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Botanical Name: Ribes nigrum
Common Name: Blackcurrant
Habitat : Black Currant is native to temperate parts of central and northern Europe and northern Asia where it prefers damp fertile soils and is widely cultivated both commercially and domestically. It is cultivated throughout Finland, and other places of the world. It also grows in the wild.
Description: Blackcurrant is a medium sized shrub, growing to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) by 1.5 metres (4.9 ft). The leaves are alternate, simple, 3 to 5 cm (1.2 to 2.0 in) broad and long with five palmate lobes and a serrated margin. All parts of the plant are strongly aromatic. The flowers are produced in racemes known as “strig”s up to 8 cm (3 in) long containing ten to twenty flowers, each about 8 mm (0.3 in) in diameter. Each flower has a hairy calyx with yellow glands, the five lobes of which are longer than the inconspicuous petals. There are five stamens surrounding the stigma and style and two fused carpels. The flowers open in succession from the base of the strig and are mostly insect pollinated, but some pollen is distributed by the wind. A pollen grain landing on a stigma will germinate and send a slender pollen tube down the style to the ovule. In warm weather this takes about 48 hours but in cold weather it may take a week, and by that time, the ovule may have passed the stage where it is receptive. If fewer than about 35 ovules are fertilised, the fruit may not be able to develop and will fall prematurely. Frost can damage both unopened and open flowers when the temperature falls below -1.9 °C (28.5 °F). The flowers at the base of the strig are more protected by the foliage and are less likely to be damaged.
In midsummer the green fruit ripens to an edible berry up to 1 cm in diameter, very dark purple in colour, almost black, with a glossy skin and a persistent calyx at the apex, and containing several seeds dense in nutrients (notably Vitamin C). An established bush can produce about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) of fruit each year.
Cultivation and uses
The fruit have a high natural vitamin C content. Like the other true currants (not to be confused with the Zante currant, a type of grape which is often dried), it is classified in the genus Ribes.
In addition to the high levels of vitamin C, studies have also shown concentrated blackcurrant to be an effective Monoamine oxidase inhibitor (Bormann, et al. 1991.) Fifty grams of 5.5X concentrate was found to inhibit 92% of the Monoamine oxidase enzymes. Blackcurrant seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a very rare essential fatty acid.
When not in fruit, the plant looks very similar to the redcurrant shrub; they may be distinguished by the strong odour of the leaves and stems of the blackcurrant.
In Russia, it is common to infuse slightly sweetened vodka with blackcurrant leaves, making a deep yellowish-green beverage with a sharp flavour and an astringent taste. Blackcurrant berries can also be used to flavour vodka. In the UK, blackcurrant juice is often mixed with Cider to make a drink called Cider Black. This drink can be ordered at most pubs. It is also believed that adding a small amount of blackcurrant to Guinness will bring out a sweeter taste in the beer, making it a better beverage in some beer-drinkers’ opinions.
Blackcurrants have a very sweet and sharp taste. They are made into jelly, jam, juice, ice cream, cordial and liqueur. In the UK, Europe and Commonwealth countries, some types of confectionery include a blackcurrant flavour, but this is generally missing in the United States, even within the same brand. Instead grape flavour in candy (including grape jelly) almost mirrors the use of blackcurrant in both its ubiquity in the USA, and its rarity on the eastern side of the Atlantic.
The juicy berry is dark, purple-black in colour and highly fragrant and aromatic. It tastes slightly sour, but much sweeter (and better) than red or white currant. In Finland, blackcurrants are mainly used to make jellies, jams and juices, or used in various desserts. They are also eaten fresh, with sugar. The fragrant leaves are used to flavour vegetable preserves, especially pickled or salted cucumbers. Blackcurrants are high in vitamins C and B and hot blackcurrant juice is an old trusted cold remedy.
It may be small, but the mighty blackcurrant is bursting with more health promoting antioxidants than most other fruit and vegetables, including blueberries!
It’s the special antioxidants called anthocyanins, which give blackcurrants their distinctive dark colour. British blackcurrants are grown and bred especially for their deep colour, which makes them extra good for you. The Blackcurrant Foundation has been established by British growers to raise awareness of the numerous health benefits of British blackcurrants.
On this site you will find everything you need to know about this small, but great British fruit!
Blackcurrants are one of the richest sources of vitamin C – weight for weight they contain four times as much as oranges. Blackcurrants are also a rich source of potassium but very little sodium which makes them beneficial in the treatment of high blood pressure and water retention. Their skins contain anthocyanosides an anti-bacterial pigment which is good for sore throats.
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During World War II most fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom. Since blackcurrant berries are a rich source of vitamin C and blackcurrant plants are suitable for growing in the UK climate, blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the British government. Soon, the yield of the nation’s crop increased significantly. From 1942 on almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup (or cordial) and distributed to the nation’s children free, giving rise to the lasting popularity of blackcurrant flavourings in Britain.
Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well, but they became extremely rare in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s. The ban was enacted when it was discovered that blackcurrants helped to spread the tree disease White Pine Blister Rust, which was thought to threaten the then-booming U.S. lumber industry .
The federal ban on growing currants was shifted to individual Statesâ€™ jurisdiction in 1966. The ban was lifted in New York State in 2003 as a result of the efforts of Greg Quinn and The Currant Company and currant growing is making a comeback in several states including Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Oregon. However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Since the federal ban ceased currant production anywhere in the U.S., the fruit is not well-known and has yet to reach the popularity that it had in the U.S. in the 19th century or that it currently has in Europe and the UK. The first nationally available black currant beverage in the U.S. since the ban was lifted in many states is a powerful health-food nectar under the brand name CurrantC. Since black currants are a strong source of antioxidants and vitamins (much like pomegranate juice), awareness and popularity are once again growing in the U.S.
Other than being juiced and used in jellies, syrups, and cordials, blackcurrants are used in cooking because their astringent nature brings out the flavour in many sauces and meat dishes and lends them to desserts. It was once thought that currants needed to be “topped and tailed” (the stalk and flower-remnants removed) before cooking. This however is not the case as these parts are easily assimilated during the cooking process. If one prefers to do this, however, the blackcurrants can be frozen, then shaken vigorously. The tops and tails are broken off and can be separated easily from the fruit.
Blackcurrant fruits are a good source of minerals and vitamins, especially vitamin C. They have diuretic and diaphoretic actions, help to increase bodily resistance to infections and are a valuable remedy for treating colds and flu. The juice, especially when fresh or vacuum-sealed, helps to stem diarrhea and calms indigestion.
The leaves are cleansing, diaphoretic and diuretic. By encouraging the elimination of fluids they help to reduce blood volume and thereby lower blood pressure. An infusion is used in the treatment of dropsy, rheumatic pain and whooping cough, and can also be used externally on slow-healing cuts and abscesses. It can be used as a gargle for sore throats and mouth ulcers. The leaves are harvested during the growing season and can be used fresh or dried. French research has shown that blackcurrant leaves increase the secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands, and thus stimulate the activity of the sympathetic nervous system. This action may prove useful in the treatment of stress-related conditions.
An infusion of the young roots is useful in the treatment of eruptive fevers. A decoction of the bark has been found of use in the treatment of calculus, dropsy and hemorrhoidal tumors. The seed is a source of gamma-linolenic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid which assists the production of hormone-like substances. This process is commonly blocked in the body, causing disorders that affect the uterine muscles, nervous system and metabolism. There are no records of the oil from this species being used medicinally, though it is used in cosmetic preparations.
In Europe the leaves have traditionally been used for arthritis, spasmodic cough, diarrhea, as a diuretic and for treating a sore throat. The berries were made into a drink thought to be beneficial for treatment of colds and flu, for other fevers, for diaphoresis and as a diuretic. In traditional Austrian medicine, Ribes nigrum fruits have been used internally (consumed whole or as a syrup) for treatment of infections and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, the locomotor system, the respiratory tract and the cardiovascular system.
The plant has various other uses. Blackcurrant seed oil is an ingredient in cosmetics and skin preparations, often in combination with vitamin E. The leaves can be extracted to yield a yellow dye and the fruit is a source for a blue or violet dye. The leaves have been used to assist in keeping vegetables fresh.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider