Here’s a baby gooseberry bush that I rescued from death by lawnmower, and replanted in a safer place. Isn’t it adorable?
While Wičhágnaška hú (Ribes missouriense, or Missouri gooseberry bushes) are fairly common around here, they’re a pretty under-appreciated fruit. Most people can’t identify them by sight, and don’t think much about mowing them down. Personally, I love them and think they’re worth keeping.
In the spring, a gooseberry plant will produce yellow flowers, which eventually yield to small green globes, which swell and become red, eventually turning purple-black when they are ripe. These fruits are sweet and tart – perfect when warmed by the sun.
Wičhágnaška hú species exist across North America as well as Europe. In England, breeding and cultivating domesticated gooseberry species in order to develop the biggest berries became an intense, competitive hobby for the wealthy in the 1700s and 1800s. They developed complete with gooseberry clubs and gooseberry competitions that were heavily attended by the public. The oldest surviving gooseberry club from this era is the Egton Gooseberry Show, which is still running today. (The European species of gooseberry is a cousin, but not the same, as the one we have here in North America.)
While gooseberry fervor has never reached quite this much intensity in North America, the berry is certainly an important traditional food in our region. While I’ve heard that you can dry them, in addition to eating them fresh, I’ve never been able to hold off on eating them long enough to find out. I also have not heard of any medicinal or other uses for parts of this plant other than the fruit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
Later in the season, I’ll post some pictures of the berries on different gooseberry bushes, in different stages of development.