Blackcurrant

Once overshadowed in the U.S., this tasty medicinal berry is making a comeback. Find out more about its diverse applications.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Blackcurrant, Quinsy berries
  • Scientific nameRibes nigrum
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionWestern Europe, Eastern or Central Europe, Central Asia, East Asia
  • Main producer(s)Russia
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal, Culinary
Blackcurrant

Widely cultivated in both home gardens and commercial plots, blackcurrants strongly resemble blueberries at a glance. Small, round, and almost black in color, blackcurrants came into demand during World War II when fruits rich in vitamin C were difficult to obtain in the U.K. and the berry proved a worthy alternative.

However, due to its threat to the U.S. logging industry, currants were banned in the United States from the early 1900s until recently, when the federal ban was shifted to the jurisdiction of individual states. Blackcurrants are currently a popular ingredient in jellies, jams, syrups, and many different types of desserts, as well as in the production of alcoholic beverages. The berry is used in traditional medicine in Austria and other parts of Europe to treat coughs, infections, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Estrogenic
  • Key constituentsVitamin C, gamma-linolenic acid
  • Ways to useCapsules, Food, Powder, Essential oil
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Blackcurrant

Blackcurrant has been traditionally used to treat a wide range of illnesess, and some of these applications have been validated by science, such as:

  • Treating hormonal imbalances. Blackcurrant estrogenic action has proven to be useful in treating menopause symptoms and relieving Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS).

  • Lowering inflammation. The powerful antioxidant action of these berries has been shown effective for the relief of arthritis.

Additionally, black currant may be useful for:

  • Relieving spasmodic coughing and sore throats

  • Fighting gastrointestinal and respiratory bacteria

How It Works

Blackcurrant berries are rich in polyphenols - such as anthocyanins - that can protect the body from inflammation of heart disease, infections, and neurological disorders.

The seed oil contains gamma-linolenic acid, a type of omega 6-fatty acid that helps stimulate essential growth in the body, maintain bone health, and regulate metabolism.

Studies suggest that blackcurrant anthocyanins act as phytoestrogens, helping regulate hormonal imbalances during menopause.

Not only are anthocyanins antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, but they are also the compounds responsible for the berries' deep hue.

Estrogenic properties are also present in dong quai and anise, whereas aspen and ashwagandha provide similar anti-inflammatory benefits.

Blackcurrant Side Effects

Blackcurrant is likely safe when consumed as a food, or when either the berry or seed oil is used as medicine. The berry might slow blood clotting and can lower blood pressure, although very large dosages are needed for this. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid use, as there is limited research on the effects it could have.

How to Consume Blackcurrant

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsFruit
  • Edible usesBeverage
  • TasteSweet, Tart

Like most berries, blackcurrant can be consumed in herbal remedies and in culinary preparations.

Remedies

Main preparations:  Capsules, powder, oil

  • Capsules. Blackcurrant supplements are popular because they provide the medicinal benefits of the herb in a compact package with a consistent dosage. The capsules or softgel tablets are typically filled with blackcurrant oil, which is rich in omega fatty acids.

  • Powder. Blackcurrant powder can be mixed into juices and smoothies to add a nutritional boost.

  • Oil. Blackcurrant oil can also be taken aside from in capsules. It may be used as a carrier oil or consumed on its own.

Food

Blackcurrant berries can be used as a dessert fruit thanks to their tart and fruity flavor. Cooked with sugar to create a purée, blackcurrants are turned into syrups, cakes - any kind of dessert one could imagine. Jams and jellies are also a popular way to consume the fruit. Blackcurrant berries are rich in vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid), C (ascorbic acid), and E, as well as dietary fiber, iron, and manganese. The seed oil contains gamma-linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Eating the berries raw is the best way to reap their fiber content.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buyFarmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Blackcurrant products, as well as blackcurrant seeds, can be purchased online. Several states in the U.S. still ban blackcurrant production in order to protect local trees.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilMedium (loam)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • Plant spacing average0.5 m (1.64 ft)
  • Potential diseasesRust

While blackcurrant is considered relatively easy to grow, it requires a specific environment to thrive. In order to succeed in its cultivation some basic guidelines need to be followed.

Growing Guidelines

  • It is important to purchase certified stock before growing one's own blackcurrant bush. 

  • This plant tolerates a wide range of soils, but it prefers well-drained, loamy soils and plenty of sunlight.

  • Depending on its native region, frequent watering may be needed during the dry season, as well as fertilization with strong, thoroughly-rotten manure.

  • Since their roots need room to expand, for large scale blackcurrant cultivation, ideal spacing between rows should be six feet (1.8 m), and each plant within the same row should be kept at least five feet (1.5 m) apart.

  • The crop is known for suffering from harmful diseases and pests, most notably white pine blister rust.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesAlcohol, Cosmetics, Dye

Plant Biology

Blackcurrant is a shrub that can reach six feet (1.8 m) tall and is native throughout northern Europe, as well as central and northern Asia, but also grows widely across North America. Its woody, spineless branches hold aromatic leaves that grow in alternating pairs or clusters. Small black berries grow in bunches during the summertime.

  • Classification

    Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) was formerly part of the Grossulariaceae family, which comprised over 350 species across 25 genera. However, some botanists have divided this large group into eight families, classifying the Ribes genus as a member of the Saxifragaceae (currant or gooseberry) family, which - up to date - it is thought to include a total of 33 genera.

  • Related Species, Varieties, and Cultivars of Blackcurrant

    Did you know?

    Gooseberries are also members of the Ribes genus and only differ from currants in the appearance of their flowers.

    The jostaberry is an interspecies cross between gooseberries and blackcurrants, with fruits that are black but larger than currants.

    The Ribes genus contains an average of 150 species, common in the temperate regions of Northern Europe, Asia, North America, and mountainous areas of South America and northwest Africa.

    The most economically important species related to blackcurrant are American blackcurrant (Ribes americanum), redcurrant (Ribes rubrum) - which includes different white cultivars -, whitecurrant (R. petraeum), and pinkcurrant (R. vulgare) - from which also white and red cultivars have been developed.

    Blackcurrant has the following varieties: R. nigrum var. europaenum, R. nigrum var. nigrum, and R. nigrum var. sibiricum.

    In the U.S., three blackcurrant cultivars, 'Ben Tirran', 'Ben Connan', and 'Ben Alder' have been patented by the USPPs (U.S. States Patent and Trademark Office), while 'Titania' has propagation rights protected by contractual arrangements between breeders and growers. Other popular blackcurrant cultivars are 'Ben Sarek', 'Consort', 'Coronet and Crusader', and 'Ben Lomont'.

Economic Data

Since the blackcurrant bush was a vector for white pine blister rust, the U.S. government instituted a federal ban on their cultivation in the early 20th century. Although the federal banned was lifted in 1966, they are still banned in many states in the U.S., but are a minor crop in others. However, their popularity is on the rise: Japan currently imports $3.6 million USD worth of New Zealand's blackcurrants to produce dietary supplements and other functional food products. They are also very popular in Eastern Europe, and Russia is the world's top producer.

Other Uses

Blackcurrants are generally known for their alimentary uses, providing a slew of health benefits. However, nonedible products are created from the plant as well. Blackcurrant seed oil is used in many different cosmetic products in combination with vitamin E. Blackcurrant's leaves produce a yellow dye, while a blue or violet dye is extracted from the berries.

Bibliography

  • USDA Plants Database, Species Records of Ribes
  • Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Berry Fruits: Compositional Elements, Biochemical Activities, and the Impact of Their Intake on Human Health, Performance, and Disease
  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Ethnopharmacological in vitro studies on Austria's folk medicine—An unexplored lore in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of 71 Austrian traditional herbal drugs
  • University of Maryland Medical Center, Gamma-linolenic acid
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Whitecurrants
  • Medicinal and Aromatic Plants VI: 6, p. 327
  • Shrubs and Woody Vines of Indiana and the Midwest, p. 180 - 182
  • Taxonomy of Angiosperms, p. 681
  • United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, Crop Reports, Currants
  • Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, Phytoestrogenic activity of blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) anthocyanins is mediated through estrogen receptor alpha, 2015
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Specialty Crop Profile: Ribes (Currants and Gooseberries)