Northern Black Currant

There are several subspecies of northern black currant (Ribes hudsonianum). Depending on the location, Hudson currant, Canada currant, western currant and many other names are commonly applied to R. hudsonianum. I am not going to get too specific for this post.

Northern black currant is an erect shrub with a strong odor that many find disagreeable. I do not find the aroma of northern black currant unpleasant. This currant is unarmed, meaning it does not have thorns or prickles. The bark is grey turning reddish-brown where the outer layer has exfoliated (peeled off). The leaves are divided into three (or weakly into five)  toothed lobes and sit at the end of elongated stems. The entire leaf is studded with small, yellowish resin glands and the underside of the leaf may be hairy. (The resin glands may be found all over the shrub.) The seeds are contained in a sub-globose (nearly round) fruit that is black when mature and covered in a waxy white bloom. The flower petals usually remain attached to the fruit.

Northern black currants can be found throughout most of Canada, Alaska and Western United States. The preferred habitat is moist to wet soils in woodlands and along stream and lake shores.

Although most sources report that the berries are unpalatable, they are edible, as are all currants. I personally find them perfectly good to eat. Northern black currants make good jams and jellies. I also have used them in fruit tarts with good results. Care must be taken though because in large quantities northern black currants can cause vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems in some people. Be sensible! Native Americans used tinctures of the leaves and berries for treating colds, sore throats and stomach upset. The roots were used for tuberculosis. Often sprigs of northern black currant plants were placed in the vicinity of babies since northern black currant was thought to have a calming effect.

Since these photographs were taken in the fall along the trail to Tumalo Falls (Oregon) there are no pictures of the white flowers – an excuse to go back to Tumalo Falls in the spring.

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