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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Growing Black Currants in My Suburban Yard

unripe black currants -- they'll ripen in June


I was out near our woods, gathering sticks to make another bunny fence when I spied these tiny berries beginning to develop. Over the years, I've told you about many of the fruits that I grow in our suburban garden. Perhaps you've guessed -- I like variety! There's a fruit that I grow that's not terribly well-known in American gardens -- black currant. Black currant, however, is well-known in northern Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, Asia, and New Zealand. 

For most of the 20th century, fruiting currants were banned in the US, due to a fungus which can devastate white pines, a common logging wood. In the last couple of decades of the 20th century (with the advent of successful treatments for this fungus), the federal ban was lifted for many states, including Washington state. This is great for me, as my cool maritime region is perfect for currants, with its damp and acid soil.

In studying what would grow in my partially shady yard and would have food value, currants and their cousins gooseberries sounded appealing. Prior to this garden, I had only tried the dried Zante currants, which by the way are a grape and not a currant. About 20 years ago, I ordered 1 black and 1 red currant plant. Both red and black currants will spread by fallen seeds in overripe  berries. But I also found they were incredibly easy to propagate from cuttings. I simply cut off about a foot from a cane and stuck it in soil in a shady spot. Within a year the cuttings had fully rooted. 

The red currants are more prolific in my yard, but I appreciate the black currants a bit more for their nutritional value and delightful flavor. High in vitamin C and polyphenols, these tiny black berries pack a punch. During WWII in England, imports of oranges were blocked by the enemy. The British turned to alternative and native sources of vitamin C, one being black currants. The juice from the berries can be made into a high-C syrup to be taken daily during cold and flu season. The juice is also the basis for currant liquors. The berries each have many seeds, so I tend to use them in places where seeds won't be as apparent, such as in tea, smoothies, fruit sauces, jelly, and juices.


I also use the leaves from the black currant plants. (Interesting, the red currant leaves have no distinctive flavor.) The aroma and flavor of the black currant leaf is fresh, herbal, and fruity. The leaves are high in vitamin C and GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which is said to boost the immune system. 


I make a tea from both fresh and home-dried black currant leaves, often times adding some black tea and/or dried berries. Perhaps you've seen Harney & Sons or Twinings' black currant teas. Obviously, I love the frugality of growing my own tea ingredients. But, also, nothing can beat the flavor of freshly-harvested black currant leaves brewed into tea. Of the herbals that I grow for tea, black currant is my favorite.

This may surprise you -- black currant has been a somewhat popular fragrance for candles and air fresheners in recent years. My son and daughter-in-law gave me a black currant candle a year ago and I was quite pleased at how much it smelled like fresh black currant leaves. As I said before, black currants have a nice, fresh fragrance -- something appealing in a candle or air freshener.

Finding the plants doing well this year, I feel even more motivated to care for these canes and perhaps take a few more cuttings for expanding my harvest of future berries.

7 comments:

  1. Really interested to see your post on this. I'm an avid fan of permaculture writings, and with a leaning toward that in my gardening, and currants are often mentioned and used in permaculture. However, I have never tasted one, so have been a bit reluctant to try planting them. Plus they may not be climate-suited for me (definitely not cool and damp here generally), though I'll check more into that.

    In a similar vein, growing up, my family lived in central California when I was a teenager. Along the roadsides were boysenberry stands, grown fresh and sold right there. I have NEVER seen fresh boysenberries for sale anywhere else, as they are not a crop that ships well. So last year, I ordered four teeny tiny plants off of Etsy and we planted them. They now have some branches taller than me. Excited to have these as our climate seems good for them and they're something unique that I can't buy in a store, plus oh so tasty!

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    1. Hi Cat,
      With the currants for your area, they might do okay in mostly shade. From what I've read, in the climate zones that get hotter temps, these are grown in shadier spots. So, it is a good option for shady areas, under trees, for example. The currants that have done the best in my yard are the ones in the shade of other trees.

      I'm so glad you were able to buy some boysenberry plants! I grew up in SoCal and remember fondly Knott's Berry Farm before it was a theme park. They were famous for their boysenberries. My mom had a preference for boysenberry syrup for pancakes over maple. When I make blackberry pancake syrup, the aroma reminds me of that part of my childhood. I hope you have many large harvests of boysenberries!

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    2. Yes, Knott's Berry Farm! By the time I visited (80's), it was a theme park already, but we sure had fun. I still like one of their products that I occasionally find for sale at Ross or TJ Maxx--little shortbread cookies with jam-filled centers. Yum!

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  2. That is interesting information on currants. I've had currant jelly, but not actually eaten a current that I can remember. I looked up if they grow here and they do, but I don't know anyone who grows them.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I think currants are still pretty rare in the US for home gardens. I don't know of anyone else personally who grows them. But from what I read, they are widely grown in other parts of the world. I make red currant jelly most summers. As home jelly goes, that's my favorite.

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  3. I think I have only had currants in either jelly or in scones. I think perhaps the ones in the scones may have been dried so I don't have a good idea of how they taste. You have so much good info! Keep us posted on how your growing efforts go.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kris,
      Aww, thanks! Will do.
      Red currants just taste fruity to me. Red Currant jelly is what I think is the traditional accompaniment for Monte Cristo sandwiches. But black currants have a strong taste that also goes well with savory dishes. I was looking up recipes for using black currants a while ago and found one that paired them with roast duck. It sounded very delicious.

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