The Blackcurrant has been valued for centuries as a nutritious food and a wild, edible delicacy. The berries, best known as an edible fruit, are an ancient food in northern Europe. The use of blackcurrant fruit as an herbal medicine emerged in the Middle Ages. In the 16th century German herbalists recommended the berries for treatment of bladder stones and liver disorders. The berries were also made into syrups used for coughs and lung ailments.
In the eighteenth century the use of blackcurrant fruit became widespread among herbalists and physicians, particularly in Europe. Berry preparations were used for treatment in various intestinal conditions, typhoid fever, gout, rheumatism, and for infections of the mouth, skin, and urinary tract. By the early part of this century, the dried berry tea was used as an astringent for diarrhoea, dysentery and mouth inflammations. It was employed as a diuretic and as a cooling nutritive tonic. The tea was also used to prevent scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and to stop bleeding.
In New Zealand blackcurrants have been grown in home gardens since they first arrived in the nineteenth century. Many New Zealanders have fond childhood memories of picking the fruit together as a family and spending the evening making their favourite jam.
Today, New Zealand blackcurrant is firmly recognized as a quality ingredient being used for internationally recognized brands. Quality raw materials made from New Zealand blackcurrant have gained a good reputation in the manufacture of high quality nutraceutical drinks, foods and supplements which are consumed daily throughout the world.
The business and natural environments in which New Zealand blackcurrant growers operate enable them to consistently produce safe and delicious blackcurrants, rich in natural flavour and phytonutrients.
Unitque cultivars have been researched and developed by New Zealand research institutions and New Zealand Universities for use as safe food ingredients.
Little was known scientifically about the health benefits of blackcurrants until the late 1970s. Since then, research has found that blackcurrants have an array of health benefits including a variety of immune enhancing vital chemical properties. In addition, blackcurrant berries have far more Vitamin C than any other natural food source (about 4 times more than a fresh orange).
One of the most important bioflavonoids in blackcurrant is the family of Anthocyanins, which plays a major role in the anti-oxidative properties of blackcurrants. The compounds are currently being clinically tested and proven for effective treatment of arteriosclerosis, arthritis, rheumatism, prostate cancer, menopause, sore throats and so on. Their possible cancer fighting potential is also being investigated.
Currently, science is documenting the high antioxidant capacity of blackcurrants and how these antioxidants are beneficial in neutralising the effects of free radicals, which attack human cells and damage DNA.
The anthocyanin fraction is being studied for its links to improved eyesight, and reduction in the number of incidents of age-related diseases. Modern laboratory studies on blackcurrant fruit extracts have confirmed the berries’ antioxidant effects, ability to inhibit aggregation of blood platelets (reduce stickiness, hence a tendency to clotting of blood cells), ability to produce a slight relaxation effect on vascular smooth muscles, and a possible role in reducing factors associated with chronic inflammatory diseases.
Extracts of the fruit have also been shown, in laboratory experiments, to inhibit enzymes such as elastase, which can cause the degradation of collagen. This can lead to a reduction in factors associated with inflammatory conditions such as atherosclerosis, pulmonary emphysema, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Blackcurrant is believed to protect cells and membranes from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive molecules, which are formed during the metabolic process. When free radicals encounter healthy cell membranes, they can cause damage, impairing cell function and leading to premature cell death.