Aronia berries are among the less well known edible wild plants. The common name is chokeBerry, but that leads to confusion with the better known chokeCHerry. Let’s face it – the Latin name is the way to go here, but in this case it is actually kind of nice. Don’t you think Aronia sounds pretty?
Aronia is a genus of 2 or 3 species of deciduous shrubs native to eastern North America. Black Aronia and red Aronia are distinct species. Purple Aronia is either a 3rd species, or a hybrid of the black and red species.
Caution: Do not eat any wild plant until you have confirmed its identity with several authoritative sources. I highly recommend consulting directly with an edible plants expert.
Health benefits of Aronia berries
Aronia berries are exceptionally high in anti-oxidant polyphenol compounds, which might help protect from cancer, and from diseases with an underlying inflammatory process. Some sources say that the darker Aronia berries are higher in polyphenols, but that is not necessarily true. A recent study showed black Aronia berries are indeed highest in one class of polyphenol compounds. But red and purple Aronia berries are better sources of other types of polyphenols.
- Black Aronia berries are highest anthocyanins.
- Red Aronia berries are highest in proanthocyanidins.
- Purple Aronia berries are highest in chlorogenic acids and quercetin glycosides.
The bottom line is that all three are high in anti-oxidant polyphenols, and may have similar health benefits. All are underutilized by humans, but becoming more popular. You can now purchase various Aronia berry products:
Range and habitat
Aronias prefer sandy soils of moist woods, swamps, and lakeshores. They fruit best with full sun exposure. The largest patch I know of in my area occurs along the edge of a beaver pond, where it fruits fairly well.
- Red chokeberry, Aronia arbutifolia (formerly Photonia pyrifolia), is native to eastern Canada, the eastern US seaboard states, and the southern states as far west as Texas, as you can see in the range map here.
- Black chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa (formerly Photonia melanocarpa), is native to most of eastern North America except for FA, TX, and LA, as you can see here.
- Purple chokeberry, Aronia prunifolia, occurs where the ranges of black and red chokeberry overlap. Some people (myself included) think it is a hybrid of red and black chokeberry, rather than a distinct species.
Foraging Aronia Berries: Identification
In spring (mid-late May, here in MA), Aronias bear clusters of small flowers. Each has 5 white, roundish petals, and about 20 pale pink to deep purple stamens (those tiny pink balls in the flowers in the photo). Recognizing the flowers can help you locate plants in spring. Remember where you saw the flowers, and return for the berries in late summer.
The oval leaves with finely toothed edges can be up to about 3 inches long. They are arranged alternately on twigs. Examining the undersides of the leaves can help you determine species.
- Leaves of red Aronia have very wooly undersides, as you can see in the photo.
- Black Aronia leaves are said to smooth, or nearly so. If that is true, I don’t think I’ve seen pure black chokeBerry around here.
- Purple Aronia, whether it is a hybrid or a separate species, has leaves with somewhat wooly undersides. But based on the color and ripening time of the berries, I have identified purple chokeBerry which has leaves that are about as wooly as those of red chokeBerry.
Black Aronias ripen earliest, red latest, and purple in between. Here, purple Aronia is ripe (deep reddish-purple) by mid-late August. Red Aronia ripens in mid-September. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pure black Aronia, but it is said to ripen earliest. The berries of all three types need to be harvested immediately when ripe, because they quickly dry up.
The flavor has been described as highly variable, from bitter to astringent to as sweet as blueberries. I’ve never had a chokeBerry that I’d describe as bitter, nor one that I’d describe as sweet as blueberries. To me, raw Aronia berries have a mild sweetness, an astringent (mouth-puckering) quality, and an unpleasant, styrofoam-like texture. I usually eat 1 or 2 raw berries while happening by, but have no desire to eat more than that. These are not the kind of berries you want to eat by the handful.
How to use Aronia berries
Aronia berreis are usually juiced. Sam Thayer says cold pressed Aronia juice is tart, but mild, with no bitterness. He adds that boiling them produces a less palatable juice, because it pulls some of the astringency from the pulp into the juice.
That said, the yield of juice from cold pressing must be quite low, because Aronia berries are not very juicy. If you have access to a large quantity, then go ahead and cold press. But because I don’t know of a prolific source of Aronia berries in my area, I may boil whatever I collect, and use it for jelly.
- Otakar, Rop. et al. 2010. Phenolic content, antioxidant capacity, radical oxygen species scavening and lipid peroxidation inhibiting activities of extracts of five black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa (Michx.) Elliot) cultivars. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 4(22), 2431-2437.
- Permaculture Plants: Aronia or Chokeberry
- Taheri, R., et al. 2013. Underutilized chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, Aronia arbutifolia, Aronia prunifolia) accessions are rich sources of anthocyanins, flavonoids, hydroxycinnamic acids, and proanthocyanidins. J. Agric. Food. Chem. 61(36), 8581-8588.
- Thayer, S. Nature’s Garden. 2010. Forager’s Harvest Press.