ChiloquinNews article 10/17/2011
The Aronia berry (Aronia melanocarpa), also known as Black Chokeberry is fast becoming the latest ‘superfruit’ to be touted by various websites anxious to separate you from your money. However it’s not all hype. There is quite a bit of truth mixed in. Aronia berries are dark purple or black in color and grow on a deciduous shrub. Originally considered to be of little medicinal value, new research has shown that Aronia berries have a high concentration of antioxidants – polyphenols, anthocyanins, and quinic acid. In fact, Aronia berries contain higher levels of antioxidants than the current ‘superfruit’ leaders: acai, goji and pomegranate, and of course more than those fruits we are actually able to get our hands on, like elderberries, cranberries, blueberries, and grapes. There is also truth to the stories that those antioxidants are good for your health, stimulating circulation and strengthening the heart while the quinic acid (10 times more than cranberries contain) protect the urinary tract from infections.
Although native to the Americas, found from Nova Scotia all the way to Florida, they are far more popular in Eastern Europe where they have been grown on a commercial scale for several decades. Of course, as with all fruit, the native species are not always as good for fruit production as the developed cultivars. ‘Viking’ and ‘Nero’ cultivars were selected in Russia for commercial fruit production, and within the last 15 years, these two cultivars have been introduced back into the United States. Several years ago I bought plants of both Viking and Nero and planted them in Reno where they did great, so I took starts from them before moving to Chiloquin, and of course, mixed them up. Now I’m not sure which is which, but I can assure you that one of them (I want to say Viking) is doing fabulously here while the other, is just OK.
Aronia berries can be eaten fresh, but I don’t know why you’d do it. They taste dreadful. The presence of tannins in the berries makes your mouth pucker, and they are quite mealy and dry, but not sour despite a high acid content. 100% aronia juice is comparable in taste to 100% cranberry juice – not something that a sweet-tooth is likely to enjoy. Freezing reduces the astringency and makes it easier to extract the juice, and once turned into wine, jams, jellies, juice, salsa, tea, syrup, and pastries Aronia takes on a whole new taste of its own – delicious. The juice is also used as a natural food coloring.
They are easy to start from cuttings, and since the shrub slowly increases its size by suckering (it suckers in quite a refined manner, not wildly, like aspen) transplanting a sucker almost always works. I’m always happy to give away suckers, so come get one next spring if you’d like to start a shrub.
Aside from the health benefits and the wine, jams, jellies, juice, salsa, tea, syrup, and pastries then, why would you want to grow an Aronia shrub? Well, it’s a plant that has something for every season. In the spring it is covered in clusters of pretty white flowers that are loved by bees and butterflies. In the summer it is a 4-6 ft shrub with glossy green leaves that can be used as a screen. In the fall, the berries ripen and hang in clusters all over the bush, and that is followed by a spectacular display of red to orange leaves, depending on which variety you have. The red leaves have a nearly luminescent quality, brightening dark corners on cloudy autumn days. The bush has no thorns, the berries are super easy to pick, and this is a nearly disease and pest-free species.
Added to that, if you get the right one it will thrive in Chiloquin. It will tolerate partial shade but prefers full sun, and you can grow it in swampy ground or dry soil, in compacted soil or salty soil. About the only hazard is that you need to wear old clothes when you work with the berries because they are a great source of natural dye – kind of a lovely magenta-purple, I can tell you from experience.