Red currant and black current, new cultivated fruits in late medieval and early modern Europe: Historic and archaeobotanical evidence

Résumé : Red and black currants are cultivated as garden shrubs in Germany, Holland, Denmark and the eastern neighbours of the Baltic since 500-600 years (Karg 2007, Wiethold 2007). Older medieval archaeobotanical finds in central and northern Europe are doubtful concerning dating and/or determination. Some of them may represent some rare collections from the wild. The origin of cultivation is estimated in northern France or Belgium (Killermann, cited by Hegi 1961 : 53), but detailed modern research on this question is still lacking. Nevertheless, the centre of biodiversity of Ribes rubrum L. and Ribes nigrum L. is clearly located in northern and north-western Europe. The fruit gained rapidly after cultivation its place in the local gardens for fresh consumption (red currant) as well as for producing juice, jam, jellies, filling of tarts and bakery, fruit wines, liqueurs and other alcoholic drinks. The main pharmaceutical properties are attributed to Ribes nigrum L. and its dried leaves for the preparation of teas and humid extractions are known from apothecary inventories. Herbals and pharmaceutical literature and their iconography demonstrate the existence of several varieties and local cultivars of Ribes rubrum L. by the end of the 16th/beginning of 17th century. The rich etymological and dialectical heritage of popular names for red and black currant shrubs and berries stresses again the importance of these easily cultivated garden shrubs. Cultivation in larger plantations is a modern development of the late 19th and 20th century because harvesting was labour-intensive, transport and storage delicate. Northern Germany seems to be one of the centres of Ribes cultivation and consumption during early modern times, but the archaeobotanical evidence in this region is favoured by excellent preservation of waterlogged plant assemblages and intensive research on early modern urban sites. French archaeobotany cannot contribute to research on Ribes because early modern structures are rarely sampled and studied and waterlogged preservation of plant assemblages is much scarcer than in the northern Germany lowlands. Nevertheless, intensive research on 16/17th century sites in regions not yet represented may contribute valuable results in future.
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Julian Wiethold. Red currant and black current, new cultivated fruits in late medieval and early modern Europe: Historic and archaeobotanical evidence. Marie-Pierre Ruas. Des fruits d’ici et d’ailleurs. Regards sur l’histoire de quelques fruits consommés en Europe, Edition omnisciences, pp.267-284, 2016, Des fruits d’ici et d’ailleurs. Regards sur l’histoire de quelques fruits consommés en Europe, 978-2-916097-47-3. ⟨halshs-01452519⟩

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