Red-flowering Currant - Ribes sanguineum

red-flowering currant botany with brit


The scientific name of red-flowering currant is a testament to people’s tendency towards hyperbole. The sanguineum part of Ribes sanguineum means “blood red,” referring to the flowers - which are beautiful but decidedly not blood red. Their color ranges from white to a delicate pink to deep rose, but I’ve not yet seen a red-flowering currant with flowers the color of blood. But after a long gray winter in the Pacific Northwest their gorgeous sprays of drooping flowers are startlingly bright when spotted in February and March. The flower clusters are made of 10-20 pink 5-petalled flower, and hummingbirds and butterfly’s use them as an early spring nectar source. My friend wild harvested some of these flowers and made a delicious infused vinegar with a delicate floral taste, and you can find more ideas here at Gather Victoria. Because the flowers are one of the few early food sources for hummingbirds, harvest sparingly and with respect. 

The striking flowers emerge at the same time as the leaves in spring, which are 5-lobed, somewhat similar to maple leaves but with blunted tips. The green leaves are veined and finely hairy on the undersides. These leaves provide forage for more than 2 dozen species of moth and butterfly larvae, and deer and elk will occasionally browse them as well.

In August and September the berries ripen to a bluish-black with a waxy bloom - they are also covered in fine hairs. I must admit a hairy berry is not my favorite kind of berry, but they are edible and were consumed raw or stewed and dried into cakes for winter food by indigenous peoples. They have a tart taste and “are considered suitable by some for jam, jelly, and pie.” The use of the word “considered” in that field guide excerpt gives me pause, but I would think the amount of sugar added to these concoctions would make nearly any berry palatable. Even a hairy berry.