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Currants (Ribes)

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

The common names for these shiny little fruits are gooseberries and currants. They are small, pea to small grape sized fruits, usually edible for humans. They are always a favorite snack for wild birds. In turn the birds propagate more currant bushes when they "process" the berries, making them an easy plant to cultivate naturally over the course of several years.

Sometimes they can be a little sour or bitter, . However they can perfectly compliment other berries or fruit to make jams, jellies, pies, sorbets, tarts, teas, wines, and so much more!

Not to mention the health benefits of currants. Scientific research is fairly limited on most currants, but the black currant is known to help a slew of health conditions. Everything from high blood pressure, cholesterol, coughs, colds, and even Alzheimer's disease. With all these incredible health benefits from one type, it makes one wonder how the other types of Ribes berries stack up.

Since we won’t use the same cultivation methods as the birds, the best and easiest way for us to start new currant bushes is to take 8" or larger cutting from a 1 year old branch. Then plant them directly into some well- drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. They do appreciate a bit of organic material if the dirt is too much clay or sand. They will tolerate full sun but prefer to have afternoon shade. Having warm days and cool nights will help the fruit develop more juice and flavor.

In some climates they are considered to be weeds because of how easily they can spread naturally! However it seems to me that even then inedible ones provide an excellent service to nature. And in true permaculture spirit, it‘s beneficial to grow just about anything if it’s happy.

You may be surprised to find that some species are native to North America!

The way to take care of Ribes bushes is really quite simple! After a few growing seasons the limbs become woody and they know longer grow foliage. At that point they should be removed to encourage new growth.

One of the plants I care for at Aquarian Acres is the wild wax currant bushes. I’ll be honest I haven’t been able to tend to all of them yet but the ones I have pruned show significant improvement.

One fall I had made an effort to clean up as many of the currant bushes as I could manage. I had gotten around to a few large and a lot small, twiggy, barely alive shrubs.

Upon returning some time in the following spring we were amazed to see that some of the large bushes had grown even more. They were completely leafed out, growing little pink flowers, and was swarmed with giant bumblebees and butterflies.

I was taken aback and filled with grace at the resilience of nature mixed with the power of my hands.

Our wax currants taste slightly bland if I’m completely honest. Nevertheless I am so proud to be the steward of such a thriving population of edible wild plants. I look forward to coming up with some interesting flavor combinations for the tiny fruits. Meanwhile the hummingbirds and chickadees can enjoy.


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