Wild currants are closely related to gooseberries. Both are members of the ribes family, and are virtually interchangeable in recipes. Currants come in red, black, and gold colors when ripe. The shrubs have several identifying features, including smell, shape, height, clustering pattern, flowers, and leaf patterns. The time of year may also play an important role in successful identification of currants. North America is host to more than 80 varieties.
Look at the shrub you suspect is a currant shrub. Notice its size. Currants are typically between 3 and 8 feet in height.
Note the patterns of the leaves on the shrub. Observe whether the shape resembles a maple leaf, with visible veins that look like a hand with outstretched fingers. If so, it may be a currant.
Break a twig or leaf from the shrub and smell it. Most (but not all) currant shrubs smell slightly skunky.
Observe the berry clusters. Currants grow in long clusters of five or more berries each, with shriveled flowers that dangle from the ends. Flowers may be one of several colors, including white, yellow or dark red.
Check the color and striping pattern of the berries. Most currants have visible stripes up and down the length of each berry, and are red, black or gold in color. Berries that have not ripened are green.
Consider the time of year. Currants are usually ready for picking in the early fall season throughout North America. Only plan to harvest currants for eating and cooking at this time.