There is an heirloom fruiting shrub that seems to be, as the saying goes, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride”. It is never the one that people clamor for at the nursery, but plays a supporting role to raspberries and even gooseberries. If only people would stop searching for the most popular shrubs… this quiet beauty could become the star in their own backyard.
Ribes odoratum is commonly known as clove currant. This is a deciduous shrub (loses its leaves in the fall) that reaches a height of 4′ – 6′ and a similar width. It can be grown in partial shade to full sun (but fruits better in full sun) and prefers well-drained soil, but will tolerate clay conditions. This tough shrub is also drought tolerant. It makes a nice border planting but can also naturalize.
Curious about where it can be grown? Here is great news; this plant does well in USDA hardiness zones 3b – 8b. This range spans from the southern United States to southern Canada… and even extending north along the Canadian western provinces.
Visually, this is an attractive plant. For starters, it gets our attention in spring with a profusion of lemon-yellow flowers. If you are standing near the plant or a breeze wafts by, you are treated to a delicious clove aroma. This spiciness is wonderful and truly unique in the world of fruiting shrubs. Personally, this is planted just off the edge of my patio purely for the fragrance. In the fall, the leaves range from yellow to burgundy.
Clove currant is prone to suckering. However this can be solved through pruning or you can dig up the sucker (leaving the roots attached) and then plant it elsewhere in your garden to create another plant.
As the season progresses, the flowers fade and are replaced by small green fruit and a very blue-green foliage. As the fruit grows, the arched branches begin to sag under the weight of the fruit. (Did I mention that is a prolific producer)? By mid-summer, the fruit begin to darken in color and when August rolls around, the fruit are nearly black in color with just hints of deep purple. Worth noting is that the fruit ripens unevenly. This means that there will several pickings before all fruit has been harvested over the course of several weeks. Ripe fruit will be black in color and have a very sweet flavor. (Forget what you know about other currants… this does not have a musky taste). To harvest, simply pluck fruit from the branch. NOTE: there will most likely be a small piece of stem at the top of the fruit.
Since the ripe fruit is sweet, it can be enjoyed eaten fresh. Though in our household, we prefer to enjoy it in different applications. Yes, it makes a wonderful jelly, sauce, or even pie, fruit leather, but hands down… it makes a lovely wine. The fruit can also be dehydrated and then used in homemade granola, trail mix, or even ‘energy’ bars.
For us, it is one of our favorite fruiting shrubs. And for anyone who has ever harvested from a fruiting shrub, there is a nice perk… it is thornless! This is a great change of pace from raspberries and gooseberries which means that you don’t have to don a long-sleeved shirt or gloves for harvesting.
If you are in the market for a fruiting shrub, look no further than clove currant. It is an attractive shrub with yellow flowers that emit a heady, clove aroma. It is a prolific producer of black, sweet fruit that can be enjoyed fresh or turned into a variety of items. This is one shrub that will always be in our garden and deserves a spot in yours.