Had a single hour to get out yesterday, so headed to the deserted soccer fields to see what I could see.
Seems there’s always something new as the vegetation dies away.
I’ve walked past where this ground cherry — and there is a lot of it — is growing a dozen times but never saw it before, in the tangle of brambles and grasses. Now, it was nicely evident.
Probably the most common ground-cherry in the northeast is Physalis heterophylla (clammy ground-cherry). I usually encounter this plant in old fields—the kind that are no longer intensively managed and are slowly reverting to a forest. This includes upland fields and those along river flood plains. …In mid-September through early October, clammy ground-cherry produces a yellow berry (green when immature) that is hidden inside of the bladder-like sepals. The sepals, which are green and sit just underneath the yellow petals during flowering, continue to grow as the fruit develops until they enclose the fruit (a feature called accrescent sepals). The berry has a tacky feel to it (i.e., the exterior feels a little bit sticky). When consumed, you will know that you are in the presence of divinity (if you can’t tell, I really like this fruit). It is sweet, but not too sweet, and perhaps with a slight resin flavor (it is very hard to describe).
Why bother seek this plant out? Well, as the companies who market a South American species refer to it, it is a super food. It is a high source of pro-vitamin A, meaning it is rich in carotenoids. Ground-cherries are also good sources of some B-complex vitamins and some minerals (e.g., iron, phosphorous, potassium). These fruits present an abundance of flavonoids (water-soluble plant compounds), which make them a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Member of this genus contain withanolides, compounds that inhibit cancerous tumors from producing blood vessels (thereby limiting their growth). Compounds in these fruits have also been shown to have benefit in treating lung cancer by up-regulating programmed cell death, a natural feature of normal cells (called apoptosis) that cancer cells turn off so they can grow without restriction. Research also suggests that this fruit protects the liver from certain forms of toxicity and can assist with diabetes and hypertension. Further, as a wild fruit that has not been converted (through breeding) into a seedless mass of sweet pulp, ground-cherries also provide fiber that benefits colon health.
And then an endless procession of common evening primrose. Once you see these guys in winter you can never mistake them for anything else.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) opens its four-petaled blossoms after sunset or on dark cloudy or rainy days. It is worth the time to visit an evening primrose plant at dusk and watch as the cream to bright yellow petals unfold like a slow-motion film. The show starts in June and continues through October.
Evening Primrose: The Plant
Evening primrose belongs to the Onagraceae (evening primrose family), whose members also include fireweed and fuchsia. Its many common names allude either to its resemblance to other plants or to its historical reputation as an herbal panacea: scabish, king’s cure-all, night willow herb, and German rampion. A biennial with a sturdy taproot, evening primrose grows to about 8 feet tall and flowers in its second season. You might find this North American native in your backyard or in fields, along roadsides, or in waste areas throughout much of eastern North America, where it is naturalized. It is a weed in Europe, where it has escaped from cultivation.
Historical Uses For Evening Primrose
All parts of evening primrose are edible. Native Americans in Utah and Nevada ate the seeds. The young leaves can be used raw in salads or as a potherb. They are usually cooked in several changes of water to get rid of their bitterness. English settlers in America took the seeds back to the British Isles as early as 1614, and in the decades following, evening primrose was grown in both English and German gardens for its nut-flavored roots, which were boiled like parsnips. The plant returned to North America in the mid-nineteenth century as a vegetable called German rampion for its similarity to rampion (Campanula rapunculus), a bellflower with edible roots and basal leaves. The seeds have also been used as a substitute for poppy seeds, which they resemble.
Native Americans also used evening primrose for a variety of medicinal purposes. The Ojibwa poulticed the whole plant on bruises. The Cherokee drank a tea made from the root to take off weight. The Forest Potawatomi considered the seeds a valuable medicine, but records documenting its use have been lost. European settlers began using the plant as medicine in the eighteenth century.