Updated: Jul 21, 2020
by Holly Cross
Flowering currant is at its best in early April - it looks good, smells good, and tastes good - and that's not just my opinion, you can ask the bees!
Flowering currant - ribes sanguineum - is originally from North America. It was brought to the UK as an ornamental garden plant but has now escaped from the confines of our gardens, and can be seen growing quite happily in hedges and woodlands across the UK. Although I have seen it most abundantly in my own garden, flowering currant is around in public places locally. I noticed a bush in Clydau churchyard when I was walking through recently, and although not the same species, there are also wild red-currants along the public footpaths in woodlands on a couple of lovely walks I regularly do locally (in the Mamog Valley near Capel Iwan and along the footpath down to Cwm Pedran near Llwyndrain).
Flowering currant provides early food for pollinators, as it is flowering before many other plants are - for my dad, who has several beehives on our smallholding, he's always glad to see the flowering currant hedge coming out. One third of the food that humans eat relies on pollination (i.e. insects feeding on flowers, fertilising them, and so helping fruit and vegetables to form); by encouraging and protecting plants like flowering currant in (and out) of your garden, you're making sure insects like bees and hover flies get a good meal early in the Spring. This helps them survive throughout the year, so they can then help us in our farms and gardens when we need them most.
My online research about whether we can eat flowering currant told me that it's the flowers which are the most interesting as apparently the fruit itself is not worth picking. Like many scented flowers such as violets, primroses and elderflower, flowering currant flowers can be eaten; for example by adding them to salads or sprinkling on puddings, and to flavour syrups, sorbets and cordial. They smell spicy and herby, and when I picked them the flowers made my fingers sticky with nectar. It's vital that any foraging is done responsibly, so having first checked if they were safe to eat, I also considered if there were enough of the flowers for me to pick a few grams and leave some for the bees; as the hedge is about 8 foot high, there were loads I couldn't reach anyway so I went ahead and half-filled my colander. There are some excellent guidelines from the Woodland Trust about how to keep yourself safe and protect nature when foraging for wild foods.
I plumped for trying a cordial - it was familiar and simple (I've made elderflower cordial before) - I knew I'd be likely to use it, it didn't require masses of flowers, and I already had the sugar, citric acid and lemon I needed to make it. It was difficult to find a definitive flowering currant cordial recipe online, so I adapted my tried and tested elderflower cordial recipe - which you can try for yourself. After 2 days in the fridge, I sieved the cordial into some sterilised bottles and there you have it - spicy, fruity, and a pretty pink - it's really very good as a cold drink on a hot spring day, and although I haven't tried making cocktails with it yet, I imagine it'll be delicious mixed with gin too!
Foraging for food in the wild can help us value what we have around us, and encourages us to protect nature as it becomes more important to us. At the same time, we are protecting habitats which are vitally important not just to our own mental and physical health, but the health of all wildlife in all its beautiful and necessary diversity.
Simple explanation of what pollination is (and why it's important):
Help save bees and other pollinators, with five simple actions:
Set up a 'nectar cafe' for pollinators throughout the year:
Always forage responsibly:
More recipes for food you can find in gardens and nature in spring:
Links to Googlemaps showing places where currants are:
Clydau churchyard - https://goo.gl/maps/yWiPZVuatNQiCApC7
Mamog Valley - https://goo.gl/maps/nFTaHzMGCVuhh9PR7
Cwm Pedran - https://goo.gl/maps/K57mvWZ8axsdw7487