Aronia: A Backyard Superfood

Aronia isn’t just a “weed.” The plant’s tart berries are a native superfood, abundant and healthful.

| Fall 2017

  • Also called chokeberries, aronia berreis are tart and contain high levels of antioxidants.
    By Adobe Stock/sanka8306
  • Chokeberry flowers and leaves. Spring macro photo.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/Buharina
  • The dark berries are also called "black chokeberries."
    Photo by Adobe Stock/madredus
  • Soften the berries' tartness with sugar or other fruits in smoothies or desserts.
    Photo by Adobe stock/PopovJ2

A few years ago, a number of very expensive juices became popular in a multilevel marketing model. Especially because of the field I work in, it was almost impossible for me to go anywhere without running into someone who’d tell me about this miracle berry blend that would keep me young, make my skin look great, and would cure or prevent cancer. I was skeptical to say the least, but I decided to look into the claims.

The truth about those trendy juices? They were what they claimed to be. But finding that truth wasn’t enough for me — there was more to the story, and it led me to the Aronia bush (Aroniamelanocarpa).

It doesn’t really matter which type of juice sparked my curiosity. I’m certain it contained a few “superfruits” — goji berry, acai berry, pomegranate — that are high in antioxidants from the dark pigment of their skins. Numerous studies have shown that fruits and vegetables with high levels of antioxidant activity have favorable effects on our immune systems. Although the entire metabolic process isn’t yet understood, and the effects may involve other factors, foods high in antioxidants seem to help control free-radical damage and support the body’s fight against aging and even cancer. No, these superfoods are not a hoax.

Aronia Berry Concentrate Recipe
Strawberry-Aronia-Rhubarb Refrigerator Jam

I found that my real problem with the juice wasn’t the expense or what I thought was an unrealistic health claim — it was about the plants. We have a tendency to romanticize distant locales and the plants that grow there. This relegates plants in our own backyards to “weed” status. The goji berry originated in China and is only now beginning to become popular here in the United States (see the article "Grow Goji Berries" to learn how to grow your own). The acai is native to northern South America. Pomegranates admittedly have been grown in Arizona and California more recently, but they originated in the Mediterranean. I thought that if each of these regions had its superfruit, then there must be one or two in our corner of the world. That’s when I discovered the Aronia bush.

Aronia Characteristics and History

Aronia, also called “black chokeberry,” is a small, suckering shrub that’s part of the rose family. It has white blooms of five petals and five sepals. The center of the flower appears almost fuzzy, as it’s made up of multiple stamens and styles. It grows in full sun or partial shade, often at the edge of a tree line. Here in the Great Lakes region, where it’s native, wild Aronia is found in low-lying, swampy areas. It’s leggy and often overlooked as a mere nuisance. In short, it’s a “weed.” It seems unremarkable, and it could easily be overlooked as nothing more than bird food. However, Aronia has been appreciated in Europe, where breeders have worked to select for higher rates of fruiting and better landscape forms. They know something we’re only beginning to recognize in the United States.

11/15/2017 11:27:36 PM

Are these the same as chokecherries or Mayflowers?



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