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Aronia Berry (Aronia melanocarpa)
Aronia is a genus of fruiting shrubs native to the east coast of North America. I have come to love Aronia and am planting it throughout our gardens for abundant berries, health and beauty.
I first met Aronia at a permaculture homestead while I was WWOOFing in the Pacific Northwest. Still young, the shrubs were about 3-4 feet high and had growing on them a prolific amount of fat, swollen berries in numerous clusters. By the time they ripened they had turned black in color and I couldn’t help but admire the clusters of dark berries every time I walked by, nibbling from time to time.
Continue reading to learn more about the Aronia berry. Why its an underappreciated berry, a great permaculture plant and a nutritive food. Learn how to cook with it, how to preserve the berries and how to propagate these beautiful bushes. Choose Aronia for your homestead and you’ll enjoy beauty and good health!
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Aronia’s common name is chokeberry (not to be confused with chokecherry). Some say Aronia is astringent enough to cause choking. This is a misnomer because while Aronia is astringent and, truth be told, not very sweet, the fruits can indeed be delicious. However, there may some truth to the name with regards to some wild Aronia berries.
This fruit is highly variable in flavor, and I never pick them without tasting first. The smaller berries often have poorer flavor.Samuel Thayer, Nature’s Garden
Keep in mind Samuel is talking about wild Aronia berries here. Since I don’t live on the East coast I haven’t had the opportunity to wild harvest Aronia berries. All of the Aronias I have come into contact with here on the West coast are cultivars with good flavor.
However “good” is subjective and while I have never seen someone spit out the berry, I have some friends that don’t like them raw. I can eat handfuls of them raw but my palette has become accustomed to a wide variety of non-traditional foods and flavors so I am OK with some astringency.
On the other hand I’ve cooked Aronia in breads and meals and everyone I have fed them to absolutely loves them prepared in that way, and so I think that is where Aronia can really shine as a food (more on that below in Cooking with Aronia Berries).
There are three species of Aronia: A. arbutifolia, which has bright red fruits, A. melanocarpa which has deep purple, to the point of being black, fruits, and A. prunifolia with purple fruits which is though to be a natural occurring hybrid between A. arbutifolia and A. melanocarpa. In this article I will be talking about Aronia melanocarpa because that is the species I have experience with, and I will be referring to it simply as Aronia from here on out.
The genus name, Aronia, is from the Greek word “aria.” This is the Greek name for the species of Sorbus, whose fruits are similar to [Aronia] . . . Melano means black and carpa meaning fruit. This is derived from the ripe fruits of this species.North Carolina State University Extension
Aronia vs Blueberries
When I explain Aronias to other gardeners I find it helpful to compare them to blueberries. The berries look somewhat similar in size and color, they both grow on shrubs and the berries hang in clusters.
I like to say: Aronias are like a less sweet, astringent blueberry with more health benefits and way easier to grow. In my opinion sweetness is the only advantage that blueberries have over Aronias.
Compared to blueberries, growing Aronia bushes is a piece of cake. Their root system is relatively more vigorous and grow larger than blueberry bushes. Aronia do well in a large variety of soil conditions, including our heavy clay. Blueberries on the other hand need a lot of pampering when it comes to soil conditions.
Aronia don’t need as much watering as blueberries. I wouldn’t go as far as calling them drought tolerant but they are not as likely to die if you are late to water them, which has happened to me with blueberries. Aronia bushes that I have planted and tended have never shown much signs of drought stress.
Aronia bushes are also fairly pest and disease resistant. I personally haven’t had any insect or disease issues with Aronia bushes. That’s probably in part due to being close to their wild form.
One of the biggest pests that blueberry growers need to worry about is birds! While I have seen birds eat some Aronia berries, and how much depends on the year, birds usually don’t eat much of the crop and there is plenty left to harvest. I attribute this to the astringent nature of Aronia berries. The birds favor sweeter fruits, and by the time they run out of those you will have harvested your Aronia berries.
I had a few blueberry bushes in our garden that did not thrive, and in fact they ended up dying due to our hot summers. I could have given them more water than the rest of the garden, but I decided not to give them special treatment. This is my M.O. towards many of the plants I grow because I want a resilient garden. I don’t want a garden that is dependent on being pampered, and I am willing to accept some losses to achieve that.
I decided instead to grow more Aronia bushes instead of trying to bend over backwards for blueberries because they are easier to grow and more nutritious. We still enjoy eating blueberries (especially my son!), we just choose to purchase them from a local u-pick farmer instead of growing them ourselves.