Black Currant

The blackcurrant, also known as black currant or cassis, in the family Grossulariaceae. Blackcurrant plants originate in Europe and have been under domestic cultivation for over five hundred years. Recent breeding efforts have been focused mainly in Russia, Sweden and Scotland. The blackcurrant is less popular in the US due to a ban introduced in the 1900s to limit the spread white pine blister rust. It is winter hardy, but cold weather at flowering time during the spring may reduce the size of the crop. Bunches of small, glossy black fruit develop along the stems in the summer and can be harvested by hand or by machine. The raw fruit is particularly rich in vitamin C and polyphenols.



Blackcurrants are a temperate shrub of the species Ribes nigrum which is grown both commercially and domestically for its flavorful berries. The shrub is of a medium size and possesses simple long, broad leaves each with 5 lobes and a serrated edge. The leaves grow in an alternate pattern on the stems of the plant. When not in flower, the leaves are strongly aromatic and produce the familiar blackcurrant smell. The flowers of the plant are dark brown/red in colour each with 5 petals. In the summer, the round green fruits ripen to dark purple, reaching sizes up to 1 cm in diameter. Each fruit contains several nutrient rich seeds and a single blackcurrant bush can produce up to 5 kg of fruit in one year.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

3 - 6 Feet


Width-Circumference (Avg)

3 - 6 Feet


Approximate pH

6.0 - 7.5


Varieties of Black Currant


There are two types of black currants: American and European. American black currant, Ribes americanum, is native to much of North America and is sometimes called wild black currant. European black currant, Ribes nigrum, is native to northern Europe and Asia.


Ben Connan


Out of all cultivated black currant varieties, ‘Ben Connan black currants are the heaviest producing, with up to 7 pounds of berries from each plant. The berries are highly flavored and excellent for all cooking and canning uses. The plants are compact, so this type works well for containers.



The berries are larger than average, and the plant has excellent disease resistance to mildew and leaf-curling midge. The weight of the fruit may call for support of the branches near harvest. The plants are fully productive after only three years and may produce for up to 12.


Ben Hope


The Ben Hope is the most commonly grown blackcurrant variety for British gardeners for very good reasons. First released for sale in 1988, the Ben Hope has top-class resistance to big bud mites (gall mites), affecting many other types. The resistance comes from the berry being a cross between several other blackcurrants and a gooseberry. The Ben Hope thrives and outgrows even the occasional pest or disease. It tolerates a large variety of growing conditions. If you keep the roots of this variety well mulched, you will have an excellent plant.



The bushes grow larger than average, to a height and spread of about six feet, so they need more space compared to other varieties. The plant is an upright grower, making picking the berries a pleasure. The Ben Hope is also resistant to mildew and leaf spots as far as pests and diseases go. This makes it an ideal choice for those who want to grow organic fruits. The fruits are medium-sized, and the yields are on the high side. The Ben Hope’s flavor is highly rated for pies, jams, and other uses.


Ben Lomond


The Ben Lomond was the first of the Ben varieties to be introduced in the United Kingdom. Its key benefit is that it blooms relatively late in the spring, reducing the danger of late frosts. It also does well in cooler areas, benefiting from a hard winter. When first introduced, the Ben Lomond had good resistance to mildew; however, this resistance has been significantly reduced in recent years. Good pruning helps to reduce the risk of mildew.



The fully grown bush (after four or five years) will be about four and a half feet tall, compact, and well-formed. The large and firm fruit is very high in vitamin C with a top-quality flavor for pies and juices. The high-yielding fruit lasts longer than most when left on the bush. To reduce the risk of mildew, prune annually and keep the bush’s center open to allow good air circulation.


Ben Sarek


Great for amateur gardeners, the Ben Sarek has huge berries, sweeter than most. However, the large berries can sometimes be a problem because they can weigh down the branches, which might need some support to prevent breakage. The Ben Sarek blooms late in the year, though not as late as the Ben Lomond, making it unlikely to be harmed by late frosts. It grows well in cooler climates.



This is a low-growing variety that will hardly ever exceed four feet in height. The Ben Sarek has some resistance to mildew, low disease resistance, and uneven ripening.


Big Ben



Grown exclusively for the home gardener, Big Ben is a recent variety with large, sweet fruit delicious straight from the bush. The Big Ben berries also have a good flavor when cooking, making them an excellent dual-purpose currant. The bushes grow to about six feet and produce entire crops as early as three years. Disease resistance is excellent, particularly to mildew and leaf spots. It produces early crops.


Blackdown


The Blackdown black currant is an English variety of currant cultivated for its abundant, sweet, juicy, dark berries. Very sweet and aromatic, the Blackdown is suitable for eating fresh and for preparing jam, jellies, and juice.


Crandall



Sometimes called the clove current because of its highly fragrant flowers, Crandall is easy to grow, rust-resistant, and ornamental, with leaves that turn a brilliant red and yellow in the late summer and fall. It produces abundant early spring blossoms in yellow, fruiting in August. The Crandall black current is very large, perhaps the sweetest currant of all, and flavorful with just a hint of spiciness.


Crusader


Crusader black currants are a variety that consistently produces medium-sized fruit. The berries have thicker skins than others and a higher acid level. This acidity means they store well and break down slower. Crusader is resistant to white pine blister rust.


Consort



Consort black currants are smaller than most, but they have that sharp, characteristic taste that the fruits should have. The bushes produce for a long season, producing fruits that ripen evenly. Consort is resistant to the disease that threatens white pine trees. Like all currants, they are becoming highly prized as a superfood high in minerals and antioxidants.


Ebony



This variety is possibly the sweetest black currant. These berries are best eaten fresh because their flavor tends to be reduced when cooked. These berries are larger than average, but they’re not a vigorous plant, so you usually get less. The Ebony is among the earliest fruit of any black current. It produces fruit after only one or two years and has average disease resistance.


Foxendown


Only recently available, the Foxendown has exceptional disease resistance to almost all blackcurrant ills and is therefore virtually perfect for the organic gardener. If you have had problems growing blackcurrants, this variety may work for you. The berries are medium-sized and produce a good yield.


The bushes grow upright, which makes picking easier than usual. This is an early-season variety. Its flavor is outstanding.


Titania


Developed in Sweden from a cross with Consort, Titania is a vigorous plant and only takes around three years to reach maturity. It grows well in light soils with low levels of nutrients. The berries are relatively sweet and large, plus the bushes have high yields.



The plant has a long producing season with high yields. Titania is resistant to mildew and white pine blister rust; it can grow to more than six feet tall if not pruned.


Wild Black Currants (Ribes americanum Saxifragaceae)


The Wild Black Currant (Ribes americanum) is a North American flowering shrub that produces edible fruits that can be used in various sweets, including jams, jellies, and pies. It is closely related to gooseberries.


The wild black currant grows to about seven feet tall with three-lobed leaves surrounded by coarse teeth. The lowers are a greenish-yellow color and grow in a bell-shaped cluster. The fruit is a round dark purple berry.


Planting Black Currant


Where and when to plant


Blackcurrants prefer well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, although they will cope in most other soil conditions. They prefer full sun, but will tolerate light shade. Avoid sites prone to cold winds or late frosts, which can damage the flowers and reduce the crop. Modern cultivars show better cold resistance. The best time to plant is during the dormant season, from late October to March, but it’s best to avoid planting in the middle of winter if the soil is either very wet or frozen.


Containerised plants can be planted all year round and are available in garden centres, nurseries or online for most of the year. If you do plant in spring or summer, keep them well watered during hot dry periods.

How to Plant Blackberries

  1. Before planting, clear out the weeds. If you’re a no-till or no-dig gardeners, you could just smother the area with cardboard then mulch on top, leaving gaps for planting or cutting holes in the cardboard to plant.

  2. Work mature or compost into the soil before planting. Currants are heavy nitrogen feeders.

  3. Remove damaged roots and head back the tops to 6 to 10 inches. Do not allow the root systems to dry out. Set plants as soon as possible in properly prepared soil.

  4. Dig the planting hole. Sprinkle in some organic general-purpose fertilizer, to help the plant establish – this is just blood, fish and bone.

  5. Get the plant into position, set slightly deeper than they grew in the nursery.

  6. Backfill the hole, firming the soil around the roots.

  7. Water in.

As a general rule, plants should be spaced 3 to 5 feet apart in the row with 8 to 10 feet between rows.


Planting in a container


Blackcurrants generally don’t perform well in containers long term, due to their size and growing habit. But if you are short on space, they should be fine for a few years, especially more compact cultivars such as ‘Ben Sarek’ and ‘Ben Gairn’. If they start to underperform, transplant them into the ground. Choose a sizeable container about 45cm (18in) wide and deep. Use a soil-based compost such as John Innes No.3, then add 20–30% by volume of multi-purpose compost and 10% perlite, sharp sand or horticultural grit. Alternatively, use peat-free multi-purpose compost mixed with about 20% perlite, sharp sand or horticultural grit.


Black Currant Care


Blackcurrant bushes prefer a position with full sun if possible, although they will tolerate partial shade – try to find an east, west or south-facing spot for them in your garden. Although the plant is hardy, it prefers to be in a sheltered location, away from cold winds.

Plant young blackcurrant bushes from October to March, avoiding the middle of winter when the ground is frozen. Add garden compost to the soil upon planting, to get your plant off to the best start.


As far as soil is concerned, blackcurrant will tolerate most types, but its preference is for fertile soil, and this has to be kept moist, but fairly well-drained. It will require watering during hot summers, or during periods of dry weather – although be careful not to overwater it.


The plant flowers in spring, so you can add a general well-balanced fertiliser in late winter, to help it out, along with a layer of mulch, to assist the soil in retaining moisture and repressing weeds.

Harvesting


Harvest the fruit on modern varieties such as the Ben series by cutting the strigs (bunches of fruit) as they turn black. Older types of blackcurrant varieties ripen at different times, with the currants at the top of the strig ripening first. The fruit should therefore be picked individually.


Eat fresh blackcurrants within a few days of harvesting. Alternatively, they can be frozen, cooked, or made into jam or jelly.


Pruning and Propagating Black Currants


How to Prune Black Currants

  • The stems of bare-root black currants (with multiple stems emerging from the soil) should be cut back to about 1 inch above the ground after planting. This will encourage strong root growth.

  • The stems of container-grown black currants that have established roots do not need to be cut back after planting.

  • The second winter after planting, prune new stems that are weak or growing parallel to the ground.

  • Established black currants can be pruned much like gooseberries. Keep the interior of the bush free of weak, broken, diseased, or crossing stems. Also, trim away stems drooping close to the ground. Each year after the third year, cut away 3-year old wood to make way for younger fruiting wood. (Older stems will be dark-colored; newer one- and two-year-old stems will be paler and fruit-bearing; these should not be removed unless they are damaged.)


Propagating Black Currants


The best way to propagate blackcurrant bushes is by taking hardwood cuttings from mid-autumn to late winter, avoiding hard frosts. Hardwood cuttings can take a while to take root but are generally successful in creating new plants.


Take cuttings from young, healthy shoots from the current season. Cut lengths of 20 – 30 cm, making the cut just below a bud at the base. Dip the bottom of the cutting into a rooting hormone, and then plant it straight away into a container, or outside into a pre-prepared trench.


If planting outside, make sure to choose a sheltered area, and use a garden compost dug into the soil. Plant the cuttings with two-thirds of the material in the soil, and add sand at the base. Keep the soil moist, and leave them to root until the following autumn.


Pests and Plant Diseases


Vine weevil (Otiorhynchus sulcatus)


The initial signs of a vine weevil attack are notches, or holes, around leaf edges. Although the vine weevil causes damage above-ground, it is a more serious problem below-ground where the larval stages feed on the plant roots and can cause damage so severe that it ultimately results in the death of the plant. The presence of adults in the foliage should serve as an indicator that larvae may be present on the root system.


Aphids


There are 3 species of aphid which can infest blackcurrant plants . In small numbers, the aphid colonies can be well tolerated by the plant but a large infestation can cause distortion of the leaves and stunt plant growth. High aphid numbers will result in ‘sticky’ leaves as aphids excrete a sugar rich substance called honeydew which in turn encourages the growth of black, sooty moulds.


Two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae)


The two-spotted spider mite feeds on sap and initial symptoms on the plant are hard to detect without the aid of a lens or microscope. Eventually, feeding by the mite will lead to the development of black spots on the leaves before the leaf dies and completely falls off.


Leaf curling midge (Dasineura tetensi)


Feeding by larvae of the leaf curling midge can cause severe distortion of young blackcurrant leaves, leaving them susceptible to infection with fungal pathogens. The severe distortion and twisting of leaves can mask symptoms of Blackcurrant reversion.


Clearwing (Synanthedon tipuliformis)


Clearwings are prevalent in many areas where blackcurrant is grown. The larvae of the moth bore into the stems to feed on the inside of the blackcurrant shoots causing a depletion of nutrients in the plant. The larvae eventually bore through the stem to create an ‘exit window’ before they pupate to the adult moth. This tunneling can cause weakening and breaking of the plant stems and areas of the plant that are infested can suffer from uneven bud-break as a result.


Gall mite (Cecidophyopsis ribis)


The gall mite causes the buds of the blackcurrant plant to become enlarged and swollen as the colony builds up to extremely large numbers. A single bud can contain up to 35,000 mites while a single plant can possess up to 100 galls. The gall mite also transmits Blackcurrant reversion disease (see below). Plants with galls should be removed immediately.


Blackcurrant mildew (Sphaerotheca mors-uvae)


Blackcurrant mildew is a type of fungus which infects blackcurrant leaves, shoots and occasionally fruit. The fungus is present as a white powdery growth on the leaves. Other symptoms include the loss of leaves and misshapen fruit.


Leaf spot (Depranopeziza ribis)


Blackcurrant leaf spot is caused by a fungus, Depranopeziza ribis, and causes the formation of necrotic lesions on the leaf surface. Infection with this fungus can lead the plant to lose its leaves prematurely with a significant impact on fruit yields. Wet growing conditions can promote the spread of fungal spores which are spread by water splash.


Blackcurrant reversion disease


Blackcurrant reversion is caused by a viral pathogen known as Blackcurrant reversion virus. The virus is spread by the gall mite, Cecidophyopsis ribis, and therefore the best indication of the presence of reversion virus is the enlarged buds containing the mites. The blackcurrant bushes will continue to grow normally, but the fruit crop will eventually fail. Other symptoms of the virus include a change in the colour of the flower, from pink to magenta and also a lack of hair on the flower. There is no treatment for reversion disease and the only option is to start the plantation again from healthy stock.


Rust (Cronartium ribicola)


Rust on blackcurrants is caused by the fungus Cronartium ribicola, also known as white pine blister rust. Symptoms on blackcurrant are the development of lesions and uredinia (pustule like structures) on the top surface of the leaves eventually leading to the death of the leaf. Protection against this rust is reliant on planting of resistant blackcurrant cultivars.


Benefits of Black Currant


Boost Our Cardiovascular Health

Black currant has an ability to reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL) level in the blood, which improves the blood flow towards the heart and reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and hypertension. It contains high amounts of flavonoids and omega 3 acids that are known to promote cardiovascular health.


Urinary Tract Health

The growth of bacteria in urinary tract increases the infection. Black currant is rich in anthocyanin and tannins, which are effective in cleaning the bacteria and inhibits its growth.

Boost Kidney Health


The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of blackcurrants prevent chronic kidney disorders. They protect your excretory system from inflammation and infections. The extracts also inhibit the formation of kidney stones.


Blackcurrant juice/tea makes your urine more alkaline (increases its pH). It also promotes the excretion of excess citric acid and oxalic acid from your body. If not, these two acids can react to form kidney stones when left to pile up.


Improves Brain Health


Black currant enhances our memory power. It contains rich amounts of antioxidants, which are known to protect our brain from free radical damage. Since black currant is a rich source of iron, it increases the supply of oxygen to the brain and makes it function well.


Fight Skin Problems And Ageing


Eating black currant may help to cure skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. It is power-packed with antioxidants and vitamin C, which are known to protect cell damage and prevents pre-mature ageing.


Eating black currant may help to cure skin disorders


Adding black currant to your meals will be super beneficial for your health, therefore, it is advisable to eat black currant in moderation since it is also known to be a blood thinning food.


Uses


The blackcurrant fruit has a strong, tart flavor and although fruit is available fresh, it is usually cooked and/or sweetened prior to eating. The fruit is renowned for its very high vitamin C content and is widely used in juices and cordials. The distinctive flavor of the fruit also makes it popular for use in jellies, jams and preserves and also as a flavor in sauces and desserts. In Europe, it is commonly used as a flavoring in candies, or sweets, whereas in New Zealand, it is popularly exported to Japan for use in dietary supplements and culinary use.


In Russia, blackcurrant leaves may be used for flavoring tea or preserves, such as salted cucumbers, and berries for home winemaking. Sweetened vodka may also be infused with blackcurrant leaves making a deep greenish-yellow beverage with a tart flavor and astringent taste. The berries may be infused in a similar manner. Blackcurrant seed oil is an ingredient in cosmetics 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 resulting from its rich content of anthocyanins.




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