Friday, 14 December 2012

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

The black chokeberry is a deciduous shrub from the Rosaceae family. It is native to eastern North America and has become popular in Eastern Europe and Russia. It is very easy to grow, very hardy and never fails to produce edible black berries each year. We planted it, ignored it and thereafter picked the fruit in the autumn. Very easy. This is the way it should be!

An image of a black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) shrub
Black chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa)

Growing methods

We purchased our shrub ready grown. However, they can be grown from fresh seed as soon as they are ripe or from dried seed. Dried seed should be soaked and then cold stratified for three months before sowing. Seeds can then be sown in pots, grown in a cold frame for their first winter and then planted out in their final position in the following spring. Shrubs can be propagated by taking softwood cuttings in the summer. Cuttings should root easily. Chokeberries also produce suckers and these can be successfully dug up and transplanted to produce a new shrub.

An image of black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) leaves

Chokeberries produce white flowers from July to August and then clusters of glossy black fruit (6-9cm in diameter) from September onwards which hang down from red pedicels. The fruit contains a number of small seeds which ripen from October to December. The leaves turn a spectacular shade of orange in the autumn and provide attractive autumn colour.

Shrubs will grow in most soils and conditions although they do like a bit of sun. Ours is in shade until the afternoon and grown in heavy clay soil up against a wall. They grow up to about 3 metres in height and spread. The flowers are pollinated by insects.

Shrubs can be pruned as required but are probably best left to get on with it. They know what they are doing. These shrubs are very hardy will tolerate disease, pollution, drought, salt, soil compaction and insect infestation. They will even tolerate temperatures as low as -25°C.

The birds have tended to leave the fruit alone unless there is nothing else to eat and there is really no need to go to all the trouble of protecting them with netting. Fruit tends to remain on the shrub for a very long time and will often shrivel and dry but can still be eaten.

Vigorous cultivars are available e.g. 'Viking' and 'Nero', which produce larger leaves, flowers and fruit.

Health benefits

Originally considered to be of little medicinal value, new research shows that Aronia melanocarpa has a high concentration of polyphenols and anthocyanins, stimulating circulation, protecting the urinary tract, and strengthening the heart. Ongoing studies at the University of Illinois also suggest it may include compounds that fight cancer and cardiac disease.

Raw edible parts

The fruit which look a little like a blackcurrant, are edible raw. Ensure they are fully black and ripe before eating otherwise they can be rather tart and unpalatable. Some references say they have to be cooked first but this isn't the case and as long as they are ripe, they are fine. They are rather mealy and, while not the most sweet or our most favourite fruit, they are extremely beneficial. The fruit can also be dried and turn out like little raisins but are not sweet like raisins. We prefer to eat them fresh straight from the bush or added to smoothies.

Fruit from the red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and the purple chokeberry (Aronia prunifolia) are also edible raw in the same way. The former is supposed to be sweeter and more palatable raw although we haven't tasted it as yet. There are no known adverse side effects from eating the fruit.