The domestic gooseberries in our yard are laden with fruit which should be ready to harvest about July Fourth. As I checked our “crop” I was reminded of wild gooseberry bushes that I recently saw (and photographed) along the Fish Lake Trail in Oregon.
The sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) is a native shrub that grows in dry forests or on shady slopes in California, Nevada and Oregon. The solitary flowers with red to rose sepals and pink to white petals are beautiful. The five sepals are reflexed (bent back) and resemble petals. The five tiny petals curve inward lengthwise and resemble little pipes surrounding the five exserted (projecting outward) stamens that appear black in the pictures. A most interesting blossom!
The leaves are cleft into three toothed lobes. Long, stiff, sharp thorns occur on the branches. (I can attest to how sharp they are!) The beautiful red fruit is covered with spikes. If one can get beyond the spikes, the gooseberries are sweet and very palatable.
Gooseberries and currants belong to the same genus (Ribes). This is a large and varied genus with more than thirty species in the Western United States. Currants can easily be distinguished from gooseberries since gooseberry plants are armed (have thorns or spikes) while currants do not. All members of this genus are edible, but not all are palatable. Some Ribes are sweet and delicious while others have a terrible taste or odor. But none of the currants or gooseberries are toxic.
One way to eat sierra gooseberries is to cook them then strain the pulp through a fine mesh to remove the fruit spikes. The strained pulp can then be used for jellies, syrups or can even be thickened to make a pie. Truthfully, in my opinion, although they do taste sweet (Have you ever carefully peeled one berry?), I would just as soon leave sierra gooseberries to the bears and birds and eat some of the other delicious wild members of the gooseberry family that do not have spiked fruits.