- Angular Winter Cherry
- Balloon Cherry
- Bolsa Mullaca
- Hog Weed
- Wild Gooseberry
Mullaca (scientific name Physalis angulata) is an annual erect plant also known by various other names like the balloon cherry or the wild tomato. The origin of this herbaceous plant is in the Americas but it is widespread today as a cultivated plant all around the world, in tropical and subtropical areas. It has oval leaves with a dark green color, which sometimes have jagged edges in the form of a tooth. The flowers are made out of five sides and the fruits develop inside a calyx shaped like a balloon. The fruits are yellow or orange in color and produce the seeds that propagate this herb.
While mullaca can be found today all around the tropical parts of the world, it is believed that its origin is in the Amazon. Today it grows in Africa, Asia and the Americas, wherever there are tropical conditions suited for its cultivation. It can reach a height of up to 1 meter, with small flowers with a creamy color.
The edible fruit can reach a size similar to a cherry tomato. It has a yellow or orange color and is full of small seeds. These are also edible, like the tomato ones. The seeds are numerous and very useful for propagation, with a vigorous growth. Unlike other useful species, mullaca spontaneously grows on its own. Groups of plants can be found anywhere there is a clearing and the soil is broken, in particular along the banks of rivers. It can’t grow well under a tree canopy because it requires plenty of direct sunlight.
Fruits, leaves, roots.
Mullaca has been used in therapy by people in its native range for a long time. It has always been very popular herb among the tribes in the rainforests of the Amazon and they were well-aware of its medicinal properties. The mullaca fruits were eaten by the forest inhabitants, as well as the animals of the area.
Even today, mullaca is an important tool in the herbal medicine of South American countries like Brazil or Peru. Herbal medicine practitioners in Brazil use the herb in the treatment of a lot of diseases: fever, conditions of the internal organs (liver, kidney or the gallbladder), vomiting, severe forms of rheumatism, dermatitis and other skin issues. It is also considered to have diuretic and sedative properties. Peruvian herbalists name the plant bolsa mullaca.
Amazonian tribesmen mostly used the plant as a diuretic, preparing an infusion from its leaves. In the Peruvian part of the Amazon basin, the natives make a juice from the leaves and employ it in several ways to get rid of worms. They also use either the leaves or the roots to treat numerous different issues, from liver problems (like hepatitis) and ear pain to malaria. Peruvians also prepare an infusion from the fresh leaves for the treatment of various infections. Tribal people of the Brazilian Amazon also use the herb against ear pain, employing the sap for this purpose. They use the roots in the treatment of liver problems, in particular icterus. Colombian tribes believe that mullaca tea is effective in cases of asthma but they also use a decoct as a general disinfectant and anti-inflammatory agent, especially in skin diseases. As an interesting side note, Colombians consume both the leaves and the fruits as a narcotic. All around the Amazon, mullaca is considered helpful in female-specific disorders.
In tropical islands, mullaca is believed to be beneficial in childbirth. Solomon islanders prepare a decoct for the fruit and drink it in order to increase fertility. In Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean, mullaca tea from the leaves or sometimes the whole herb is thought to prevent miscarriages.
The most interesting property of mullaca is that it appears to kill leukemia cells, being a very valuable research target in the search of a cure for this lethal disease. It is actually effective against a wide range of bacteria and viruses and can be employed as a general cure for infections, even if the actual mechanism is unknown. Because of this effect, it is applied on the skin to eliminate conditions such as dermatitis, psoriasis or scleroderma. It also provides benefits for the liver, both the roots and the stem being used to boost its activity. According to the Amazon tribesmen, any part of the herb is effective in cases of ear pain or infection.
It has become very popular lately in herbal medicine, both in its native range and the USA. Herbal doctors use mullaca to kill any type or bacteria or virus and cure infection. It is also used as a support in the treatment of cancer, in particular blood cancer (leukemia). In the USA, it can be found in many herbal supplements, even if it’s rare on its own.
Even if the plant could have many critical health benefits, it hasn’t been properly researched yet. Tests on animals have found no evidence of toxicity, even in high doses. However, scientists have failed to investigate the accounts of native tribes about its effectiveness and many of its action mechanisms remain so far unexplained. If its ability to kill bacteria and viruses is validated by research, it could be extremely useful as a skin antiseptic and a treatment for diseases like gonorrhea. The antiviral effect of mullaca might explain why natives used it as a cure for hepatitis. However, no research has been done so far on its well-documented usage to treat fever and malaria.
By contrast, its properties as an antispasmodic have been confirmed by modern scientists, which explains the plant’s ancient use in the treatment of asthma and female issues.
A chemical analysis of mullaca has revealed a wealth of different bioactive natural compounds. These cover most of the main compound types, among them numerous varieties of plant steroids, alkaloids or flavonoids. Research has focused on the steroids in particular and it is now believed they are responsible for the way this herb is able to fight cancer, leukemia and tumours in general. Other preliminary research results confirm the old tribal knowledge. Scientists now accept that mullaca is effective against germs, can kill leukemia and cancer cells, as well as boost the response of the immune system.
Several simple drinks can be prepared at home from mullaca. Against asthma and malaria, one cup of tea is enough and any aerial parts can be used. For diabetes, there roots are required. These must be cut in slices and left to macerate for seven days in 1/4 litre of rum, adding some honey at the end for a better taste. The usual dosage is half a glass two times per day for two months. An infusion prepared from the roots can be used against hepatitis, while one brewed from the leaves has a diuretic effect.
Side effects and cautions
The only side effect noticed by one study on lab animals has revealed a decrease in blood pressure. A separate study found the plant can cause an anticoagulant effect. For this reason, it is best avoided by people who suffer from hemophilia or take drugs that thin the blood for various heart issues. People who have low blood pressure shouldn’t eat it, since it could lower it even further to dangerous levels.