Before I go any farther, let me say that this article is about the gooseberry plant and fruit, and not the term gooseberry. The Brits and Canadians have an an idiomatic expression, “playing gooseberry” in which the "gooseberry" is an extra wheel, or the third wheel accompanying a romantically-linked couple on outings, and sometimes used for someone just being a fool. So maybe I'm a gooseberry writing about gooseberries?

Gooseberries (Ribes) were banned in the United States in the early 1900’s in an attempt to prevent the spread of white pine blister rust. The ban was lifted in most states in 1966 but by then the gooseberry was unfamiliar in home gardens.[1] New varieties have all but eliminated the problem and Gooseberries are now seeing a resurgence of popularity.

Gooseberries are hardy, easy to grow and make excellent pies, jams and jellies. The shrub itself makes an attractive plant in the landscape. I just planted my first one a month ago as part of my newly-designed backyard “orchard” of fruits, nuts and berries. I have also planted currants which are the other Ribes species included in the ban, so I want to mention the ban in more detail before getting on to the gooseberry.

ImageThe white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola) that became such a disease problem requires both a Ribes species and a white pine (Pinus strobes) to complete its life cycle. The disease causes very little harm to gooseberries or currants but is often deadly to white pines. Black currants (Ribes nigrum) are very susceptible to white pine blister rust, gooseberries and red and white currants are somewhat resistant.[2] The newer rust resistant cultivars have eliminated most of the problem.

Fourteen (14) states currently maintain various types of bans on Ribes species, the most restrictive being the total ban on all Ribes plants in North Carolina. Notwithstanding any state and local legislation, black currants should not be planted in any area where the disease is prevalent (particularly the East and Northwest). In areas where the disease is not prevalent, it is still best to avoid planting currants in locations where white pines are growing unless rust-immune cultivars are used.[3] In 2003, New York State passed a law that modified its ban to allow commercial growers and home gardeners to legally grow red currants, gooseberries and immune or resistant cultivars of black currants throughout New York State.[4]

Gooseberries are a low-growing, self-polinating shrub with leaves that turn a brilliant red in the fall. They are hardy to the extremely low temperatures of USDA Zone 3 and they will not tolerate hot, dry desert-like summers. They do very well in the cool moist climates of the northern US. Since the roots are shallow, they need mulching to keep their roots cool, and watering by drip irrigation is ideal. Keep them watered well in summer as they can suffer badly from drought. They will tolerate most soils as long as they are not waterlogged.

Gooseberries like morning sun, afternoon light shade and need good air circulation to prevent mildew. All gooseberries can sunburn although the American varieties are more sun-tolerant. Gooseberries are fast growing, up to 6’ wide and 3’ tall. They can produce fruit by their second year and the average yield of a mature gooseberry bush can be 8-10 pounds. (By the way, gooseberry shrubs can live for 30 years.)

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Gooseberry in Flower, Courtesy Kennedyh Gooseberryflowers starting to fruit Ripe Green Gooseberries

Their perfectly round fruit is either translucent yellow, green, almost white, or shades of red from pink to a dark purple- black. The fruits of the American Gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) grow up to ½ inch, smaller than the Eurpoean Gooseberry (R. grossularia) which are 1 inch and up to the size of a small plum. The fully ripe fruits are juicy-sweet and when still green have a full tart flavor. (I understand the American gooseberry is more productive but generally inferior to the European gooseberry.)

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R. uva-crispa 'Tixia' (European Gooseberry

Ripening Red Gooseberries

Medicinal Uses:

Pregnant women often had a yen for gooseberries, especially because of their cooling qualities to the stomach and their ability to quench thirst. They were said to be conducive to good appetite and a remedy for catarrh. Indians in the Rocky Mountains ate what they called porridge of cooked gooseberries for fever and for seizures of malaria marked by paroxysms of chills, fever and sweating recurring at regular intervals. Gooseberry tea was used to cure canker sores and for mouthwash.[5] "For A stye on the Eyelid- Point a gooseberry thorn at it nine times saying away away away! and the stye will vanish presently and disappear.[6]

If your climate is less than ideal for gooseberries, the Buffalo Currant (Ribes aureum) and/or the Jostaberry[7] make good substitutes. Whichever you can grow, having fresh gooseberries in your garden is a veritable pleasure!

Photo Credits: Thumbnail ©Valentyn Volkov, iStockPhoto # 4970550; Green Gooseberry cluster ©Ralph Kuhl, iStockPhoto #3623221; Ripening Gooseberries, iStockPhoto #43619384, and Flowers with baby fruits ©Tryfonov Ievgenii, 4097019, All Used by Permission. Also many Thanks to mgarr and Kennedyh for use of their photos from Plantfiles.

[1], [2]

Gooseberry Pie

5 cups stemmed and tailed gooseberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 1/2 tablespoons quick cooking tapioca
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
9" double pie crust

Combine first four ingredients and let stand while you prepare the crust. Preheat oven to 400F. Make your favorite pie crust recipe or borrow mine.

Easy Pie Crust
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons shortening
5 tablespoons water

Mix first three ingredients. Using a pastry knife, work in butter until very smooth. Add shortening and combine till the lumps are pea-size. Add the water. Gather dough into a ball, adding more water if needed. Divide in half and roll out on floured hoard. Form bottom crust into 9" pie pan, add prepared filling and dot with the butter. Roll out, fit and seal upper crust, brush with milk, then sprinkle with sugar and ventilate using a sharp paring knife or cookie cutters. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 350F and hake until golden brown, approximately 40 to 50 minutes.