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Finocchio
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(archangelica Officinalis Hoffm)
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Currants








The original Currants in times past were small grapes, grown in
Greece at Zante, near Corinth, and termed Corinthians; then they
became Corantes, and eventually Currants. But, as an old Roman
proverb pertinently said: Non cuivis homini contingit adire
Corinthum, It was not for everyone to visit fashionable
Corinth. And therefore the name of Currants became transferred
in the Epirus to certain small fruit of the Gooseberry order which
closely resembled the grapes of Zante, but were identical rather
with the Currants of our modern kitchen gardens, such as we now
use for making puddings, pies, jams, and jellies. The bushes which
produce this fruit grow wild in the Northern part, of Great Britain,
and belong to the Saxifrage order of plants. The wild Red Currant
bears small berries which are intensely acid. In modern Italy
basketsful are gathered in the woods of the Apennines, and the
Alps.

Currants are not mentioned in former Greek or Roman literature,
nor do they seem to have been cultivated by the Anglo-Saxons, or
the Normans. Our several sorts [138] of Currants afford a striking
illustration of the mode which their parent bushes have learnt to
adopt so as to attract by their highly coloured fruits the birds
which shall disperse their seeds. These colours are not developed
until the seed is ripe for germination; because if birds devoured
them prematurely the seed would fall inert. But simultaneously
come the ripeness and the soft sweet pulp, and the rich colouring,
so that the birds may be attracted to eat the fruit, and spread the
seed in their droppings. Zeuxis, a famous Sicilian painter four
hundred years before Christ, depicted currants and grapes with
such fidelity that birds came and tried to peck them out from his
canvas.

White Currants are the most simple in kind; and the Red are a step
in advance. If equal parts of either fruit and of sugar are put over
the fire, the liquid which separates spontaneously will make a very
agreeable jelly because of the pectin with which it is chemically
furnished. Nitric acid will convert this pectin into oxalic acid, or
salts of sorrel. The juice of Red Currants also contains malic and
citric acids, which are cooling and wholesome. In the Northern
counties this red Currant is called Wineberry, or Garnetberry, from
its rich ruddy colour, and transparency. Its sweetened juice is a
favourable drink in Paris, being preferred there to the syrup of
orgeat (almonds). When made into a jelly with sugar the juice of
red Currants is excellent in fevers, and acts as an anti-putrescent;
as likewise if taken at table with venison, or hare, or other high
meats. This fruit especially suits persons of sanguine temperament.
Both red and white Currants are without doubt trustworthy
remedies in most forms of obstinate visceral obstruction, and they
correct impurities of the blood, being certainly antiseptic.

[139] The black Currant is found growing wild in England, for the
most part by the edges of brooks, and in moist grounds, from
mid-Scotland southwards. Throughout Sussex and Kent the shrub is
called Gazles as corrupted from the French Groseilles
(Gooseberries). The fruit is cooling, laxative, and anodyne. Its
thickened juice concocted over the fire, with, or without sugar,
formed a rob of Old English times. The black Currant is often
named by our peasantry Squinancy, or Quinsyberry, because a
jelly prepared therefrom has been long employed for sore throat
and quinsy. The leaf glands of its young leaves secrete from their
under surface a fragrant odorous fluid. Therefore if newly
gathered, and infused for a moment in very hot water and then
dried, the leaves make an excellent substitute for tea; also these
fresh leaves when applied to a gouty part will assuage pain, and
inflammation. They are used to impart the flavour of brandy to
common spirit. Bergius called the leaf, mundans, pellens, et
diuretica. Botanically the black Currant, Ribes nigrum, belongs
to the Saxifrage tribe, this generic term Ribes being applied to all
fresh currants, as of Arabian origin, and signifying acidity.
Grocers' currants come from the Morea, being small grapes dried
in the sun, and put in heaps to cake together. Then they are dug out
with a crow-bar, and trodden into casks for exportation. Our
national plum pudding can no more be made without these currants
than little Tom Tucker who for his supper, could cut his
bread without any knife or could find himself married without any
wife. Former cooks made an odd use of grocers' currants,
according to King, a poet of the middle ages, who says:--

They buttered currants on fat veal bestowed,
And rumps of beef with virgin honey strewed.

[140] On the kitchen Currant a riddling rhyme was long ago to be
found in the Children's Book of Conundrums:--

Higgledy-piggledy, here I lie
Picked and plucked, and put in a pie;
My first is snapping, snarling, growling;
My second noisy, ramping, prowling.

Eccles cakes are delicious Currant sandwiches which are very
popular in Manchester.

Black Currant jelly should not be made with too much sugar, else
its medicinal-virtues will be impaired. A teaspoonful of this jelly
may be given three or four times in the day to a child with thrush.
In Russia the leaves of the black Currant are employed to fabricate
brandy made with a coarse spirit. These leaves and the fruit are
often combined by our herbalists with the seeds of the wild carrot
for stimulating the kidneys in passive dropsy. A medicinal wine is
also brewed from the fruit together with honey. In this country we
use a decoction of the leaf, or of the bark as a gargle. In Siberia
black Currants grow as large as hazel nuts. Both the black and the
red Currants afford a pleasant home-made wine. Ex eo optimum
vinum fieri potest non deterius vinis vetioribus viteis, wrote
Haller in 1750. White Currants, however, yield the best wine, and
this may be improved by keeping, even for twenty years. Dr.
Thornton says: I have used old wine of white Currants for
calculous affections, and it has surpassed all expectation.

A delicate jelly is made from the red Currant at Bas-le-duc; and a
well-known nursery rhyme tells of the tempting qualities of
cherry pie, and currant wine. A rob of black Currant jam is taken
in Scotland with whiskey toddy. Shakespeare in the Winter's
Tale makes Antolycus, the shrewd picker-up of unconsidered
[141] trifles talk of buying for the sheep-shearing feast three
pounds of sugar, five pounds of currants, and rice. In France a
cordial called Liqueur de cassis is made from black Currants;
and a refreshing drink, Eau de groseilles, from the red.

Some forty years ago, at the time of the Crimean war a patriotic
song in praise of the French flag was most popular in our streets,
and had for its refrain, Hurrah for the Red, White, and Blue! So
valuable for food and physics are our tricoloured Currants that the
same argot may be justly paraphrased in their favour, with a
well-merited eulogium of Hurrah for the White, Red, Black!





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