Perennial herb growing to 32 in (80 cm). Has oval- to diamond-shaped leaves, long-stemmed white flowers, and a translucent papery sheath surrounding an orange-red fruit.
Habitat & Cultivation
Winter cherry is native to central and southern Europe and China. It grows wild along damp roadsides. It is widely cultivated in warm temperate and subtropical regions, including North and South America and South Africa. The fruit is gathered once it has ripened in summer.
Winter cherry contains flavonoids, plant sterols, and vitamins A (carotene) and C. The roots contain tropane-type alkaloids, physalin A and B. Water extracts of the plant may have an anti-estrogenic effect.
History & Folklore
The Greek physician Dioscorides (1st century CE) considered winter cherry to be medicinally beneficial as a diuretic and a treatment for jaundice. In Spain, a therapeutic wine made with the fruit was taken to treat excess fluid retention and problems of the urinary tract.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Though commonly eaten as a fruit, winter cherry is also a useful diuretic. The fruit is traditionally used within European herbal medicine to treat kidney and bladder stones, fluid retention, and gout. It has also been taken to reduce fever.
The foliage and unripe fruit are harmful if eaten.