Currant (Rides Linn), the name of a small, valuable, and well known garden fruit, of which there are numerous varieties. Two principal species are commonly known, but there are several others. The R. rubrum (Willd.), according to Persoon, grows spontaneously in Sweden and in the northern parts of England, and is the origin of the garden kinds. It bears abundance of semi-transparent red berries in racemes, which diminish in size at the apex of the bunch. There is a white-fruited variety, more esteemed by some on account of its less acid juice. Great improvements have been made on these fruits by repeated experiments, and not only has the plant been rendered more robust, but the size of the berries has been increased. Of the many sorts, the red Dutch and the white Dutch, known also under many synonymes, have stood high in the estimation of practical gardeners. Knight succeeded in raising some improved kinds from seed, favorably known and bearing his name. It has been thought that the red currant is a native of North America, an opinion founded on its identity with the R. albiner-mum of Michaux. According to the "Flora of North America," the red currant appears to be " abundant in our northern latitudes, agreeing in every respect with the European form".
It occurs throughout Canada to the mouth of Mackenzie river, at Sault Ste. Marie, and at the sources of St. Croix river (Torrey and Gray). It has been noticed growing wild on the rocky banks of the Winooski in Vermont. Josselyn, who wrote in 1672, makes mention in his "New England Rarities" of "red and black currants." The black currant (R. nigrum, Lam.), differing from the common currant in the great size of the plant, in smoother leaves, in flower and in fruit, also in possessing a powerful aromatic principle with proportionately less acidity, has by successive experiments become ranked with the most valuable of the smaller garden fruits. The variety known as the black Naples has larger berries than any other, and is considered the best. The fetid currant (R. prostratum, L'Heritier), with pale red and bristly fruit, exhaling, as well as the leaves, a disagreeable odor, grows on mountain sides and in cold woods at the northward, reaching as far as Lake Superior and the Rocky mountains. The thirsty wayfarer and the hunter, on meeting with its berries, find them not too unpleasant for refreshment.
The R. floridum (L'Her.), with rather large yellow-greenish flowers, and with smooth, black fruit, occurring in woods from Canada to Kentucky, is our native black currant, but is inferior in value to the European species. The Missouri currant (R. aureum, Pursh) is remarkable for its early yellow blossoms, exhaling a delicious, spicy odor, and considered a highly ornamental shrub. The red-flowering currant (R. sanguineum, Ph.), from western America, and abundant among rocks along the streams throughout Oregon, is a very beautiful shrub, bearing clusters of light crimson blossoms, which appear early in spring. Its fruit is insipid, but its flowers recommend it for the garden. Another, with flowers not so brightly colored (R. malvaceum, Sm.), has been noticed as a native of California. The genus ribes, embracing the gooseberries, comprises in North America something like 28 distinct species. - The propagation of the currant is easy, as it will grow in almost any garden soil, in the open sun or in the shade of fences, where the fruit is longer in ripening but still sure.
The best mode is, never to allow suckers taken from the roots of old plants to be used for new planting out; but to employ well ripened, straight, and stout shoots, removing all the buds or eyes from the lower portions which are to be inserted in the soil, which will prevent future suckers from springing up around the stem. Sometimes, after the stem has been trained upright for two or three feet, the branches are spread thinly upon a low espalier; or, in case this is not used, a thin, spreading head is carefully grown. All superfluous wood, as it makes its appearance, is removed, and about midsummer the ends of the fruit-bearing branches are pinched off, in order to allow the fruit to swell and increase. But the currant will reward the least degree of attention that is given to it. - The juice of the currant contains sugar and malic acid, to which is owing its pleasant flavor. Currant wine is considered a valuable beverage, and for preserves and tarts, or for the dessert, currants are especially esteemed. An excellent jelly is prepared from them, and for other domestic purposes their reputation is well known. The fruit of the black currant is far less esteemed, and to many persons is positively disagreeable.
A jelly made of it is used for hoarseness or sore throat, and lozenges made of the berries, and especially of their skins, are of much service in pectoral complaints. A wine is made in Russia from the black currant berries, and in Siberia the leaves, dried and mixed with souchong, are made into a drink resembling in flavor green tea. The fruit, leaves, and wood are tonic and stimulant. - The word currant is said to be a corruption of Corinth, the original place whence the small raisins were brought known as the currants of commerce. (See Raisin).