The Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi) is a showy perennial desirable for its ornamental value and herbal uses. It is often used for medicinal purposes, according to online magazineThe Herb Companion, and the orange-colored husks are frequently dried and used in crafts. Sometimes called winter cherry or strawberry cherry, the Chinese lantern plant is easily cared for and is so hardy it can sometimes become invasive.
Chinese lantern plants are easy to grow from seed, according to University of Minnesota Extension. These plants often reseed themselves and can spread quickly. Still, for best results, place seeds in their own small pots in a greenhouse in early spring. Use rich, loamy potting soil. Press them lightly into the soil and keep them moist. Place in a warm, sunny location until they sprout. Transfer the seedlings into the ground when they are large enough to easily plant. Place the seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart.
Chinese lantern plants grow on rhizomes, which are horizontal roots, which contribute to their spreading habit. One good way to contain them is to grow them in containers, suggests The Herb Companion. Bury a pot in the ground and cover it with wood chips, or grow this plant in a decorative planter. Chinese lantern plants grow well if you put them in a location where they will receive full sun or partial shade. Make sure the soil is well-draining. Container plants should have a hole in the bottom to allow the water to drain (even if the container is buried in the ground). Water when the top layer of soil becomes dry to the touch.
Harvest the flowers (the lantern-shaped husks) when they turn brightest orange or red. This usually occurs in late summer or early fall, according to the University of Minnesota. Cut them with a stem long enough to hang, then hang them right-side up in a cool, dry location. The husks will fade to a tan color, but they will hold their shapes well and make an interesting addition to any dried flower arrangement or other craft.
All parts of the plant have been traditionally used for medicinal purposes, according to The Herb Companion. Fresh leaves from the plant are said to be soothing on skin irritations, and some companies market dried parts of the plant as a cure for everything from headaches to kidney disorders. While the fruit is edible, it has toxic properties if eaten before it is ripe. Do not consume any part of the plant without consulting a doctor.