the upper left, and the Ground Cherries Gone Wild which showed up in my yard, right-hand. The purchased ones are fresher, mine are old-looking because I had picked them and left them lay on the backyard table for a few weeks, trying to figure out what they were. The purchased Ground Cherries were much larger fruit than my volunteer wild ones, as is usually the case.
In fact, all of the items at the amazing booth at the Farmer's Market were BIG, and I should have asked what they used to make them so big. But I was afraid to. Maybe it was a commercial fertilizer, or maybe an Asian technique (night soil), or maybe it was a new/old technique that is not yet popular (yet): pee-cycling. Yep. If you are a healthy human, with clean wiping practices, you can pee directly on your compost pile, OR dilute it according to the kind of plant, and apply to the base area of YOUR VEGGIES.
As the excellent blog Northwest Edible Plants (4) notes, some of us may need to rethink our cultural programming about "pee and edible plants." As I said, the size of the vendor's wild edibles at the Farmer's Market gave me pause. I wondered just how they got so big. However. I am going to try pee-cycling next spring. I subscribe to the blog listed below, and the writer is a chef, with wonderfully researched info. There is plenty of other info out there on pee-cycling. It is one more, small, step towards Saving the Planet.
But about the Ground Cherries: they do taste like cherries, a bit. I think they taste a little like watered-down creamed corn, or caramel latte. They might taste good cooked with pork cutlets. My daughter thought tasty jelly. They are obviously well-packaged in those papery shells. And they are a curiously different, small, new inhabitant of my yard, which I will encourage, along with the dandelions, as a gift from the birds or the wind or the earth. They popped up in my completely organic yard of their own volition, after a decade of hiding out or being ignored. The undisturbed yard comes up with the darndest things, if I just pay attention.
1. Nightshade: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna. 10/27/14
2. Seed Savers Exchange, in Iowa, has an excellent website dedicated to preservation and distribution of seeds, and biodiversity. I want to visit their farm someday. They also have great books on all aspects of gardening, harvesting, storing foods. www.seedsavers.org/ 10/27/14. You might also be interested in Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle as a classic work on sustainable food.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes: I once had a backyard full of these pestiferous, 10-foot + tall plants with nutritiously edible roots, at the time I sent them to my dad. I moved away, and someone else has probably been working on containing them, or else has learned to harvest and cook them. I hope. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_artichoke 10/27/14
4. Northwest Edible Plants: THIS is a terrific website, I love the internet: http://www.nwedible.com/2013/03/how-to-use-pee-in-your-garden.html