Black Currants - An easy-to-grow source of Vitamin C and antioxidants

pinecarr
By pinecarr on Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 11:04am

This morning, I went out and picked and ate my Vitamin C fresh off a shrub.

Black currants are one of my surprise successes learning to grow food and nutritional/medicinal plants.  I live in the Northeast US, in rural Central NY State, which tends to have long, snowy winters and hot humid summers (we're a zone 4 or 5).  So I wanted to find a more resilient source of Vitamin C if I could no longer go to my local grocery store and buy orange juice from Florida!  So I gave black currants a shot,  I also wanted to try them because they seemed to offer so many other health benefits in addition to Vitamin C: VItamin A, antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals.  

Another thing that makes black currants really interesting is that they have potential health benefits against cancer, imflammation, and neurological diseases, and have extensive historical use by traditional herbalists to treat various ailments.  I don't know how well grounded these claims are; one study below grades the scientific evidence at "C"; unclear and needing more study.  But if we someday find ourselves without a local pharmacy to get our medicines, we may find ourselves grateful for time spent now researching and investigating alternative medicines.

See the following links for more info (and feel free to add others): 

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/black-currants.html , 

http://www.blackcurrantfoundation.co.uk/nutrition_health.html ,

http://www.nzblackcurrants.com/antioxidants/

http://www.healthline.com/natstandardcontent/black-currant

Anyhow, much to my surprise, my black currant bushes are thriving in my Central NY soil and climate.  They produced fruit the very first year!  And they seem to be quite productive.  Because they are working out so well, I have planted more.  My thought is that they may be a "different crop" with unique attributes that I may be able to use to barter for other things I need, if things came to that.

Be forewarned that the flavor is not sweet, like blueberries or strawberries, so I don't find them to be that kind of a flavor treat.  They have their own distinctive flavor.  But my thought is that if TSHTF to the point where I need a ready source of Vitamin C, as well as the other nutritional and health benefits that black currants offer, that I will be very glad to have them!

 

8 Comments

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1982
lots of currant types

What do they taste like? (Tart from all the vitamin C, I should imagine, right?) Can you describe your black currant yield per square foot of space in the garden? And funny you should mention them! I was just reading Paradise Lot, about urban permaculture in Massachusetts (similar climate to yours, great book) and he was talking about currants; I was taking notes.  

I was particularly taken with their description of the clove currant--which can hande really awful soil--and also the jostaberry, which is a cross between the gooseberry and the black currant and can handle pretty serious shade.

In researching black currants, I discovered that almost a century ago they were banned near many forested areas--as in much of NY and in the entire state of SC--becuase they harbored a fungus that was murder on White Pines. To this day, you literally have to check with your locality to see if they are still banned! Most places are lifting the restriction, though.

Grover's picture
Grover
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Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 800
Chyrup

Currants are an alternate host for some kind of wheat (?) rust. That's why they were banished. I've got black currants and red currants. It is the only small fruit I have that the birds ignore. The black currants are a bit sweeter and ripen about a week or two before the red ones. I usually harvest them, cook them and pass the juice through a jelly bag and then make chyrup (pronounced cheer-up) with them. This is a very thick syrup that spreads easily but doesn't flow much. It goes good on pancakes or toast. Mmmmm. Also, I use a dollop or two when making German red cabbage. They add an interesting flavor and color to pies.

The plants root very easily as long as the ground is kept moist. Cut a woody cane, poke a hole about 6-12" in the ground, insert cane, firm the soil, and keep watered. It works best in early spring or late fall. I'd estimate 90%+ success ratio with this method. I've rooted many dozen this way and then give them to friends.

Grover

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2237
Hi Wendy-  I wish I could be

Hi Wendy-

   I wish I could be more help, but I am not sure how much black currants produce per square foot. I would guess 1 square foot would be equivalent to one bush, and would guess maybe a pint or 2 per bush based on mine.  But I looked on line and found estimates of up to "10 lbs" and "4 quarts" per mature bush.  That seems high based on my bushes, but they are only a couple of years old so they may not yet be mature.  Maybe Grover or others can pitch in based on their experience.

   As for the flavor, it really is hard to desribe because it is so distinctive; kind of like how elderberries have a taste all their own.  I suspect that they would be less popular with kids because they are not as sweet as other berries (at least, not the ones I have grown).  Or maybe it is just a case of growing up with or getting acclimated to their  taste.

   Here are another couple of articles I found that may be of interest to folks. 

http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=56

http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/dg1122.html

Grover's picture
Grover
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 800
Currant Habits and Yield

Hi Wendy,

I'm in the same boat as PineCarr. My mature bushes are about 4' tall and at least 6' diameter. They have a spreading nature and branches that come in contact with the soil readily set roots. I usually wait until some have reached the "raisin" stage before picking. By then, lots have fallen due to wind. If I picked them when they were first ripe, I'd easily get a gallon from each bush. Getting 10# per bush wouldn't surprise me if you diligently watered them. I've got enough plants that I don't harvest all the berries.

They have a unique flavor. The chyrup has a husky red wine flavor, but perhaps that is because I let them over ripen. When I make chyrup, I follow the recipe in the pectin packages except I don't add lemon juice, I use 2/3 the sugar, and 1/3 the pectin. In other words, triple the amount of berry juice and double the single recipe of sugar for a single packet of pectin. Then, process as usual.

They are very popular in central Europe. You can probably find recipes from that region.

Grover

snow's picture
snow
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Joined: Dec 19 2011
Posts: 10
Black Currants

Curious Grover what part of the US do they do well in?

 

earthwise's picture
earthwise
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Joined: Aug 10 2009
Posts: 846
Currants vs. Black/raspberries

I was wondering if cultiviating currants would be redundant to cultivating blackberries and raspberries. I am in the San Diego area and have both of these berries in abundance. Or at least I did until I rearranged my farm layout by expanding my sheep pasture into what was my berry patch. I have free access to lots of new starts at a neighboring farm, but maybe currants might be an alternative or maybe just a supplement to the other berries. Thoughts??

Grover's picture
Grover
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 800
Hardy

snow,

I'm assuming with your moniker that you live in a cold region. I've lived mostly in northern US climes. I've picked wild currants / gooseberries in the mountains from southern Nevada up to the Canadian border in Montana. I've found them along the outflow of mountain creeks and along ditches in otherwise parched desert. They are hardy plants. Check out this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackcurrant. You can probably check with a nursery to see if any varieties are particularly suited to your region.

My wife picked half a gallon yesterday and cooked it down to a pulpy paste. I had some frozen peaches from last year and decided to make a cobbler with the combination. The currants changed the color to dark purple. The flavor definitely was dominated by currant, but the peach flavor showed through. The tiny currant seeds looked like strawberry seeds. It certainly looked bizarre, but nobody complained about the taste.

Grover

pinecarr's picture
pinecarr
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2008
Posts: 2237
Hi earthwise-  I don't know

Hi earthwise-

   I don't know the relative nutritional and health benefits of currants vs blackberries and raspberries without doing more research (and don't have time right now).  But here's a link each on raspberries, blackberries and black currants, from the same site, that may give you a place to start.  I'm curious about the answer too.

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/raspberry.html

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/blackberries.html

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/black-currants.html

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