Aronia, more commonly known as chokeberry, is a native, understory shrub that has been rediscovered in recent years for its use in the landscape, food production and health benefits. Though originating in the eastern part of the US, it is currently most widely grown in upper mid-west states such as Nebraska, Wisconsin and South Dakota. Numerous varieties exist, most commonly found as red, black or even purple (an intentional cross between the red and black berries) berries.

Health Benefits of Aronia

Aronia berries have been gaining in popularity and getting the attention of medical and nutrition professionals. The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry has reported in recent years that chokeberries have been found to possess three times the levels of antioxidants found in blueberries. They also possess high levels of vitamin C and phenolic compounds.

A 2014 article in the Journal of Clinical Pathology reported that extracts of aronia, when coupled with or added to chemotherapy treatment of sufferers of pancreatic cancer, increased the number of cancer cells that were killed than when using the cancer drug alone. Other studies have attributed aronia berries with benefitting the adipogenesis (cell differentiation) process that could have implications for fighting obesity.

Study after study identifies aronia berries, specifically the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) as the berry with the greatest potential to inhibit cancer cells and the berry with the highest amount of antioxidant properties of all berries currently available on the market.

The raw or dried berry retains more of these properties than when juiced, but even when juiced, most of the health benefits are retained. Recent studies by Bulgarian scientists have also suggested that aronia is beneficial to in vitro health. It also has anti-viral properties against influenza A and was used by Potawatomi Indians centuries ago to fight the common cold.

Monetary Value of Aronia

A lack of awareness of aronia’s existence by consumers and professionals alike has kept its production numbers low, but that is changing. Growers, based on rising consumer demand, are planting aronia in record numbers due to the possibility of fetching prices as high as $7.50 per pound.

That, coupled with an average yield per mature plant of 15 to 20 pounds per year, makes aronia an attractive crop to grow, even for the smallest of hobby growers. Aronia are a long-lived plant and are cold hardy and heat tolerant, making them an easy sell for producers and home growers alike all over the country.

They can survive anywhere in between USDA hardiness zones of 3-8, making them quite versatile. A well-planned stand of varying species of aronia could yield harvests from mid-summer all the way to early fall.

As more chokeberries enter the market in coming years, the price per pound will likely drop, but it may be some time before that is a concern. In 2012, there were less than five million pounds of aronia produced. For comparison, in that same year 552 million pounds of blueberries were produced and 768 million pounds of cranberries.

Landscaping Considerations for Growing Aronia

Aronia should not just be considered for their crop potential. They are an excellent choice for the home or commercial landscape. Depending on variety and care, aronia can range between three and 12 feet high when mature. As native plants, they can tolerate “wet feet” and survive dry spells better than many other ornamental landscape shrubs. They can also tolerate a wide range of sun exposure, as they evolved as an understory plant, receiving variable amounts of light in their native, wooded surrounds.

As a relative of the apple tree, aronia is subject to succumbing to many of the same pests and pathogens. However, because of its relative absence in commercial production, many growers find it to be relatively pest-free.

The biggest challenge many growers face is hungry deer and losing berries to birds. It is advisable to cover shrubs when they are fruiting to avoid losses to grazing animals. Young aronia should also be fenced to protect them from deer. If food production is not a goal of planting aronia, they are a great source of forage for wildlife and are a recommended species to plant if interested in attracting birds to your yard.

Processing Aronia

Chokeberries can also be processed for future use like any other type of berry. They can be dried, frozen and cold-processed. If air-drying, be sure to cover with a screen or other mesh-type covering so as not to tempt birds.

Eating chokeberries raw can be an acquired taste. They are commonly used throughout parts of North American and Europe for products such as wines, teas, syrups, juices and jams. Aronia berries pair well with almost any other type of berry for these products as well as breads, pies and pastries. They are also used for coloring in yogurt in some parts of Europe.

To find out more about aronia culture, where to purchase plants or where to find juicers, bottlers, dryers or packagers for chokeberries, contact the Midwest Aronia Association or the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.