Something to Grow: Black Currants

January 14th, 2008

I was just reading an article about black currants and my interest was piqued. I am really into nutrition and apparently black currants have twice the antioxidants of blueberries, double the vitamin C of oranges, and double the potassium of bananas, among other health virtues.

Black CurrantsBut you cannot buy them in the store, even if you think you can. The currants most stores have listed, and indeed the currants most recipes call for, are a type of dried small Italian grape (so-called “zante currants”). The reason you cannot buy them is that they were illegal to grow for many many years in the US (big business in Europe though). Apparently it was thought that they acted as a surrogate for a disease that affected the white pine lumber industry and so to protect that industry they were banned. They are only now just recently making it back. So, if you can’t buy them, what choice do you have but to grow them?

They are also apparently very productive, producing a large amount of fruit per acre (or bush, I’m sure none of us are going to grow acres) , which means you get more value, in real dollar terms, from growing them than growing other things.

Though apparently they don’t taste good raw, you need to cook them and sweeten them first. I do hear however that they make really good jams and jellies, as well as sauces for meat, or even wine.

They’re hardy in zones 4-7, making them excellent for most of the continental US, especially places where you cannot grow citrus (the other way to get large amounts of vitamin C).

I think I might just get a bush. I’ve searched online and the only place I can find them presently is Gurney’s, and they’re sold out right now.

26 Responses to “Something to Grow: Black Currants”

  1. Myriam  Says:

    Love your blog. I am originally from Switzerland where we grew and eat it a lot of black currants. I always loved them raw, the strong flavor is fantastic and you are right, it is excellent in jams and jellies.

  2. Matt Cohen  Says:

    Black currants make a wonderful a presumably healthy tea. It is hard to find. You can order it from Harrods in London. I am fond of the flavor and Tetley does make a black tea that is black currant flavored. That’s the best I can do.

    Matt
    Zenofwatering.com

  3. Alex  Says:

    Mmmm…black currant jelly. Didn’t know it was that healthy!

  4. Brent  Says:

    I had no idea zante currants were illegal in the US. I take it that they are not illegal now though?

  5. cathie  Says:

    glad to read this, didn’t know this. i am anxious to garden too and have had fun looking through my catalogs making lists!

  6. Hasse Wehner  Says:

    Nice post. Think I will try Black Currant tea soon! 🙂

  7. Paul  Says:

    Chris … look at Raintree Nursery for a great selection of black currant plants. I have several and they do really well for me in 5a Ohio. They like full sun and lots of humus but will do OK with some shade and all soils.

    We make preserves which, even after adding sugar, are quite tart and thus go well with things that are unusually sweet (like paczki) or with meat as a sweet-sour. We also make cassis from them which is much better than the cassis that you get in liquor stores.

    As for dried currants … they have little flavor and have a relatively lot of seed to contend with after the flesh has dried. Zante raisins make better currants for baking.

  8. frid  Says:

    There is a blackcurrant concentrate called Ribena; look for it at British stores. It is really delicious.

  9. James Mann  Says:

    I love black currants.

    One of the foster homes I lived in was on a farm in Ontario Canada. Their garden was as big as own entire property which wasn’t very appealing to a kid whose job it was to weed that garden.

    I don’t mind the weeding part so much now.

    We had a real variety of food growing but along with the raspberries the currants were some of my favorites.

    I have always loved sour things, the more it makes my face screw up the better.

    We had choke cherry trees growing all along the fence rows and I would eat those until my mouth was so puckered I couldn’t talk. 🙂

    One thing I like about the garden as a kid, was all the stuff I could eat. I am sure that is why I have such a desire to have my own backyard garden now.

    We will start small though and learn what we need to before we get too large.

    I was a very healthy kid so maybe my love of currants was part of the reason I never got sick.

  10. june  Says:

    Thats really interesting information about the history of black currants in the US. I actually bought a bush last year, but it is still a baby (maybe only a foot tall). I saw no signs of berries last year. Do you know how old they typically have to be before they start producing fruit?

  11. Aleta Markham  Says:

    Black currents are one of the berries traditionally used in a delicious non cooked dessert called summer pudding. This dessert is traditionally English. Its so good I decided to grow some red as well as black currents. Find a recipe for this dessert. On paper it did not seem that appetizing to me but oh what a Hit. Even though you need to leave it in the refrigerator for 18-24 hours, its virtually no work

  12. richard  Says:

    hi; does anyone know the minimum planting distance for black currant & jostberry without getting into trouble?i have ordered these for planting on(4-09) and i don’t have much room.i like to garden and my wife doesn’t believe in it. i was planing on three apart and keeping them prun ed small if that will work?has anyone ever ordered from http://www.spray-n-grow.com,if you have i would like to know how it worked for you?good or bad?i am not good at writing,so i hope that i have explained myself correctly in this email.thank you,richard from ky.

  13. Tatyana  Says:

    Wow! Great blog!
    I love black currnat. I grew up on them in Russia – they taste great fresh. My grandmother used to smash them with sugar and put in the refrigirator for the winter – we ate it with the tea and made pies out of it all winter long!

    Now I live in Norothern Calidornia and I am craving black currant realy bad. Where can I buy a few plants? Will they do OK in California?

  14. Kathy  Says:

    I planted black currents and so far I think they taste BAD, so maybe i need to cook them to taste good? I was about to go out and kill them to make room for something else. maybe I will try to cook them first and then decide wether to keep them or kill them. So far no one likes them raw at all….even the deer and birds. kathy

  15. Lisa  Says:

    Good info here, which I found while researching an article about antioxidants.

  16. Jeff  Says:

    I’m also into nutrition. I’ve wanted to grow currants and other berries and fruits for some time now. I discovered both blak and red currants growing wild in my tree line, under the crabapple, along with the red rasbarries. all were dropped by birds some time ago. (Currants are legal in New York – since the mid 60’s).

    I look forward to transplanting some into managed patches, and seeing what kind of volumn I get.

  17. Regina  Says:

    I love black and red currants. They are hard to find here but I recently found some at the Wholefoods grocery store. If you ever go Germany, make sure to stock up on Schwartau (brand name) Black Currant ( Schwarze Johannisbeere) Samt jam. It’s delicious.

  18. Lisa  Says:

    I was just online at Raintree nursury looking for black currants, after I found what I was looking for, I came across this restriction… (I live in Ohio)… RESTRICTIONS: State laws prohibit our shipping Currants or Gooseberries to Delaware, Maine, N. Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, or West Virginia. Black Currants may not be sent to the states mentioned above, as well as Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island. Does this mean I cannot order any currants online here in Ohio… I was also very interested in the pink champagne and Swedish white currants, but it is looking like we will be unable to grow any currants here (!)… Is anyone in Ohio aware of a nursery (in Ohio) where we can purchase the bushes (since it looks like they cannot be shipped here from other states)?

  19. Karen  Says:

    I love my black currant bushes that are in plastic barrels sawed in half. I started the first about 20 years ago because I enjoyed the clove fragrance of the blooms in the spring. I was happy to learn years later that the dark purple fruit is not only edible but very nutritious. The bushes thrive in the halved barrels(Zone 5), are contained from unwanted spreading, and are easier to pick because they are raised. My only regret is that waited so long to begin more barrels. If I every move, the barrels will move too.

  20. Guillermina  Says:

    I live in maine where it is ilegal to grow or even possess a blackcurrant. They cause mold and white pine blister rust. If I see them growing I call fish and game they destroy the plant and put arsenic in the roots, insuring that they will not come back up. Blackcurrants are very bad for pine trees, there is no more destructive fruit than the blackcurrant.

  21. Natallia  Says:

    People, if you so in love with black currant go to the Russian store and buy some jam – it is awesome and healthy. Any way this berry yummy raw too!

  22. Iron Rye  Says:

    I take it you see them every day there in Maine? If not, what’s your deal here, nobody advocating to plant that plant in Maine

  23. Jay  Says:

    Black currant is one of the best fruit for making jams, preserves or Syrups (i.e. Ribena). If you look closely in your grocery store in “jam section” you will find Black Currant Jam. Some grocery stores have also shelves of “ethnic food” and they have Black Currant jam for sure. It is usually made in Germany or Poland. You should try it before you plant the bush. Bush may take abour 4 years to bear fruit and needs a good sunny location. It is sweet/tart fruit and not everyone may like it raw. I love to eat it from the bush when I am gardening.
    Good luck.

  24. Susan Calkin  Says:

    I grew up with my grandmother’s currant jellies (red, white, black) and would love to grow the plant, but I live in CA not MA, in Zone 8B (outside the recommended Zones 3 – 7). Is there something I can do to help currant bushes survive? I do have a greenhouse if that makes any difference.

  25. joe  Says:

    They need to remove all white pines as they are very destructive; they harbor a disease that affects black currants.

  26. Bonnie  Says:

    All currants are very easy to grow from a cutting. Soak the cutting in spring willow bark water for a week or few days and then place in a pot. Shade from western sun. When the branch is firmly rooted you can plant, but shade from western sun for the first year. Low lying branches will often root themselves so you may save yourself the early steps. Re-do this every 10 years or so for the plant does drop off production after time. The berries can get very sweet, but I have to fight the bears where I live. Steam the berries, sieve and then jar. In the winter a put some of this in a cup, add hot water and a bit of honey for my Vitamin C.

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