For a long time, blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) were called “the forbidden fruit” in the United States. Farmers thought that the tart berries, native to Europe and Asia, helped spread a fungus that killed pine trees. Due to the ban, many Americans have missed out on these nutritious berries.
Blackcurrants have a high concentration of:
- polyphenolic substances
- vitamin C
- gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
Many health foods and drinks in the United Kingdom use these berries. Their tartness also lends itself to mixing with other fruits, especially in jams and juices.
People use the whole blackcurrant plant, from the leaves to the seeds, for many conditions. The most common form is blackcurrant seed oil, but you can also make infusions and teas out of the plant’s leaves, fresh or dried.
People take blackcurrant to help their:
- blood flow
- immune system
- eye health
- gut health
- kidney health
Blackcurrant extracts are shown to reduce risk factors for metabolic conditions such as type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Blackcurrants contain many vitamins, such as:
The most significant is vitamin C. In fact, blackcurrants carry four times the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and double the amount of antioxidants as blueberries. The benefits of vitamin C are many. The body uses vitamin C to metabolize protein and form collagen, which is essential for skin care and anti-aging.
In addition to vitamin C, blackcurrants have plenty of antioxidants and anthocyanins. These can help strength your immune system, soothe sore throats, and ease flu symptoms.
Blackcurrant leaves also have a range of properties, including:
One study showed that blackcurrant supplements enhanced the immune response in people who exercised regularly. They could also train harder for longer periods of time.
Another study of healthy older adults showed that blackcurrant seed oil boosted the immune system.
Blackcurrants have a direct effect on your body’s inflammatory response.
Blackcurrant seed oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid that’s been said to help ease inflammation in the body. The high GLA and anthocyanin content can help reduce joint or muscle:
In some studies, GLA supplements were so effective that participants with rheumatoid arthritis could reduce their usual pain medications.
Grape-based drinks like wine and juice are known to help decrease plaque buildup, but blackcurrant juice, as well as pomegranate juice, is far more potent. Blackcurrant is high in potassium and GLA, which can help lower your blood pressure too. The GLA also helps cells in your heart resist damage and slows down platelet clumping in your blood vessels.
In addition, one study found that blackcurrant powder increased heart blood flow and decreased overall peripheral resistance. This suggests that blackcurrant may help you recover after exercise.
While hard to find in most U.S. stores, the blackcurrant-based drink Ribena is very popular in the U.K.
Although there isn’t much scientific research about blackcurrant seed oil and its effectiveness for skin conditions, the National Psoriasis Foundation recommends the oil to help ease psoriasis symptoms. Taken orally, blackcurrant seed oil can help slow the growth and development of psoriasis patches. It also can be applied directly to dry, itchy, or stinging skin.
Clinical trials with blackcurrants found that these berries improve eye function, including:
- the eyes’ ability to adapt to the dark
- blood flow to the eyes
- slowed progression of visual field deterioration in people with glaucoma
- symptoms of visual fatigue
People who do computer work every day may benefit from blackcurrant supplements. One study found that 1 tablespoon of blackcurrant berries reduced visual fatigue two hours afterward.
It’s not hard to incorporate more blackcurrants into your diet. You can find blackcurrant in the form of:
- dried fruit
- pills and capsules
Britain’s Ribena is also a popular drink you may be able to find in the import section of the grocery store. The berries themselves can be tossed into any recipe that calls for a bit of tangy sweetness.
Dosage recommendations include:
- four 250 milligram capsules per day, taken twice a day
- 5-10 milliliters of fruit syrup per day
- one glass of fruit juice per day
- 1-2 teaspoons of leaves, three to four times a day
You can also try substituting berries for blackcurrants in your yogurt or salad. Or try this blackcurrant jam from BBC Good Food. The smell of sweet berries cooking over a stove could be therapeutic in itself.
Both blackcurrant berries and seed oil are considered safe at recommended doses. However, the supplements have been known to cause some side effects such as soft stools, mild diarrhea, and intestinal gas.
Because it can slow blood clotting, blackcurrant supplements are not recommended for people with bleeding disorders or those about to have surgery.
Not enough is known about dried blackcurrant leaves to rate their safety. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should talk to their doctor before taking any supplements, including blackcurrant.