A flavorful shrub in the currant family produces a flavorful fruit popular with Native Americans called a gooseberry. The gooseberry is another name for several of the many varieties of currants that grow all over North America. The name gooseberry is a direct translation of the Kiowa, Omaha and Ponca terms for this fruit.
Currant bushes are small and grow no more than six feet tall and usually measure about three feet. They have fragrant yellow five petal flowers in May or June and round black, red, or blue color fruit that usually ripens in July and August. Gooseberries usually grow on hillsides or on the border of woods or near swamps and beside rivers and streams. Cultivated forms of gooseberries are divided into either European or American; the difference is in the size of the fruit and the flavor. North American gooseberries are said to be smaller and have less flavor than there European counterpart, however, they are more resistant to diseases.
Medicinal and Culinary Uses
Native Americans ate gooseberries raw, they also cooked with them. Gooseberries were also dried or preserved and made into jellies or jams. The Hidatsa tribe considered gooseberries a desireable wild fruit, while the Hopi, would caution against eating too much of this fruit because it could make you sick to your stomach. The Gitksan of British Columbia put them in thin dry cakes that they ate with oil of eulachon, salmon, groundhog, or bear during the winter months. Many tribes made dried currant cakes and also used them in soup and to flavor stews. The leaves of the plant were dried for tea and the young leaves were cooked with meat.
The Kiowa used the raw fruit of the gooseberry as a remedy for snakebite because they believed that snakes did not like this berry and kept away from this shrub. A decoction made from the steam of the skunk red current was used to prevent blood clotting after giving birth. Other parts of this plant were used to treat colds, coughs, diabetes, diarrhea and to prevent miscarriages.
Did You Know…
There are many types of gooseberries or currants including the wax, bear, squaw, buffalo, clove, black, Missouri, golden and flowering currants.
Gooseberries are tart, low in calories, fat and cholesterol free and high in Vitamin C and A.
Gooseberries and currents can be easily distinguished by thorns; gooseberries usually have thorns and currants do not.
In the early 1900s the Federal and State Governments outlawed the growing of currants and gooseberries to prevent the spread of white pine blister rust. Massachusetts still prohibits the cultivation of this plant.
The Institute for American Indian Studies
Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS has an outdoor Three Sisters and Healing Plants Gardens as well as a replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village. Inside the museum, authentic artifacts are displayed in permanent, semi-permanent and temporary exhibits from prehistory to the present that allows visitors a walk through time. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut and can be reached online or by calling 860-868-0518.
The Institute for American Indian Studies preserves and educates through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality, and knowledge of Native American cultures. Through archaeology, the IAIS is able to build new understandings of the world and history of Native Americans, the focus is on stewardship and preservation. This is achieved through workshops, special events, and education for students of all ages.