Physalis angulata (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Physalis angulata L.

Protologue: Sp. pl. 1: 183 (1753).
Family: Solanaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 48


  • Physalis minima L. (1753).

Vernacular names

  • Gooseberry, hogweed, balloon cherry, angular winter cherry, cut-leaf ground cherry (En).
  • Coqueret, coqueret anguleux (Fr).
  • Alquequenje amarelo, balão rajado, joá de capote, camapú (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Physalis angulata is native to tropical America, and is now distributed pantropically as a weed. In tropical Africa it occurs in most countries.


The leaves are analgesic and used externally throughout tropical Africa to treat skin ailments such as itch, smallpox pustules, whitlow lesions, infected scarification wounds and rheumatic pain, and to relieve muscular stiffness and pain. The leaves are also applied to Guinea worm sores, killing the worms and easing extraction. In Côte d’Ivoire sleeping sickness is treated with a mixture of leaves of Physalis angulata and Anchomanes difformis (Blume) Engl. A lotion prepared from the leaves is applied to treat ophthalmia in children. Leaves are eaten or applied as an enema to cure stomach-ache, colic, lithiasis and anuria, and are added to palm wine to cure fever and to calm attacks of asthma, vomiting and diarrhoea.

In Central and South America Physalis angulata is also widely used as a medicinal plant. It is used to treat malaria, toothache, liver ailments including hepatitis, rheumatism, and is considered a diuretic and relaxant. Plant infusions are taken to treat gonorrhoea, indigestion, nephritis and fever.

In South-East Asia an infusion of the aerial parts, including the fruits, is taken to cure digestive and intestinal problems, and is externally applied to treat various skin problems such as sores, boils and cuts. In Papua New Guinea a leaf decoction is drunk to treat constipation. The sap of the leaves mixed in water is taken as an abortifacient, although the use of the leaves to treat sterility is also mentioned.

In tropical Africa the fruit is eaten as a snack, but eating too many fruits may cause dizziness. The leaves are eaten as a salad, although the taste is bitter. In larger quantities the plant is poisonous to cattle and sheep, and it gives the meat a musk-like smell.


The aerial parts of Physalis angulata contain several steroidal lactones belonging to the physaline and withanolide types: physalins A–I, physagulin A–G, withangulatin A and withanolide T. They further contain several vitasteroids, e.g. vamonolide. The pyrrolidine alkaloid phygrine (bis-hygrine) was isolated from the roots and aerial parts. The physalins B and F were found to inhibit the growth of several types of human leukaemia cells in vitro and physalin F showed cytotoxicity in vitro on 5 other human cancer cell lines. In addition, physalin F had an antitumour effect in mice in vivo. In vitro withangulatin A was found to be a topoisomerase II inhibitor and a cytotoxin. In tests on rats and mice, vitanolides (isolated from aerial parts) and hyperoside (quercetin-3-O-galactoside; from the leaves) were confirmed to have anti-inflammatory activity. Extracts of Physalis angulata have proven effectiveness against both human African sleeping sickness (Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense) and Chagas’ disease (Trypanosoma cruzi). They also have an inhibitory effect against several strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae and molluscicidal properties (Biomphalaria tenagophila).

Adulterations and substitutes

Some Solanum spp. are used in a similar way as Physalis angulata to cure digestive and intestinal problems, including stomach-ache and diarrhoea, and for various skin problems such as sores, boils and cuts. Several other Physalis spp. are also employed to treat fever, malaria, headache and rheumatism. Several other Solanaceae also contain steroidal lactones of the physaline and withanolide types, e.g. Withania and Nicandra.


Annual herb up to 100 cm tall, with procumbent or prostrate stem, glabrous or with a few short appressed hairs; stems sharply angled, hollow. Leaves arranged spirally, simple; stipules absent; petiole 2–11 cm long; blade ovate to lanceolate, 4–15 cm × 2.5–10 cm, base cuneate, apex obtuse, margin irregularly toothed or entire. Flowers axillary, solitary, erect or nodding, bisexual, regular, 5-merous; pedicel 6–12 mm long, elongated in fruit up to 22 mm; calyx campanulate, 5-lobed, 3–5 mm long, angled or ribbed, in fruit 2–4 cm long; corolla campanulate, 5–10 mm long, pale yellow with or without 5 dark spots; stamens inserted near the base of the corolla tube, filaments 1.5–5 mm long, anthers pale blue; ovary superior, 2-celled, style filiform, stigma head-shaped. Fruit a globose berry 10–16 mm in diameter, yellow, viscid, many-seeded, enclosed in the persistent, inflated bladdery calyx. Seeds kidney-shaped, 1.5–2 mm × 1–1.5 mm. Seedlings with epigeal germination.

Other botanical information

Physalis comprises about 90 species, all but one being native to tropical and temperate America. The species are variable and taxonomically confusing, and no comprehensive study of the genus exists. Physalis is closely related to Margaranthus and Nicandra. Physalis minima L. is a synonym of Physalis angulata, but in Africa the name Physalis minima has been misapplied to specimens of Physalis lagascae Roem. & Schult. and Physalis ixocarpa Brot. Physalis angulata is very similar to the American Physalis philadelphica Lam. of which a larger-fruited, cultivated type (‘Japanese gooseberry’ or ‘tomatillo’) and a smaller-fruited, wild type exist. Physalis philadelphica has been cultivated in southern Africa for its edible fruits and is locally naturalized.

Growth and development

When free of stress Physalis angulata can grow to 80–100 cm tall before flowering, but where growing under stress flowering may start when the plants are 25–30 cm tall. It is cross-pollinated. Plants raised from seed may start flowering after 6 weeks, and fruits are ripe 6 weeks later.


Physalis angulata grows best in moist, fertile soils, is tolerant of partial shade and occurs widely as a weed of crops and pastures, and in waste areas. It can be found up to 3000 m altitude. Light frost does not kill it. At high temperatures the plants do not develop well.

Propagation and planting

Physalis angulata can be easily propagated by seed. Shallow sowing and alternating temperatures, e.g. 10 hours at 21°C and 14 hours at 30°C, will give best germination results.


Although Physalis angulata is reported to be cultivated occasionally, both for its edible fruits and for medicinal use, optimal cultivation techniques are not documented.

Diseases and pests

Physalis angulata is sensitive to many fungal diseases and is a host of the causal agent of tomato bacterial spot Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria. Physalis angulata hosts viruses found in tobacco, potato, okra, capsicum pepper, beans and several other crops, as well as physalis mottle virus (PhyMV), and also several root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.)


In a field test in Indonesia, the maximum number of fruits per plant was about 130, and the number of seeds per fruit was 130 at most.

Handling after harvest

The fruits will keep for 3 months if stored in their calyx under dry conditions.

Genetic resources

Physalis angulata is widespread as a pantropical weed and is not liable to genetic erosion. Large collections of Physalis, including Physalis angulata, are kept in Mexico, Guatemala, Germany and the Netherlands.


The steroidal lactones of the physaline and withanolide types isolated from Physalis angulata show very interesting activities, e.g. in the field of tumour inhibition. More research on their toxicity toward non-malignant cells is, however, needed to fully evaluate their possibilities as lead compounds in cancer research. A taxonomic monograph of Physalis will contribute to botany and other areas of research that currently publish research results under wrong or doubtful names.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Families S–Z, Addenda. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 686 pp.
  • Chiang, H.C., Jaw, S.M., Chen, C.F. & Kan, W.S., 1992. Antitumor agent, physalin F from Physalis angulata L. Anticancer Research 12(3): 837–843.
  • Chiang, H.C., Jaw, S.M. & Chen, P.M., 1992. Inhibitory effects of physalin B and physalin F on various human leukemia cells in vitro. Anticancer Research 12(4): 1155–1162.
  • Damu, A.G., Kuo, P.-C., Su, C.-R., Kuo, T.-H., Chen, T.H., Bastow, K.F., Lee, K.H. & Wu, T.S., 2007. Isolation, structures, and structure-cytotoxic activity relationships of withanolides and physalins from Physalis angulata. Journal of Natural Products 70(7): 1146–1152.
  • Gonçalves, A.E., 2005. Solanaceae. In: Pope, G.V., Polhill, R.M. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 8, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 124 pp.
  • Jarvis, C., 2007. Order out of chaos: Linnean plant names and their types. Linnean Society of London, London, United Kingdom. 1016 pp.
  • Slamet Sutanti Budi Rahayu, 2001. Physalis L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 423–426.
  • Whitson, M. & Manos, P.S., 2005. Untangling Physalis (Solanaceae) from the Physaloids: a two-gene phylogeny of Physalinae. Systematic Botany 30: 216–230.

Other references

  • Abe, F., Nagafuji, S., Okawa, M. & Kinjo, J., 2006. Trypanocidal constituents in plants 6: minor withanolides from the aerial parts of Physalis angulata. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 54(8): 1226–1228.
  • Adjanohoun, E.J., Adjakidjè, V., Ahyi, M.R.A., Aké Assi, L., Akoègninou, A., d’Almeida, J., Apovo, F., Boukef, K., Chadare, M., Cusset, G., Dramane, K., Eyme, J., Gassita, J.N., Gbaguidi, N., Goudote, E., Guinko, S., Houngnon, P., Lo, I., Keita, A., Kiniffo, H.V., Kone-Bamba, D., Musampa Nseyya, A., Saadou, M., Sodogandji, T., De Souza, S., Tchabi, A., Zinsou Dossa, C. & Zohoun, T., 1989. Contribution aux études ethnobotaniques et floristiques en République Populaire du Bénin. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, Paris, France. 895 pp.
  • Akoègninou, A., van der Burg, W.J. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Editors), 2006. Flore analytique du Bénin. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. 1034 pp.
  • D’Arcy, W.G. & Rakotozafy, A., 1994. Solanaceae. Flore de Madagascar et des Comores (plantes vasculaires), famille 176. Imprimerie Officielle, Tananarive, Madagascar. 146 pp.
  • dos Santos, J.A.A., Tomassini, T.C.B, Xavier, D.C.D., Ribeiro, I.M., da Silva, M.T.G. & de Morais Filho, Z.B., 2003. Molluscicidal activity of Physalis angulata L. extracts and fractions on Biomphalaria tenagophila (d’Orbigny, 1835) under laboratory conditions. Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz 98(3): 425–428.
  • Edeoga, H.O., Okwu, D.E. & Mbaebie, B.O., 2005. Phytochemical constituents of some Nigerian medicinal plants. African Journal of Biotechnology 4(7): 685–688.
  • Elkhalifa, K.F., Ibrahim, M. & Elghazali, G., 2006. A survey of medicinal uses of Gash Delta vegetation, Eastern Sudan. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences 13(1): 1–6.
  • Freiburghaus, F., Kaminsky, R., Nkunya, M.H.H. & Brun, R., 1996. Evaluation of African medicinal plants for their in vitro trypanocidal activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 55: 1–11.
  • Geissler, P.W., Harris, S.A., Prince, R.J., Olsen, A., Achieng’ Odhiambo, R., Oketch-Rabah, H., Madiega, P.A., Andersen, A. & Mølgaard, P., 2002. Medicinal plants used by Luo mothers and children in Bondo district, Kenya. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 83: 39–54.
  • Heine, B. & Heine, I., 1988. Plant concepts and plant use; an ethnobotanical survey of the semi-arid and arid lands of East Africa. Part 1. Plants of the Chamus (Kenya). Cologne Development Studies 6. Breitenbach, Saarbrücken, Germany. 103 pp.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • QingPing, H., Lei, M., JieYing, L., FuYuan, H., LiGuang, L. & LiHong, H., 2007. Cytotoxic withanolides from Physalis angulata L. Chemistry and Biodiversity 4(3): 443–449.
  • Raju, V.S., Reddy, C.S. & Rajarao, K.G., 2007. The myth of ‘minima’ and ‘maxima’, the species of Physalis in the Indian subcontinent. Acta Phytotaxonomica Sinica 45(2): 239–245.

Sources of illustration

  • Slamet Sutanti Budi Rahayu, 2001. Physalis L. In: van Valkenburg, J.L.C.H. & Bunyapraphatsara, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 12(2): Medicinal and poisonous plants 2. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 423–426.


  • F.S. Mairura, Kenya Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute of CIAT, P.O. Box 30677, Nairobi, Kenya

Correct citation of this article

Mairura, F.S., 2008. Physalis angulata L. In: Schmelzer, G.H. & Gurib-Fakim, A. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 31 January 2023.