Aronia bumps blueberry out of the No. 1 spot
Updated: Oct 15
A few months ago I cut the invasive Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica, someone had planted in front of my house down to the ground then painted on Roundup to kill the roots.
I waited a few weeks, dug, and sure enough out came the roots.
Staring at the now-empty spot in front of a downstairs bedroom window, I wanted a replacement that would satisfy several considerations:
winter interest, and
I decided to go with Black Chokeberry, Aronia melanocarpa, and while I did not set out to write a health blog, here it is:
First up, edible fruit. Black Chokeberry is named for the almost black fruit that forms in the late summer. The fruits are edible but tart right off the branches (it’s an acquired taste). And yes the rumors are correct: these are healthy berries! In fact, these berries can set you on a path toward uber-health.
When I research healthy berries, blueberries are always No. 1. There’s rarely a mention of Aronia berries, probably because they are not found in grocery stores.
A handy chart by MedicineNet offers this comparison to blueberries, finding Aronia berries:
Are lower in carbohydrates and calories and have double the protein
Contain half as much sugar (all you have to do is taste one to know this is true!)
Are higher in calcium, iron, Vitamins A and C, and potassium.
Have higher concentrations of antioxidants, which fight free radicals that can damage normal cells and cause heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Contain a “super antioxidant,” proanthocyanidin, which protects against sun damage and helps maintain eye, joint, muscle and artery health.
Are rich in anthocyanins, which give Aronia berries and blueberries their deep, rich colors and have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Contain high levels of flavonoids and polyphenols, which support cognitive function and may improve concentration and memory.
That’s some berry! Apparently they’re also good at helping to maintain a healthy body weight :). My first consideration, ✓
Next up: Pollinator values: Turns out Aronia melanocarpa is about as beneficial for insects as it is for people. Pollinator values are Very High, and this bush is a larval host to the Coral Hairstreak and other butterflies.
Like other members of the rose family, 5-petaled white to light pink flowers with pretty pink anthers absolutely cover this bush in May through June, attracting bees, wasps and other flying things. Birds and mammals like to take cover in the dense branching. Deer, unfortunately, like to browse it :(. Still, my second consideration, ✓
Third on my list: Winter interest. Turns out the birds prefer these berries after they have fermented a bit and so these super healthy berries hang on well into winter, long after the deep red and purple foliage has fluttered off the branches. At my house, the birds may have to dive in more quickly if they want a chance at these berries.
Usually I put blueberries in my smoothies; I’m switching to Aronia berries. Here’s my recipe:
½ cup Aronia berries
A few pieces of mango or pineapple (I use frozen)
½ cup whole, plain yogurt
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chia seeds
1 teaspoon hemp seeds
Handful of spinach or kale
A tablespoon of nut butter
Enough oatmilk for desired consistency
You can also use the berries to make jams, syrup, tea, juice and wine.
My third consideration, ✓
Last up: Size. Black Chokeberry typically grows between 5 and 8 feet tall, a little big for the spot I chose. Happily, though, Black Chokeberry benefits from pruning. In winter, I’m going to prune out older stems and stems that are crossing from the outside toward the inside of the shrub to open up the interior. I’m also going to prune the tops of the stems to create a bushier shrub and keep the height under control.
Thus my fourth consideration, ✓
Black Chokeberry fulfills everything I’m looking for, plus it has four-season interest and likes to sucker, which will help me fill in the area underneath my window. While I need just one bush for fruit, a few more bushes will fill in my area nicely. I may even put Golden Groundsel (Packera aurea) or another evergreen in front of my bush (the area is too sunny for Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, and other shade-loving plants) to add year-round color and fill in the shrub’s tendency toward “legginess.”
Black Chokeberry also is good for erosion control, as a windbreak and in very wet soils. It tolerates shade, but you’ll get the most fruit in a sunny spot :).
Aronia melanocarpa. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/aronia-melanocarpa/
Berry Good for Your Heart. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/berry-good-for-your-heart
Chokeberry, Black. Tree Talk Natives. https://www.treetalknatives.com/product-page/black-chokeberry
Lorimer, U. The Northeast Native Plant Primer. 2022. Timber Press. P. 85.
Ren, Y., F. Tyler, M. Gunnar et al. “Potential Benefits of Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) Fruits and Their Constituents in Improving Human Health.” Molecules. Nov. 13, 2022
Rosaceae. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosaceae
Sruthi, M. “Are Aronia Berries Similar to Blueberries?” MedicineNet. April 18, 2022. https://www.medicinenet.com/are_aronia_berries_similar_to_blueberries/article.htm