Tomatillos and Ground Cherries


Physalis ixocarpa and Physalis philadelphica

The Mexican Tomatillo is an interesting plant to grow because of it's useful fruit and, in many cases, attractive plant habit. Some may say the plant is weedy, but I like it's style. It branches and rambles, not a bush and not a vine. I've seen it thread through the open branches of a tree until it towers above my head, but I know it also, to spill over the earth as a low mound of green. I like the Chinese lantern -like green calyxes, like little balloons, which are often borne in great abundance.

Mexican Tomatillo

Mexican Tomatillo

This year, besides the common green tomatillo that we use in salsa, we grew a wild "landrace" which is sometimes used by natives of the southwest U.S., turned out to be very drought tolerant and produced a profusion of tiny, dark green fruits which had a pronounced tomatillo flavor. Our favorite though, was a medium sized yellowish tomatillo which is mild and sweet. The flavor is really outstanding.

We've grown different kinds of tomatillos since the 1980's and have always enjoy fresh salsas made from them.  I've made quite a few gringo converts who now use the wonderful tomatillo in their cooking,  Not only are many gardeners north of the boarder unaware of the beauty and use of tomatillos (husk tomatoes), most know only the large kind that show up in supermarkets on occasion. 

There is quite a bit of diversity in this species including unexpected flavors and sweetness in some kinds.  Fruit can be dark green to pale green, purple and yellow.  When the mature fruit fills it's balloon-like calyx it will drop, then it's at it's peak.

Ground Cherry

(Physalis sp.)

Our strain of Ground Cherry has reseeded here at Flanders Bay Farm for years from an original planting of ground cherries from a half dozen or so sources and it may have crossed with our wild ground cherry. I think that our's is naturalized from Europe (by way of South America originally) although we have some native North American species as well. One of our farmstand customers from Eastern Europe says this is the one she remembers grew wild there and that they used for preserves, jams and pies.  It's probably similar to a common cultivar:  Goldie which you should compare to.

The plants are large and sprawling, up to 2 feet high and 3 feet wide. Because it takes them awhile for the seeds to sprout in the summer, they tend to be fall bearers. The fruit, when ripe (calyx turns brown and the fruit becomes orange) falls to the ground and they can be scooped up in quantities enough to make a pie or two. I don't know how to explain the flavor, maybe pineapple like, most of the plants bear very sweet fruit which is nice to snack on but there is some variation in fruit quality.

Wolfberry (Goji Berry)

A Winter Hardy Solanaceae

John Farina whose e-mail name is "plant-guy" sent me a brief note a few years ago about wolfberry (Lycium chinensis or L. barbarum) growing in his neighborhood in the Bronx.  The planting had been managed as a chest high hedge at one time but in recent years had been cut to the ground each year.  On occasion, the annual regrowth would produce berries.  "Could I send you some seeds?", he wrote, "I think they could be developed into a serious nutriceutical crop by someone with time and space."   While I don't really have much time or space these days, I didn't want to miss an opportunity to work with a crop that was absolutely new to me.  John sent me some links to investigate. 

Wolfberries better known today as Goji Berries

Wolfberries better known today as Goji Berries

I don't know why this plant escaped my notice (with all the publicity on the internet) since I'm always looking for interesting, useful plants to grow and learn about!   Wolfberry is a woody perennial plant that is grown in Asia for the orange berries that are usually dried to a raison like stage and then rehydrated for the nutty flavor and interesting texture that it gives to many kinds of chinese rice and stir-fry dishes.  It is also used as a tea and is considered to be an important chinese medicinal.  The leaves of the wolfberry are also used in the preparation of a soup in some regions in Asia. 

Here, in the US and elsewhere, the dried orange "raisins" are appearing in health food markets in small packages as a snacking food.  The berries are creating quite a sensation as a "miracle" food.  It's interesting that good quality dried "wolfberry" fruit commands a very high price in the market but hasn't attracted more interest in the agriculture community even though it does thrive in our climate!  It certainly seems to warrant more investigation and perhaps selection for various properties (culinary uses, nutrition and cultural practices).

John started to investigate the Goji too.  Having more access to the New York City markets especially in Chinatown, he noticed variations in the size and flavor of berries.  In Chinatown markets where the dried Goji berry has been imported and sold as a culinary and medicinal since the beginning, there are many brands imported from China which may represent regional sources of fruit and perhaps greater genetic diversity.  During the summer of 2008 John kindly sent me seeds and berries from his new "finds".

Goji Plants

Goji Plants

Goji Plant

Goji Plant

What a treasure!  By midsummer John had collected an impressive assortment of berries from New York City plantings that he identified as well as health food store and Chinese markets.  A modern day plant hunter, he discovered large tender stems of new growth marketed in a Asian produce market and sold in bunches which were considerably different in the appearance of the stems of plants grown for their fruit to dry.  I decided to share the seeds and cuttings that he sent to me with the Botanical Center over at the Eastern Campus of Suffolk Community College where the staff could monitor their progress over the summer.

Rooting the tender, new summer growth is very easy.  After a few days in water there will be masses of roots.  From their tiny seed, they grow a lot like most other solanaceae (peppers, tomatoes, tomatillo).  Germination is quick although the seedlings were slow growing in the greenhouse during the heat of the summer. 

John Farina reported that one of his rooted cuttings had produced a flower by September but it was one that received only an hour or two of direct sun.  The plants at the Botanical Center, from seed and cuttings showed no signs of blooming but had all become very twiggy by the first frost.  The staff at the Center noted considerable differences between the various seeds and plans that John contributed to the project and will continue to monitor the plants hopefully through fruit harvest which should be next summer to identify characteristics that may lead to local commercial production of this interesting, economically important berry.

Three cheers for John Farina! As an update, there are a number of farmers across the US now working with John's diverse seed in order to select out a more perfect breeding line for cultivation in the US. It will be interesting to see what becomes of the Goji project. Here at Flanders Bay Farm, we have a diverse collection of plants from John's seed. The seed germinate readily given the same kind of care as tomato seed but then the seedlings make very slow growth. The first year for the seedlings seems to always be tenuous for some reason. We moved them twice before; toward the end of the second year, we found a spot in the front garden under the kiwi trellis where they have sent out long arching branches up to a meter in length. No flowers or fruit; but for the first time in two years the plants are finally thriving.


Please note...

There was quite a bit of interest among our members and many requests for seed. In June, 2010; we ran out of seeds of the Goji Berries that John Farina collected on his travels. We managed to supply about 40 gardeners/farmers each with 100 or so mixed seeds from his diverse collection until they ran out. If you have access to dried berries, the seeds can be removed by soaking the berries in a deep bowl of warm water, mashing them and then separating the clean seed which settles to the bottom as you gently pour the pulpy water off. You will find that their germination is very good. The second part of our work with Goji begins as the initial plants raised from John's seed collection begin to fruit. We will be selecting specific plants with unique traits to evaluate and we hope that others growing these plants from seed will do the same. We assume that we will have several clones available with worthwhile characteristics in another year or two. At that point we should be able to provide rooted cuttings (goji stems root quite easily) if our plants continue to do well.

As an update, John read the above and sent another box of dried berries from many sources; some different than the ones he sent prior and as a result we are growing another batch of the finicky seedlings. Also, the plants from the initial seeds and cuttings that John sent are beginning to produce fruit here in Flanders, NY. There is really an amazing amount of diversity you can see in the plants so this project could yield some interesting genetics for farmers planning to grow this crop outside of China. It is indeed an interesting project and we will keep you informed.

The Unicorn Plant


Martynia (Unicorn Plant) was distributed to gardeners across the country by the Connecticut based Murvon Seed Company from the 1930's to the 1960's.  They sold a fine domesticated kind that had seed pods only about 3" long, the catalog showed it's use as a dried novelty and called it a "bird plant" because the dried stem of the pod pointed down like a beak and the claws pointed up like tail feathers.  TheMartynia plant grew large even in New York and produced attractive tubular spotted lavender and pink flowers.  The large leaves were covered with sticky hairs and, as I recall, the plant spread over a couple of square feet.  It seemed very much adapted to our cooler garden which is quite different from the varieties that can be obtained today which do best at high temperatures and full sunlight.

Native Seed Search (Tuscon, Arizona) is the source for seed of the Unicorn Plant today, perhaps the only source.  They provide seeds of a number of varieties (all white seeded) that have been domesticated by the Indians of the southwest U.S.  The Unicorn plant is native to the desert southwest and American Indians use the plant for a number of purposes.  The dried black pods can be split into strips which provide the decorative black in woven baskets.  The seeds can be eaten as a protein rich food and the young pods can be eaten raw, boiled or pickled.

I've munched on the dry seed on occasion but can't recommend them for snacking.  The young pods are interesting as a vegetable.  Both raw and lightly steamed they have a nice consistency.  Some people have described the young, tender pods as tasting a lot like okra.  I can see the similarity.  Without further preparation, the bitterness may not appeal to many people though.   I haven't tried pickling the pods yet nor breading and frying them.

When the pods mature and dry the fruit outer covering falls off revealing one tough capsule which readily splits open giving rise to two slightly coiling prongs.  The prongs are adapted to snaring the foot of a desert animal, hitching a ride as seeds scatter out the open end.  Seed pods lying around in the garden will do the same to unwary humans and the tips of the prongs are sharp enough to break the skin at your ankle.  No wonder the ranchers of the southwest worry about the wounds that their livestock can sustain from what they usually call, "Devil's Claw".  Introduced into tropical ecosystems this plant has become, in some regions, invasive.   It should not be planted unless the spread of seed can be controlled. The Unicorn Plant is not the same plant as the "Devil's Claw" native to Africa and used as a medicinal herb.


Seed of the Unicorn require plenty of warmth and moisture to germinate.  The plants resist drought once they are established but prefer the same kind of attention you would give to a tomato plant.  We start them early indoors in a peat or compost mix and then set them outside when it becomes warm in late May. 


Spilanthes is sometimes described as a medicinal plant used by Australian Aborigines where it was introduced, but it is probably used by other groups in the southern hemisphere. Native to the tropics, in the U.S., it is sometimes sold in seed catalogs as the "Eye-Ball Plant" (see photo below).  Studies have shown it to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties and may be especially useful at early phases of certain kinds of infection and as a malaria prophylactic.  It stimulates the flow of saliva, tones the gums and acts as an oral antiseptic reducing swelling, decay, and mouth sores caused by viruses. It has whole body immune-enhancing components chemically similar to those in Echinancea species and is now the subject of botanical investigation as a possible treatment against blood parasites such as those that cause Lymes disease.

Shredded and added to a mixed salad, it provides an interesting sensory experience.  "It's like a trip for your tongue" says Eva, who runs the greenhouse operation at a local community college.  When you chew up the leaves it is almost like there is some kind of effervescence. Of course there isn't any, but it seems like.  The tingling sensation lasts a few minutes and is more profound by using the flowers and leaves.

"You looking at me?" Spilanthes is also sometimes called Eye Ball Plant.

"You looking at me?" Spilanthes is also sometimes called Eye Ball Plant.

In the tropics of Brazil, this plant is a perennial but on Long Island it is treated as a tender annual.   The seeds are easily germinated in ordinary soil indoors and then transferred into the garden as pepper plants are.  Given ample water and fertile compost-rich soil, Spilantes will rapidly spread producing continuous leaves and flowers through the summer and fall.  The dry older flowers crumbled, release tiny seeds among the chaff (similar to lettuce) and can be stored for planting the next year.  Under good conditions older stems will form adventitious roots where they contact moist soil.  Cuttings with a few of these roots can be potted up and wintered over in a sunny window.

Breadseed Poppy

I grow breadseed poppys for their beauty and their history as do several thousand other gardeners in Europe and the U.S.  They really are quite lovely early in the summer, especially as a mass planting of the untampered single varieties with variable white to pink to lavender blossoms.  The singles I grow have been sent to me over the years with notes such as, "my great grandma brought these seeds over from Poland in the early 1900's".  There are beautiful doubles, scarlet reds and so many other varieties of the breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum but it is the heirloom ones I most enjoy growing. Yes the species, somniferum is quite the opposite of insomnia.  It is the sleep-inducing opium poppy. 

Poppy Flowers

Poppy Flowers

I presume that Grandma from Poland was using the seeds in baking.  My friends who raise the breadseed poppy in larger plantings than I do collect the seeds for use in baking as an alternative to buying the mostly irradiated seed that you see on sale in the supermarket (irradiated seed will not germinate and some folks just don't like consuming irradiated food).   While ingesting a lemon poppyseed muffin is not going to result in a narcotic "high", the heaping spoon of seeds in it can cause one to test positive for opiates on a drug test. 
Papaver Somniferum, is a hardy annual that grows especially well when sown thinly in the early spring in full sun and then flowers a few weeks later when the days are long in June.  The fragile flowers don't last long but it's pods are often dried and used in flower arrangements.  One of the nice characteristics of the Breadseed Poppy is that the capsule dries sealed therefore preserving the seeds inside instead of opening and shattering the seeds before they can be harvested.

Seed Capsule

Seed Capsule

Poppy Seeds

Poppy Seeds


A New Crop for North America

One of the things that we enjoy at Flanders Bay Farm is growing plants that aren't familiar to farmers here on the East End of Long Island or plants that are not usually grown here.  It is important to keep your eyes open to the potential of a new crop.  So, we do a fair amount of evaluation of material looking for that special unknown. 

Anchocha, also known as Caygua (Cyclanther pedata) is a native of the Peru uplands.  It is not frost hardy but is tolerant of cool fall weather when it produces the greatest quantities of edible fruit.  The seeds can be started indoors like tomatoes or peppers to get a head start on the growing season.  Even then, Anchocha takes a long time to produce; probably 120 days or so.  Zone 7 might be the northern limit for this interesting vining member of the squash family.  We have worked for the last two years with Anchocha and here in Flanders it will begin to bear fruit in late August and continue until the vines are cut down by frost.  Each vine can bear dozens of fruit. Anchocha is a cucurbit.  The vines have highly cut leaves and clusters of tiny flowers that don't look much like squash nor even cucumbers which the anchocha are sometimes compared to. 

When the fruits are 2-3" they are tender and tasty and besides cucumbers, have been compared to green beans, green peppers and even artichokes.  The vines use their tendrils to climb netting, fences, trees but seem to produce best where they ramble horizontally.  The greatest obstacle to their acceptance is not knowing what to do with the bizarre green fruits with soft spines. 

In extensive testing at FBF, the young fruits are fine raw chopped up into salads like green peppers or used with a dip as may raw veggies are.  They are outstanding dipped in a tempura batter and deep fried.  When the fruit grows large (4 - 7 inches) and chewy,  remove the few black seeds (dry them for next seasons seed crop) and stuff the hollow fruit with ground meat and rice or with a cornmeal mesa, cheese and hot peppers; perhaps chunks of cooked chicken or pork and steam like tamales or simmer in a tomato sauce like stuffed peppers or even bake in a wood fired oven.  Think of the Anchocha as an edible bowl that will become soft like a cooked pepper.  You may want to use the vines to tie the fruit closed after stuffing it.  My favorite preparation is to steam the large fruits after removing the seed and then dip it into egg and breadcrumbs to panfry the fruit like breaded eggplant.  One can take this a step further and make a parmesian.  They are probably most like artichoke in flavor prepared like this.  Some people also enjoy the tender shoots lightly stemed as greens.

Anchoca has caused some interest in medical research for phytochemicals that are produced nowhere else.  Investgations on it's healthful properties such as in lowering triglycerides are ongoing.  The ancient Mocha culture of Peru held the anchocha in high regard.  Pottery is often found decorated with large stylized ceramic anchocha fruit.

Obscure Solanaceae

Garden Huckleberry

The Garden Huckleberry (Solanum nigrum var. melanocerasum) is probably not what one would necessarily add when making up their seed lists for the garden.  Often it may come with your seed order as a free gift along with Vine Peach (Cucumis melo) or some other oddity thatwould normally sit on the shelf of a seed retailer for almost ever.  My interest goes back to the late 1950's when; as youngster, I received a packet of the Garden Huckleberry from Murvon Seed Company, a small Connecticut Seed Company that apparently was in business since the 1930's and specialized in selling some very unique seed varieties to home garden hobbyists.  Murvon introduced me to the Yard Long Bean (Vigna sesquipedalis), Shoo-Fly Plant (Nicandra physalodes), The Unicorn Plant ( Proboseidea sp.) and many other oddities that helped to catalyze my curiosity in plants.  Garden Huckleberry remains a fascination to me; now, 50 years later.

Garden Huckleberry is not even closely related to the woody shrub that we use the berries of in pies and cobblers.  True Huckleberries and Blueberries are in the heath family.  Garden Huckleberry is an herbaceous plant closely allied to the poisonous balladonna, a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae.  Garden huckleberry has been variously described as S. nigrum var. guineense; S. scabrum, also S. melanocerasum (now considered S. nigrum melanocerasum) and is often considered to be an edible form of the common weed plant, black nightshade, in fact, most researchers now consider it to be a variation of Solanum nigrum, common black nightshade. 

The selection of black nightshade sold as garden huckleberry is a branching annual to 2 feet tall with upright growth, oval leaves with wavy margins, sometimes variably toothed. The tiny white flowers, borne in clusters resemble very small tomato flowers which are in the same family. The berry is green when immature, purplish-black when ripe.  The plant contains toxic glycoalkaloids which can result is gastrointestinal irritation and/or effects on the central nervous system which could be significant.  There are some herbal sites that allude to medicinal qualities of this plant.  There are also many references of people eating the ripe black berries without adverse effect and, in fact;  there are regions in the country where jams and pies have been made from the berries of this nightshade for generations.  Black Nightshade and Garden Huckleberry do indeed appear to be identical species but there is considerable variation in the species S. nigrum and selection over a significant period of time may have resulted in a plant with fruit of better quality and less toxicity.  We secured seeds of Garden Huckleberry from two sources and grew plants of identical phenotype (photo below).

The preparation of the fruit of the Garden Huckleberry is simple.  Harvest the berries when they are completely ripe (turn black and from shiny to dull).  Some sources say that they may be eaten in moderation when ripe and uncooked but they are considered to be tasteless, some describe a bitterness or an irritating metallic aftertaste.  I would have to agree that the flavor is not "choice".  When used for jam or pies, they are often heated in a saucepan with a pinch of baking soda added to some water which removes the bitterness.  They can then be drained and sugar is added to the mix when hot but after the boiling process to prevent the toughening of fruit.  Often, a squeeze of lemon helps kick up the flavor.  I have heard that harvesting after frost helps to improve the flavor.  I remember as a kid, that the dull fruit really stood out on the plant after frost and the berries looked a lot like blueberries to me.  I don't remember eating them though.  Another thing I remember is that the seed I received from Murvon Seed Company was stained light blue right out of the packet.  The seeds I planted in 2007 looked like very small light tan pepper seeds and didn't have the blue stain.  Is this the same plant I grew back in the 1950's?

Garden huckleberry is also known as quonderberry, wonderberry, sunberry, moralle, morella, petty morel, solanberry, black berried nightshade, and houndsberry say my notes but now I'm not so sure.  This is one controversial plant.

Now, in August,  the Garden Huckleberry has become a much branching plant with a spread of nearly a meter.  Each plant produces large numbers of glossy berries (they do not seem to become dull as they mature as I have read), certainly enough to make a pie, if that is what you want.  I've been snacking on these berries (raw) for several weeks (in the interest of science) and I finally decided to have a small bowlful the other day.  I can now tell you that in spite of good digestion, I thought I would be ill.  I can't help but feel uneasy about eating these rather tasteless, maybe even distasteful to many folks, seedy berries.  Even with sugar, there is nothing positive that I can say about the flavor of the Garden Huckleberry.  Solanum nigrum is after all black nightshade.  On Long Island we can still harvest REAL huckleberries and blueberries (highbush and lowbush) in the woods and although it seems to take a lot longer to fill those containers with fresh berries from the woods, I opt for those over this weedy garden plant any day.  E-mail me your recipes, convince me that I'm wrong about this plant!



The Sunberry created quite a controversy and for decades Luther Burbank found himself having to defend his development.  Burbank considered his Sunberry (sold by some seed companies as the Wonderberry) an interspecies hybrid (Solanum burbankii);  others now, over 75 years after the plant breeders death, still consider it to be nothing more than Black Nightshade or a variation of S. nigrum.  But is it?  I was able to obtain what was labeled as the Sunberry and also Mrs. B's (which is considered to be the same as the Sunberry) from two different sources.  They turned out to produce the same phenotype. I don't really know if the Sunberry/Mrs. B'sI'm growing is the one, in fact, developed by Burbank.  Over the years, Burbank's Sunberry fell out of favor.  Garden Huckleberry, a popular name, may have been used by seed vendors to describe the Sunberry and vice versa.  Unfortunately, that kind of mislabeling in the seed industry is not uncommon.  It's not clear to me that we see the Sunberry (as available today) in it's original form.  There may have even been some unintentional crossing with other Solanum species.

So for the record, Garden Huckleberry available through commercial sources today is not the same as the solanacea marketed today as Sunberrry.  The two are quite different.  Different cultivars...yes. Different species?  I'm not sure.  The flower structure of both and the flower petals (white) seem identical in both.  The flea beetles really prefer the Sunberry to the Garden Huckleberry possibly due to less toxic alkaloids in the Sunberry but there are other notable differences.   The berries of the Sunberry are dull green when immatureand hang in small umbel-like clusters, the distinctively low spreading plant has wavy edged leaves that are also moderately toothed unlike my Garden Huckleberry plants which have fruit that are glossy green when immature and are borne more upright in umbel-like clusters.   The Garden Huckleberry plant is also more vertical in growthand the leaves are entire. It really does looks a lot like a weedy black nightshade.  I would have to say that the Sunberry produces more fruit but smaller fruit mostly hidden below the foliage.  I find the flavor of uncooked berries interesting, bland, but not bitter like the Garden Huckleberry.   I've heard from people I trust on this that the Sunberry produces supurb desserts with enough added sugar.    We'll see.  I don't plan to do any cooking with the berries until fall, maybe after frost.

After wondering why Luther Burbank ever bothered with developing the Sunberry which is considered to be Garden Huckleberry by some, I understand the motivation.  Burbank was raised on a small farm in Massachusetts and was part of a large family.  He undoubtedly ate his share of blueberry pie made from foraged berries in season.  I can tell you from personal experience, blueberry season is a cherished childhood memory if you live in a location where blueberries grow wild.  Moving to the desert-like Santa Rosa, California might have left him longing for a substitute.  Did he find it.  I think so.  The Mexican Chichiquelite (Miltomate Vallisto) is another variation of black nightshade but it is slightly sweet and juicy.  I've been eating more than a few of these bright glossy berries raw with sugar and without.  They are tiny, smaller than Garden Huckleberry but what a difference in flavor.  They are not blueberries nor huckleberries but they're not terrible like Garden Huckleberry.  Working with this naturalized plant (originally from Africa) and other black nightshades, I believe that he was able to develop hybrids that produced very pleasant fruit.

Chichiquelite aka Miltomate Vallisto

I believe that the Chichiquelite could (even without breeding effort) cook up into something very nice and something Burbank wouldn't mind attaching his name to.  The Sunberry which I am also studying in the garden and which is believed to be the hybrid that Burbank developed,  has a very similar taste to the Chichiquelite.  The berries are also small but dull.  The low growing Sunberry hides it's berries well under the foliage and are a bit more difficult to harvest.  Both the Sunberry and Chichiquelite are very rich in anthocyanin (the purple pignment in the berries) and may have useful antioxidant properties (my hunch is that they exceed the content in blueberries).  I believe that the Garden Huckleberry that I grew from Murvon Seeds in the 1950's was actually Burbank's Sunberry and not the weedy Garden Huckleberry with the distasteful berries.  But it is not the the Sunberry that is marketed today and is also not the Chichiquelite I am growing.  Murvon's Sunberry was different.  It had very large clusters of dull blue to black berries intermediate in size borne on small upright plants.  How readily does the Chichiquelite, the Sunberry variation I am growing and Garden Huckleberry cross?  They may indeed be just three of the variations of an extremely diverse species with a large gene pool.  Burbank's greatest ability was in his eye for selection.  Could it be that his selection has crossed over the decades with others losing it's unique character?  Perhaps next year I will be able to shed more light on all of this.

We found that both the Chichiquelite and Miltomate Vallisto from two different seed sources produced plants of the same phenotype.  They seem to be the same by all accounts.  The plants resemble the Sunberry, wavy leaves, hang down fruit but the berries start out glossy similar to Garden Huckleberry not dull like the Sunberry.  Also the tiny flowers, although identical to both Sunberry and Garden Huckleberry in form have a lavender tint instead of the pure white corolla. The plant growth is more like the Garden Huckleberry.
My initial observations is that Chichiquelite have small pleasant flavored fruits with some fruitiness and an odd complexity.  Oddly, this solanum is the least known of the Garden Huckleberries in North America (Solanum nigrum var. guineense - L.) from western Africa but introduced to Mexico.  This is presumed to be one of the parents of Luther Burbank's Sunberry and I can see the similarity to the Sunberry I have growing in the same patch of my garden.  It may prove to be the best culinary variety of the three "Huckleberrys" I am evaluating this summer.  In the tropics of Africa and Central America the leaves are used as a potherb and is similar to cooked spinach, always cooked, never eaten raw.  The toxic alkaloids are destroyed in the process of cooking.  Like all of these Solanum species, the unripe fruit, uncooked leaves and stems are considered potentially toxic and should never be consumed.  Again, there may be some selections that have lower toxicity than others and selections developed for better "cooked greens" or berries.  The berries of the Chichiquelite have been used for pies, cobblers, sweet preserves and even wines.   The ripe berries, uncooked are certainly palatable.


Jaltomata procumbens

This is a very different Solanacea than the above three and indeed belongs in a separate genus.  Sometimes called Creeping False Holly it is native to the American Southwest and the ripe fruit has been used economically in parts of Mexico fresh, dried, in jams or preserves.  While evaluating the "Huckleberrys" I couldn't resist growing this close relative.  The fruit on my plants haven't yet ripened (late June) so I can't vouch for the flavor which has been described to me as part tomato, part grape.  Hmm.  Ican't even imagine that but some see it as a potential new fruit.

The plant is much branched and bright yellow-green, leaves are toothed a bit like the American Holly.  The flower is much larger than the Garden Huckleberry and is yellow mottled with green.  The single fruit is attached to a persistant fused calyx as you can see in the above image.  The fruit is harvested when it turns purple-black.  A bit later than the other Solanaceae "Huckleberry Wannabe's",  Jaltomata was producing well by the hot days in late summer.  The fruit drops easily from their green calyx when ripe.  You might recall that this berry is being viewed by some as a potential new crop.  The flavor of grape and tomato, now I don't think so.     

While not as objectionable as the Garden Huckleberry, the raw fruit of Jaltomata is most like one of the worse winter supermarket tomatoes you have ever eaten.  Those that lack any flavor.  No sweetness, no tartness.  Cardboard-like.  On top of that, there is the annoying grittiness of the multitude of tiny seeds inside each fruit.  The berries are about the same size as Garden Huckleberry.


Malvaceae: Okra  (Abelmoschus esculentus)

What can I say about okra?  Born on Long Island in New York, I wasn't very familiar with the plant but I did try to raise it as a curiosity over the years.  Mostly, with limited success.  This past summer I planted a mix of maybe 12 varieties including old standards, exotic Asian kinds, heirlooms and a few of the new F1 hybrid cultivars thinking that maybe one of these would excel and produce for me.  We had a summer of record setting high temperatures here on Long Island, our summer just went on and on.  You may call it global warming;  I call 2007, my summer of okra.

Okra seed and dried pods

Okra seed and dried pods

Okra hails from tropical Africa and it doesn't take kindly to cold soil.  Germination can be sporadic in cold soils.  One of the right things that I did this season is hold off planting the seed until June.  By that time I had my drip system going (using inexpensive t-tape) and the seeds sprouted well with enough moisture.  The plants grew and grew to about was it high and looking a lot like a hedge before they were finally cut down by frost.  I like okra.  It has an exotic look with the big leaves and pretty mallow flowers.  The pods mature fast and one has to pay close attention to harvesting the pods within a few days of flowering in order to enjoy eating the pods when tender.  Indeed, gumbo type soups and stews were a nice way of consuming the fruits that just kept on coming.  The okra fruit fiber, both soluble and rough is considered to be of great benefit in cholesterol control and intestinal health.  When the pods mature fully and turn brown they are ready for harvest.  They make a very nice dried arrangement and when thoroughly dry, the capsules easily are shredded open by hand and the seeds fall out.

Okra flower

Okra flower

Okra pods

Okra pods

Okra crosses with bee activity and I am counting on that.  I am anxious to see what new mother nature'shybrids have been produced.  I know that this okra patch is well on the road to greatness or at least on the road to producing my own garden adapted okras.  If you are saving a treasured variety and want to maintain purity then make sure to plant the one kind of okra or bag the self-pollinated blossom before it opens and exclude insects until the bloom is finished.