Currant, Gooseberry

Ribes spp. – Currant, Gooseberry

Currant, GooseberryRibes spp.

Ribes = Rie-beez, from Arabic or Persian ribas (acid-tasting), referring to the taste of the fruit.

Identification: Shrubs with erect or procumbent branches. The flower colour varies from white, yellow, or green to red, depending on the species. The flowers are in racemes or are solitary and have 5 sepals, petals and stamens. The branches are usually prickly and the leaves are alternate palmately. The fruits are berries and sometimes bristly.

Distribution & Habitat: The genus Ribes usually grows in moist places, such as swamps, damp woods and moist run-off areas. Some species will be found on fairly dry river banks or in dry mountain forests.

Preparation & Uses: The berries of all species may be eaten although some taste better than others. They can be eaten raw, cooked or sun-dried. Ribes berries are excellent in pies and jellies. Of all the Ribes jams, I prefer gooseberry. Of course, the red currant jelly my mother made for us, as children, cannot be beaten. Black currant jelly is good, but not as pleasant-tasting as the red.

The Cree called black currants (Ribes hudsonianas) A-mis-Ko-na-tik, and used the stem, bark and chopped roots. They sometimes added skunk currants (R. glandulosum) to help a woman conceive.

The Blackfoot call currants Mon-to-na-na-tik and used a liquid extract of the root for kidney ailments and women s uterine problems.

Black currant has been listed by Grieve as a diuretic, diaphoretic, and febrifuge. The juice of black currant can be boiled to form extracts with sugar, which is called rob. It is used for inflammation of the throat. Excellent lozenges can be made that way. An infusion of the leaves is cleansing and diuretic, while an infusion of the young roots is useful in eruptive fevers and dysenteric fever of cattle. The raw juice is also diuretic and diaphoretic, and it is an excellent beverage in febrile conditions (feverish diseases). A decoction of the bark has been found of value for calculi, to expel worms and in cases of dropsy.

Black currant jelly is deservedly prized for its usefulness in treating colds. It is both laxative and cooling. It should not be made with too much sugar or the medicinal properties will be impaired.

For sore throats take a tablespoon of jam or jelly and put it in a glass and fill with boiling water. This tea is soothing and has a demulcent effect. Take it several times a day and drink it while hot. Black currant wine is good and the following recipe is taken from an old cookbook.

To every 3 quarts of juice put an equal quantity of unboiled water. To this add 6 lbs. pure raw sugar. Put in cask, reserving a little for filling it up. Put the cask in a warm, dry place and it will ferment itself. Skim off the scum. When the fermentation is over, fill up with reserve liquid. When it has ceased working, pour in 3 quarts of brandy to the 40 quarts of wine. Bung it closed for 9 months in a bottle and drain the thick part through a jelly bag until it is clear, then bottle that, and keep it for 12 months.

Red currant is also listed by Grieve as a refrigerant, aperient and antiscor-butic. The jelly of red currant has an antiseptic effect, easing the pain of a burn and even preventing the formation of blisters if applied quickly enough. The plant also is a corrective of putrescent food, especially “high meat”.

The juice of gooseberry was formerly said to be a cure-all for inflammations. The green berries have a sub-acid which makes them counteract the effects of putrescent food. Gooseberry is more valuable than rhubarb (even as a jam) as a spring medicine. According to Schofield, the Russians have done studies at the Institute of Biological Physics and have shown that unripe gooseberries can prevent degeneration of body cells, a factor which can cause illness and the aging process.

An infusion of leaves taken before monthly periods has been found a useful tonic for pubescent girls. (1 oz. of leaves to 1 pint of water taken in a tea cup, 3 times a day). In spring some Indians boiled young leaves of Ribes and ate them with uncooked fat. They also ate the flowers. One good secret to know is how the Indians removed the bristly spines on some Ribes fruits. They used to roll the berries on hot coals in a basket until the spines had been singed off.

It is not good to eat too many raw berries of this genus until you are accustomed to them. Too many will cause sickness or at least an upset stomach. This is due to their cleansing effect on the digestive system. The fruits are excellent for fasting as they remove toxins from the body.

The seeds of black currants have received a lot of attention from herbalists lately as they contain large quantities of both omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids. The oil is used to treat skin conditions, asthma, arthritis and pre-menstrual syndrome.