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edited by Carlo Lapucci

The little plant is sought after for its singularity and beauty, but it is not very easy to find; perhaps this is why it is a symbol of disdain or reserve. In fact, it loves places that are usually off the beaten track, in thick, shady woods, steep and humid areas, and stone fields. It is from 40 to 90 centimeters tall. Tozzetti writes: «The fruits with the calyxes, when they are perfectly ripe, take on a bright minium red [or orange] color. After this time, remaining on the plant in autumn, the parenchyma is corroded by rain or insects, and the said calyxes show a beautiful network of woody fibres, inside which is the red berry". 

The scientific name is physalis alkekengi of the Solanaceae. The term alkekengi is a word coming from Arabic passing through Spanish. It was once called alicàcabo and has spread into European languages: alquequenie, cacarangi, alicacabum. Equally curious are the dialect terms: cocca herb, balloons, cherries, alicacabo, pittadonne, wheat rosette, chinchigero, accatengi, canine herb, Jew's cap, St. Vincent's pepper, bladderwort, rattles, solatro, pan del cucco. Some names are also attributed indiscriminately to other species.

Balloons have a shape similar to a lantern and are commonly called also Diogenes lantern. The learned Diogenes Laertius recounts in The Lives of Philosophers (Diogenes V) which the Greek philosopher loved to teach using significant gestures and often walked around the city in broad daylight with a lit lantern. To those who asked him why he walked around with the sun in the sky holding a lit lamp, he replied: "I'm looking for man!". Meaning a "real man", worthy of the name, which he could not find, being in his opinion very rare. 

The plant, which has a berry resembling a lamp, thus took its name from the most famous portable lantern in history. The legend later added that, when Diogenes became old, one day he forgot his lamp in a forest and from that the plant was born.

The berry is as large as a cherry, edible, diuretic, with a sweet and sour flavour, not exactly exciting, with many seeds, little juice and little pulp. Once upon a time jams were made from it. Collected in a bunch and placed in the house, the hawthorn is very pleasant and with care can even last several months, but it is not worth destroying such a creature, which is also rare and today also protected.

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