Right now in my back garden, a Red Flowering Currant Bush (Ribes sanguineum) is in full radiant bloom. Her drooping clusters of “soul-piercing pink flowers” are sending out an entrancing floral, fruity and spicy perfume. Which is probably one reason ethnobotanist and author Abe Lloyd describes the blossoms as “capable of transforming winter sodden pessimists into vernal optimists”. And I couldn’t agree more. In this post, I’ll share some tips for creating a mood-lifting Red Flowering Currant Elixir that will capture spring magic in a bottle, for whenever you need it – all year long.
Red Flowering Currant is a native shrub of the PNW, in the same genus (Ribes) as other edible currants (blackcurrant, redcurrant, white currant) and sanguineum means “blood-red”. Last year I infused the blossoms (and a few berries) in vodka and honey and the result was a divine appropriately crimson elixir which I sent out in Gather Goody Boxes.
And let me tell you, during the past cold dreary winter months, it has been a favourite remedy. Just a few drops on the tongue or a splash in sparkly water brings a little sweet spring sunshine into my step! The blossoms, however, are so beloved by bees and hummingbirds, I harvest very sparingly. Which makes my elixir stores precious indeed! But now, with the blossoms in a riot of bloom, it’s time to replenish my supply.
I’ve already started by infusing some of the blossoms in vodka and others in honey. I also placed a handful in a ceremonial glass bowl outside in the warm afternoon sun to capture their essence. Flowering Currant Essence is generally used to give those who have lost heart the energy and courage to keep on going. According to Tree Bottom Farm Red Flowering Currant lifts seasonal blues and “helps us release fears that prevent us from taking joy in life.” Sounds good to me!
Later I will combine the finished extract, honey and flower essence together. This blossom elixir is lovely all on its own, but in the summer I add a few of the dusky berries. Though not commonly consumed, the berries are completely edible and were eaten raw, dried boiled and stewed by many of our Pacific Northwest Indigenous peoples. While their flavour is mild as currants go, they nonetheless brought a delicious layer of dark fruity flavour and colour to the final concoction.
But aside from making another batch of elixir, I’m also planning on creating some Red Flowering Currant Blossoms desserts for the Gather Cookbook. I’ve already started on an Easter Paska which is a traditional family dish that can be described as a kind of dense rich almondy lemon cheesecake. I don’t remember an Easter it was not at the table! This was the first attempt and of course, I had to test it by taking a bite.
Flowering Red Currant has fresh, slightly fruity aroma/flavour with what I can only describe as lime undertones and it makes a light, lively complement to the rich Paska. I infused the blossoms in vodka and whipping cream both of which went into the creamed cheese mixture (ricotta, cottage cheese, egg yolks, butter and ground almonds). I then hung it per family tradition in cheesecloth for two days so all the extraneous moisture drips out. And before hanging, I also minced a few fresh blossoms in!
For the next version, I’m going to add a bit more of the vodka extract for extra oomph & flavour. (You know I love my oomph). I may also add violets – I can’t resist. I’ll share the details of the final Pashka recipe in the Gather Cookbook previews. Meanwhile, I’m going to try a few flowers out in syrup and make a blossom sugar for cakes, baking and confections – the possibilities are endless!
If you’re interested in creating a Red Flowering Currant Elixir of your own, now (early April) is the time to gather the blossoms. Just remember the bees and hummingbirds! Flowering Red Currant is about 5 -to 10 feet tall and its leaves feature five lobes, are green and smooth while the undersides are paler and finely haired. Flowers vary from crimson red, hot pink to paler blushes.
Red Flowering Currant is used lavishly in native gardens and is found in sunny, semi-shade spots in the wild. Abe Lloyd writes it“ grows abundantly throughout the lands adjacent to the Salish Sea, along both slopes of the Cascades and westward to the Pacific Coast, and southward throughout western California to the Channel Islands.” If you don’t have Red Flowering Currant growing near you, the blossoms of both black, white, red currants are also remarkably fragrant and tasty – and are widespread across the temperate Northern Hemisphere. There are also wild currants such as Ribes indecorum or white-flowered currant which grows further south towards and in the warmer climes of California.
It’s also very popular in England. The first specimens were brought back on Captain Vancouver’s 1792 voyage in the Pacific Northwest and by the mid-1800’s it had taken English Gardens by storm. And many specimens have likely travelled the world, so who knows where you’ll find Red Flowering Currant.
And now its back to the kitchen for me, my recipes await! On one last note, as a native plant with its own body of ancestral lore and indigenous food use, please be respectful if you decide to harvest. I hope whenever or wherever you encounter her, from the forest, field to city street, you’ll take a moment to breathe in the fragrance of her “soul-piercing” flowers.
Step by Step Recipe for Creating Red Flowering Currant Elixir
Step 1. Red Flowering Currant Blossom Extract/Tincture
Place just under two cups of blossoms and lemon rinds in largeish mason jar and pour over with vodka. Make sure your blossoms are fully submerged, if not add an extra splash of vodka or take the top few out. Cap and let sit in a dark cupboard for at least 3 weeks. (the longer the better). You can start using it a lot earlier, it already has good flavour after 3-4 days, but you’ll want to make sure you let most of it for full potency. After 6 weeks though you can strain off the blossoms and rebottle.
Step 2. Red Flowering Currant Blossom Honey
Place 1 cup of blossoms and honey in the top of a double boiler, with water below at simmer. Let infuse for several hours. While still warm, pour honey through a strainer (to sieve off blossoms) into a clean mason jar. You can also do a cold infusion by pouring honey into a mason jar and letting it sit for six weeks. You may want to adjust the blossoms with a knife, skewer or chopstick, so the honey can fully saturate all of the blossoms. Honey moves slowly!
Step 3. Red Flowering Currant Flower Essence
Early on a sunny afternoon place a handful of blossoms and 1 cup water in a glass bowl (to let the light in) and leave the bowl outside in a spot where it will get sunlight for several hours. If you like you can take a moment to set an intention, say a prayer or ceremonially mark the creation of your essence. When dusk begins to fall, bring the essence in, strain off blossoms and rebottle. You can preserve the shelf-life by adding a tablespoon of high proof alcohol otherwise use within the week. You’ll be using about half a cup for the elixir, the rest makes a wonderful face wash!
Step. 4 Creating your Red Flowering Currant Elixir
Mix all your finished strained vodka, honey and ½ cup of floral essence together. You can stir vigorously in a bowl or place in a large lidded jar and shake really well. Either way, make sure all is thoroughly combined. Rebottle in a pretty jar! (In the late summer/early fall add a few berries to your elixir, the honey and vodka will preserve them.)
Step. 5 Enjoying your Red Flowering Currant Blossom Elixir
- Use a few drops on the tongue for an energetic lift.
- Add a teaspoon to a glass of sparkly water.
- Add an ounce to sparkly water for a delicious cocktail!