Ribes family: Nigrum

Who’s that? Ribes? That’s the currants – blackcurrant, redcurrant, gooseberry, white currant and ornamental currants. I’ve really been enjoying mine this summer and thought I’d share this with you.

Actually, Ribes isn’t a family properly speaking, but it’s the only genus in the family Grossulariaceae, so we might as well treat it as a family as it has an easier name. Ribes Nigrum is the latin name for blackcurrant, which I’ll write about this week.

I’ve got only one bush, which is now pretty much mature after over three years in the ground. At first, I planted it in a sunny and wind-exposed spot: major mistake! Both it and the neighbouring redcurrant suffered and blew over in the first year. So we transplanted them in under a deciduous tree, where it’s damp and semi-shaded, and they are absolutely thriving where no other food plants did.

The whole Ribes family come from the colder temperate climates in the northern hemisphere and are very common through Scotland, Scandinavia, Russia, and eastern Europe. There, they thrive both wild and cultivated in mixed forest ecosystems. They enjoy the semi shade, the moisture, the thick forest floor mulch with lots of mycelium and the low pH (6 is what they prefer!). Here, they really dislike the harsh afternoon summer sun and like to be in the shade all winter, when they drop their leaves and go dormant.

Taking this into account, they’re the perfect hedge or “filler” to the south of the house or under a tree – pine or deciduous. The mature bush is 1.5m wide & high, and takes 3-4 years to reach maturity depending on the size and age of the bush you plant. If it’s a standalone, I’d make sure to have some space all around for harvest access, but for a hedge you can space them 60-120 cm apart.

One single mature bush yields 4-5 kg of tasty sweet berries from December to early February. The berries are extremely rich in vitamin C and was one of the main sources in northern Europe before the import of oranges started. You only need about 50 gr fresh to get the recommended daily intake, so you can easily dry some to use in winter. They dry easily either in a dehydrator or an electric oven set at super low heat (definitely below 70ºC). Don’t dry them in the sun as the sun reduces the vitamin C content.

To make the most of a blackcurrant bush, remember they fruit on 1 year old wood. So don’t prune out the tips, but rather cut a certain number of stems at the very base, starting with the thickest and oldest, then the ones that tend to grow out to the sides (horizontally). Always leave 8-10 vertical stems, the first few years you might not have to take out any at all.

When you’ve pruned, you can easily strike the cuttings. I put mine in a jar of rainwater indoors just after pruning, pieces of about 25cm long, leaves stripped off apart from the top 2, with the “root end” 10 cm in the water. If you want to encourage roots even more, you can steep some willow bark in the water. Once you see little roots growing, pot it up in good potting mix, well drained. To help with drainage, you can mix in either some perlite or sand in the potting mix. I also add an inoculant (Environmental Fertilisers’ or Koanga Institute’s or Dalton’s)  to provide the roots with nice bacteria and fungi for symbiosis. After a year or two, these cuttings are ready to be planted out, and in another few years they’re mature bushes!

On top of all the tasty nutritious berries, you can also use the leaves. Fresh or dried as tea they’re really tasty, and are traditionally used for cleansing mouth and throat. Medicinally they have been considered good for tonsillitis and throat ache and used in whooping cough. It is a very gentle and nourishing tea, of course, I’m neither a doctor nor a naturopath and don’t give any kind of medicinal advice here, just letting you know 🙂 Apart from tea, you can use the young leaves in salads and older ones to flavour pickles  cucumbers (cornichons) or fermented vegetables.

The varieties I’ve found available in this country are Magnus and Sefton and a few unnamed ones (may be the same) from smaller nurseries. Many of the diseases found overseas aren’t present here, so don’t worry too muchabout varieties. They are very easy maintenance, just some netting over the fruiting period to protect from birds, some compost and mulch in spring and voilà! Your own

Hope this inspires you to grow a Ribes Nigrum in a semi-shaded spot! If you like my blog, please share it on facebook and invite your friends to follow my page. Thanks 🙂

Workshops are on a hold over winter and will start again 31/7.

Volunteer at workerBe oasis, 5 Hospital rd, Sundays, 1pm.







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