One of several species of wild currants, the golden currant (Ribes aureum) is a member of the gooseberry family. It is an attractive, perennial shrub with golden yellow flowers found in many areas of Nevada. Golden currant was considered a tasty and valuable food for the Indians of the region, specifically the Washoe, Paiute, and Western Shoshone.
Used primarily as a food source, the fruit of the golden currant could be eaten fresh from the plant and also dried for later use. Some tribes dried and ground the berries and mixed them with flour to make a mush. Other Indian groups used the inner bark of golden currant to make a poultice for treating cuts and sores.
The golden currant grows in a variety of areas, from the sagebrush steppe to grasslands and desert areas. It flourishes alongside streams and riverbanks, and can be found in the coniferous forest areas.
Its yellow flowers and golden berries are responsible for its common name, golden currant, although the berries turn from yellow to black as they ripen. The yellow flowers have a spicy scent and are popular with hummingbirds.
The golden currant has very straight branches and lots of small, shiny green leaves. Although some species of currants have spiked leaves and thorns, the golden currant has no thorns and the branches are smooth, making it a source for wood to make arrows.
Golden currant flowers from early spring to June and the fruit ripens in August and September. Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition took special note of this plant while in the Western states during July 1806. In his journal, Lewis noted, “…the yellow Currants are beginning to ripen.” Today, the berries are still collected and used to make tasty jams, jellies and pies.
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