When my wife returned from the monthly run to Costco with a big bag of dried goldenberries, I had to admit I had never heard of them. I expected another of those exotic berries they grow in Oregon had found a national market. After tasting them—basically sweet but not as sweet as raisins and with just a hint of tartness—I was impressed enough to track them down.
What we have is another gift from South American Indians. The scientists call it Physalis peruviana and those in charge of marketing like to call it “Peruvian superfood” or Pichuberry, to associate the berry with the best-known Peruvian Indian ruins at Machu Picchu.
What is super about these berries? They are a low calorie snack with an unusual amount of protein for a berry, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium for stronger bones, and an impressive content of other vitamins and minerals that add up to significant anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
South American Indians gathered them wild in the highlands of Peru, Columbia, and Ecuador. In addition to food, the indigenous discoverers used the berries in traditional medicine for controlling blood sugar and as an anti-inflammatory and diuretic.
Sometime in the late 18th century, colonists made off with some plants, and goldenberries are now cultivated under various names in Great Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Egypt, Thailand and China.
The two most interesting names are in France, amour en cage (love in a cage) and in Thailand, is-sitt il-mistahiya (the shy woman). Some people claim these names are because of the husks that surround the berries and others claim they improve sexual functioning like maca root, another discovery of Peruvian Indians that has actually been shown to improve sexual function in both men and women.
Also like maca root, these treats started in health food stores and are now found in upscale groceries.
Add goldenberries or Pichuberries to the list of foods owed to our South American indigenous relatives, along with maca roots, quinoa, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and cacao beans.
Cacao is the source of the true nectar of the gods, the food that has come to inhabit courting rituals all over the world, chocolate. I’m not sure what it is about South American traditional foods and sex, but it certainly is good for marketing.