When to harvest aronia berries?

Aronia Harvest Time: Tips For Harvesting And Using Chokecherries

Are aronia berries the new superfood or just a delicious berry native to eastern North America? Really, they are both. All berries contain antioxidants and have cancer fighting properties with the acai berry being the most recently touted. The beauty of aronia berries is that they are native here in the U.S., which means you can grow your own. The following article contains information regarding when to pick aronia chokeberries, as well as uses for aronia berries.

Uses for Aronia Berries

Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa), or black chokeberry, is a deciduous shrub that blooms with creamy flowers in the late spring to become small, pea sized, purple-black berries. It should be noted that black chokecherries are a different plant from the similarly named chokecherry of the Prunus genus.

Aronia harvest time is in autumn coinciding with a change in the shrub’s foliage to its blazing fall hues. The berries are sometimes overlooked, as the shrub is often included in the landscape for its blossoms and foliage color, not its berries.

Many animals eat aronia berries and harvesting and using chokeberries was common amongst the Native American people. The harvesting of aronia berries was a staple food in regions of the northern Rockies, northern Plains, and boreal forest region where the fruit was pounded along with its seeds and then dried in the sun. Today, with the assistance of a strainer and some patience, you can make your own version of aronia fruit leather. Or you can make it just like the Native American people did, with the seeds included. This may not be to your liking, but the seeds themselves are high in healthy oils and protein.

European settlers soon adopted the use of chokeberries, turning them into jam, jelly, wine and syrup. With their new status as a superfood, harvesting and using chokeberries is again gaining in popularity. They can be dried and later added to dishes or eaten out of hand. They can be frozen or they can be juiced, which is also the basis for making into wine.

To juice aronia berries, freeze them first and then grind or crush them. This releases more juice. In Europe, aronia berries are made into syrup and then mixed with sparking water rather like an Italian soda.

When to Pick Aronia Chokeberries

Aronia harvest time will occur in late summer into the fall, depending upon your region, but generally from the middle of August into early September. Sometimes, fruit looks ripe as early as late July, but it may not actually be ready for harvesting. If the berries have any hint of red on them, leave them to ripen further on the bush.

Harvesting Aronia Berries

Chokeberries are prolific and are, hence, easy to harvest. Simply grasp the cluster and drag your hand down, dislodging the berries in one fell swoop. Some bushes can yield as much as several gallons of berries. Two or three gallons of fruit can usually be gathered in an hour. Tie a bucket around your waste to leave both hands free to pick.

The flavor of black chokecherries varies from bush to bush. Some are very tangy while others are minimally so and can be eaten fresh from the shrub. If you haven’t eaten them all once you are finished picking, berries can be kept longer than many other small fruits, and they also don’t crush as easily. They can be kept at room temperature for a few days or for several days longer in the refrigerator.

Aronia Berries

Revised May 2018.


Aronia (Photinia melanocarpa, formerly Aronia melanocarpa) is commonly known as “black chokeberry,” although the preferred common name used by individuals who sell the berries or products made from them is “aronia berry” or simply “aronia.” Aronia is a woody perennial shrub in the rosaceae family that is native to the eastern United States and hardy to zone three. It grows in full sun and along woodland edges. In recent years, most of its native habitat has been lost to field crops and urbanization (Hardin 1973).

Aronia is a plant that has benefited from increased interest in phytonutrients, plant compounds that have beneficial effects on human health. Evidence of health benefits is accumulating from large population studies, human feeding studies, and cell culture studies. Interest in “eating healthy” has led to worldwide growth in the popularity of aronia berries and products made from them. This in turn has led to the planting of aronia as an alternative cash crop in the Midwest (Trinklein 2007).

This plant should not be confused with chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), which is also a native American plant somewhat similar to aronia in appearance, but whose leaves, stems, and seeds contain toxic amounts of prussic acid (Trinklein 2007).

Plant Profile

Aronia plants are long lived and survive for several decades. They are deciduous woody shrubs with 40 or more stems per bush at maturity (Trinklein 2007). They tolerate full sun or partial shade; however, in commercial plantings, full sun is recommended for uniform fruit ripening. They are well adapted to a wide range of soil drainage classes from poorly drained to excessively well drained, but they will do best in well-drained soils.

Aronia produces loose clusters of 10 to 15 berries at the ends of shoots. Individual berries are firm and about one-quarter inch in diameter. The fruit ripen from late August through mid-September. The fruit tend to hang well on the plant, allowing for a broad harvest window of four to six weeks (Hardin 1973). Although the fruit is often referred to as a berry, the plant is closely related to the apple and the fruit is a pome, not a berry. Unlike apples, however, aronia is self-fruitful and does not require a pollinator for fertilization and fruit set. Therefore, only one cultivar is required for fruit production.
Like other fruit crops, aronia develops its next season’s fruit buds while maturing its current season’s crop; hence a grower is always managing two crops at once. Aronia has a chilling requirement, meaning that a cold period, or rest, is required before flowering. Actual chill requirements have not been determined.

Commercial Aronia Production

Aronia has been grown as a commercial berry crop in most Eastern European countries since the 1950s. Large-scale commercial cultivation of aronia started in the Soviet Union in the late 1940s as a means for producing their own source of vitamin C and reached 43,984 acres in 1984 (Kask 1987). According to the Polish Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Warsaw, there were 11,119 acres in Poland in 2004. One year later the number had grown to 12,355 acres. One Polish company alone sold 40,000 tons of aronia juice (Kampuse and Kampuss 2006). In Europe, new business startups that use aronia berries as an ingredient have increased from just two launches in 1997 to 108 in 2007 (McNally 2008).

Two years after planting, aronia shrubs produce about two pounds of berries per bush when planted at eight feet in-row. By the third year after planting, berry production is about 3 to 5 pounds of fruit per bush. Production levels off at 15 to 20 pounds of fruit per plant (at in-row spacing of eight feet on center) by the fifth or sixth year in commercial plantings in Western Iowa. When in-row spacing is halved, yield per plant roughly halves as well. At a 4 foot by 12 foot spacing (900 bushes per acre), yields should average eight to ten thousand pounds of fruit per acre. When processed to juice, one acre should yield 600 to 750 (0.075 gal/pound) gallons after processing loses. On mature plantings in Eastern Europe, yields as high as 37 pounds per bush have been reported. The average yield is around 23 pounds per bush in Eastern Europe (Trinklein 2007).

The Midwest Aronia Association officially formed in 2009 as a non-profit organization. Their “sole purpose is to investigate, improve, and promote all aspects of aronia growing.” The association has focused on developing a network of growers and partners to promote aronia as well as gather production, marketing and farm management resources and information for its member growers (Midwest Aronia Association 2012).


Because fertility guidelines for aronia are not well established, guidelines for apples are often used due to their close botanical relationship. Iron deficiencies have been observed in commercial plantings in the Loess hills of Iowa where the soil pH is often greater than 7.2.


Pruning is required to keep plants at a manageable size, to maintain yields and to facilitate mechanical harvest. As canes age, they become less productive. For maximum yield and plant longevity, annual removal of canes or stems greater than one inch in diameter is required. In mechanically harvested commercial plantings, canes should be removed after their fourth or fifth season to ensure that they are not too tall or too thick to go through a mechanical harvester. Plants should be pruned during late winter or early spring before bud break. Alternatively, the entire plant may be cut back to the ground every ten years and reestablished. Unlike annual pruning, this method will force the plant out of production for several years as the plant reestablishes itself. This method of pruning would not be suitable for commercial plantings harvested mechanically as ten-year-old canes are too large to fit through a mechanical harvester.


Plant spacing is largely dependent on how the plants will be harvested. For hand harvest, rows may be spaced as close as eight feet on center and six to eight feet within the row. This close spacing provides enough room to walk around and harvest fruit from all sides of the plant but may not provide enough room for a vehicle to drive between the rows. To facilitate hand harvesting, row spacing of 10 to 14 feet is recommended. This increased spacing will allow vehicle travel through the row and make it easier to remove fruit from the field. For mechanically harvested fruit, a minimum of ten feet on center is required to get equipment through the rows. Spacing this close is very tight. Row spacing of 12 to 14 feet on center is recommended. In-row spacing for mechanically harvested aronia may be as close as three feet on center for hedge-type plantings or six to eight feet on center for an individual plant system. Based on early observations, an in-row spacing of three to four feet works best for mechanical harvesting. At wider spacing, the mechanical harvesters have difficulty pulling in canes and collecting fruit from the center of the plant. A minimum of 30 feet on row ends is required to maneuver harvest equipment.


Wild aronia is different from the cultivated varieties we grow today in commercial production. Commercially important cultivars in Europe and the United States include Nero, Rubina, Viking, Hugin, Galicjanka, Hakkija, Ahonnen, Kurkumacki, Serina, Morton (also marketed as Iroguois Beauty™) and McKenzie (Jeppson 2000; Strigl et al. 1995). New research indicates cultivars such as Nero, Viking, and McKenzie were developed in Eastern Europe and are hybrids of Photinia melanocarpa and Sorbus aucuparia (European mountain ash) There is very little genetic diversity among cultivated aronia. In fact, ‘Nero’, ‘Viking’, and ‘Galicjanka’ are nearly identical when compared through genetic markers (Smolik et al., 2011). Galicjanka, a newly emerging cultivar developed in Poland, is marketed to producers as having a condensed ripening period. This is a highly desirable trait to ensure uniformity across the field for mechanically harvested fruit.


Contrary to common belief, commercial plantings of aronia are not immune to pests. Wildlife including deer, birds, rabbits, and small rodents may be a problem. A deer fence is essential for most new plantings to prevent browsing on young plants. Aronia releases a natural chemical to deter deer from browsing, but it is not sufficient to protect the plant. Two common types of fences are used. Steel and wood fences constructed around the perimeter of the field with a height of eight feet or more are highly effective at excluding deer but also very expensive. A cheaper but less effective solution is a 3D fence. This fence system is two separate fences spaced approximately three feet apart. The outer fence has a single electrified strand at 36 to 48 inches above ground level. The inner fence has three to four strands of wire evenly spaced. Similar to other fruit crops, birds will typically not eat the fruit until it is nearly ripe. The degree of bird damage is highly variable across Iowa and from year to year. Several forms of netting and netting machines are available for purchase or construction if birds become a pest.
Because aronia is in the same family as apples, they potentially share many of the same pests. Possible insect pests for aronia include apple maggot, brown marmorated stink bug, cherry fruit worm, grasshoppers, Japanese beetle, spotted winged drosophila and tarnished plant bug. These pests are not active in all regions of aronia production, so scouting is important to determine if management is required. There are very few insecticides labeled for use on aronia making control options limited. Some products include, Actara, Assail, Avaunt, Entrust, and Sevin. Insecticide labels frequently change and may differ from state to state. Always read the label before making applications. Contact your local county extension office for assistance. Observed diseases include cedar-quince (or hawthorn) rust and cedar-apple rust although healthy aronia plants seem to be very tolerant of these diseases. Yield most likely will not be effected by these diseases but lesions will be present on the leaves. Plants may also be susceptible to fire blight but documented cases are very rare. Plants should be mulched to control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Controlling weeds with a string trimmer (“weed eater”) or mowing under plants may damage canes and result in loss of fruit production and make plants susceptible to disease infestation. Controlling weeds, especially during establishment, is critical to a healthy planting. It is always a good idea to reduce the weed seed population before planting any perennial crop through the appropriate use of cover crop or fallowing the ground

Insecticides available for use on common aronia pests

Common Chemical Japanese & June Beetle Spotted winged drosophila Stink Bug Aphids Mites Leaf Hoppers Whitefly
Actara Thiamethoxam x x x
Assail acetamiprid
Brigade bifenthrin x x x x x
Danitol fenpropathrin x
Entrust* spinosad x
Grandevo* chromobacterium x x x x x x x
Hort Oil* x x x x
Insecticidal Soap* x x x x
Mustang Max zeta-cypermethrin x x
Neem* adaziractin x x x x
Provado imidacloprid x x x
Pyganic* pyrethrin x x x x x x
Scorpion dinotefuran x x
Sevin carbaryl x x
Surround WP* x x

*OMRI Approved


The berries can be harvested by hand or with a mechanical harvester. In Europe, aronia is often harvested with a machine similar to the blueberry harvesters in the United States (Trinklein 2007). Oxbo® International Corporation offers the Korvan® line of blueberry harvesters that include self-propelled and tow-behind models. Oxbo® has manufacturing locations in New York, Wisconsin and Washington. Weremczuk Agromachines® has developed the Joanna 3 half row and Victor full row aronia harvesters. The Victor is available as a pull behind or a self-propelled model, while the Joanna 3 is a pull behind model only. Both the Oxbo and the Weremczuk are currently in use in the Midwest. These machines use rapid agitation of slow-spinning fingers to remove fruit from canes. These machines do not destem fruit.
Below: Joanna 3 half row harvester. This unit is operated from a PTO-powered hydraulic pump. Photo credit: Joseph M. Hannan, Iowa State University.

There are currently no established industry standards for harvest guidelines. For fresh consumption or juice, brix (or soluble solids) is often used to determine maturity. Fruit can reach a brix of 20 percent to 24 percent if conditions are favorable. For wine production, initial juice pH or titratable acidity (TA) may be used. An Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value may be used for other value-added products marketed for their nutraceutical value. It is important for growers to work with their buyer to determine and agree on what harvest parameters will be used.

Uses of Aronia

Aronia’s high anthocyanin and polyphenol content yield deep reddish-purple hues and color with a strong astringent taste. For juice and food processors using aronia for color, aronia can contain up to 2,000 mg/l of anthocyanins (Janick and Paul 2008). These compounds are also useful in wine making, particularly in dry red wines both for color and astringency. Beverage manufacturers including SoBe®, SunOpta® and Hipp Organics® have included aronia juice in their products.

Many growers have developed other value-added products such as jam, jelly, juice, sauce, ice cream and salsa that they sell in addition to fresh or frozen berries in both local and non-local markets. Other vendors offer aronia berries, juices and food products for their nutraceutical properties.

Health Benefits

Aronia is the new “superfood” in town, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Antioxidant-containing foods are being recommended by doctors and nutritionists as important additions to a healthy diet (Sepulveda 2008). Scientists now agree that one of the best ways to protect against aging is to consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Even those who manage to consume the recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may not be obtaining enough antioxidant protection to ward off cancer, cognitive decline and cardiovascular disease (Cherlet 2008).
Medical research has documented many health benefits of aronia berries. Most of the effects of aronia berries are due to their high antioxidative activity (Broncel et al. 2007, Naruszewicz et al. 2007, Olas et al. 2008, Skupien et al. 2008, Valcheva-Kuzmanova et al. 2007). Currently, there is no data in the literature about any unwanted side effects of aronia fruit, juice or extracts (Kulling and Rawel 2006 and 2008).

Aronia berries top the list of more than 100 foods that have been scientifically tested for antioxidant capacity, according to Dr. Xianli Wu, a researcher at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock. Wu believes aronia berries have a huge potential to be a healthy food. Other researchers have looked at how aronia affects cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, liver failure and obesity (Sagario 2008). For more information, see: Antioxidant Activity and Polyphenols of Aronia in Comparison to Other Berry Species, a study of antioxidant compounds found in aronia and other berries (Jakobek et al. 2007).

Nutrient Composition

Aronia berries and products made from them are gaining in popularity due largely to the rising interest in eating healthier foods. The berries are high in vitamins, minerals and folic acids. They are also one of the richest plant sources of phenolic substances, mainly proanthocyanins and anthocyanins. Laboratory tests have shown that proanthocyanins represent 66 percent and anthocyanins represent about 25 percent of total polyphenols. These chemical compounds are water-soluble pigments that give aronia berries their dark purple or nearly black color (Oszmianski and Wojdylo 2005).
Initial tests on aronia grown in Iowa show that the juice has a pH of 3.5, titratable acidity of 8.2 and a total solids content of 6.9 degrees Brix. HPLC analysis showed that succinic acid, malic acid, quinic acid, acetic acid, citric acid and ascorbic acid were present. Glucose, fructose and possibly sorbitol made up the carbohydrate portion of the juice. By comparison, a commercial juice sample from Germany was tested. This juice had a pH of 3.4, titratable acidity of 13.0 and total solids content of 15.4 degrees Brix. HPLC analysis showed that the same acid and carbohydrate compounds were present but in different proportions.

Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) values are cited by nutraceutical processors as the most important indicator of juice quality because they are using aronia for its high antioxidant activity components. ORAC is considered an acceptable laboratory method for estimating the antioxidant activity of foods in human tissue. USDA’s table of ORAC values lists the value for raw chokeberry (aronia) at 15,280 umol TE/100 g, nearly three times the value in blueberries and blackberries and one and one-half times the value in black currants and cranberries.


Jeppsson N. 2000. The effect of cultivar and cracking on the fruit quality in black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and the hybrids between chokeberry and rowan (Soubzis). Gartenbauwissenschaft 65:93-98.

Kampuse, S. and K. Kampuss. 2006. Suitability of raspberry and blackcurrant cultivars for utilization of frozen berries in dessert and for getting of products with high contents of bio-active compounds. NJF seminar 391.

Kask, K. 1987. Large-fruited black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). Fruit Varieties Journal 41: 47.

McNally, A. 2008. Demand for superfruit aronia rockets. Decision News Media. January 8.

Midwest Aronia Association. 2012.

Naruszewicz, M., I. Laniewska, B. Millo and M. Dluzniewski. 2007. Combination therapy of statin with flavonoids rich extract from chokeberry fruits enhanced reduction in cardiovascular risk markers in patients after myocardial infraction (MI). Atherosclerosis 194(2):79-84.

Olas B., B. Wachowicz, A. Tomczak, J. Erler, A. Stochmal and W. Oleszek. 2008. Comparative anti-platelet and antioxidant properties of polyphenol-rich extracts from: berries of Aronia melanocarpa, seeds of grape and bark of Yuccaschidigera in vitro Platelets 19(1):70-7.

Oszmianski, Jan and Aneta Wojdylo. 2005. Aronia melanocarpa phenolics and their antioxidant activity. European Food Research and Technology 221(6): 809-813.

Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL), Ag Research Services, USDA, 2007. Note: USDA’s NDL recently removed the USDA ORAC Database from the NDL website due to mounting evidence that the values indicating antioxidant capacity have no relevance to the effects of specific bioactive compounds, including polyphenols, on human health.

Sagario, Dawn. 2008. It’s the berries. Des Moines Register, September 21.

Sepulveda, A. 2008. Move over acai – aronia surges to the top of the superfood list. Wall Street Journal Digital Network.

Skupien, K., D. Kostrzewa-Nowak, J. Oszmianski and J. Tarasiuk. 2008. In vitro antileukaemic activity of extracts from chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa Elliott) and mulberry (Morus alba L.) leaves against sensitive and multidrug resistant HL60 cells. Phytotherapy Research 22(5):689-94.

Strigl W. A., E. Leitner and W. Phannhouser. 1995. Die scharze Apfelbeere (Aronia melanocarpa) als natürliche Farbstoffquelle. Dtsch Lebensmitt Rundsch 91:177-180.

Trinklein, David. 2007. Aronia: a berry good plant. Missouri Environment and Garden, 13(9):86.

Valcheva-Kuzmanova., S., K. Kuzmanov, S. Tancheva and A. Belcheva. 2007. Hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects of Aronia melanocarpa fruit juice in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Methods

Find Exp Clin Pharmacol 29(2):101-5.

Links checked May 2018.

Cooperative Extension: Agriculture

Culture of Aronia for Fruit Production


Black chokeberry was imported to Russia in the 19th century. Kask reports that it was present in the botanical gardens in St Petersburgh in 1834, and that it has been cultivated commercially in Russia for juice and wine since the 1940s. A fruit tree census in 1984 reported 17,800 hectares of this crop (Kask). The Russian crop is grown mainly from seedlings because limited genetic variation plus self-fertilization of plants produce a fairly uniform stand from seed.


Black chokeberry can be propagated from seed. About 100 pounds of dried fruits produce 8 pounds of seed; one pound of seeds contains 276,000 seeds (Gill and Pogge). Fruit should be macerated to extract the seeds, and the seeds should be separated from the pulp. Seeds should be thoroughly dried before storage and subsequent planting. Dirr and Heuser recommend fall planting of seed, or 2-3 months cold stratification. Gill and Pogge report that seeds’ internal dormancy can be overcome by stratification in moist peat for 3-4 months at 32-41 degrees F before planting, and that one pound of cleaned seed yields about 10,000 usable plants, able to be planted in the field as 2-year seedlings.

Propagation of cultivars of black chokeberry are straightforward from softwood or semi-softwood cuttings. Dirr and Heuser recommend softwood cuttings in late May-early June, to be rooted in well ventilated frames, or hardwood cuttings with piece of 3-year-old wood attached.

McKay reports that black chokeberry can also be cloned through division of established plants, which yield as many as 25 divisions per 2-year-old plant.

Micropropagation is another option for rapidly increasing numbers of plants. Brand and Cullina developed a protocol to culture shoot-tip explants taken from mature-phase tissue. Microcuttings from the cultures were rooted, grown first in greenhouse conditions and then nursery conditions. They achieved 83% rooting success in vitro and 96% success in nonsterile conditions, found the plants to acclimate easily to increasingly less controlled conditions, and produced 30-cm plants with 5-7 main branches 3 months after rooting of cuttings.

Field production

Black chokeberries are found in a wide range of climates and a wide range of habitats, suggesting that they tolerate varied conditions. For best performance of this plant as a fruit crop, full sun is required.

Soil pH and fertility: Black chokeberry performs well in slightly acid soil. Reported pH readings vary: McKay recommends neutral to slightly acid; Trinklein recommends pH 6.5-7.0; Strik conducted research in soil with pH 5.7; Minnesota Department of Transportation recommends pH 5.0-6.5.

Low fertility levels are reported to help keep plants small (McKay; Trinklein). Jeppsson 2000 evaluated a range of fertilizer rates on plant growth and on fruit yield and quality of ‘Viking’ black chokeberries. He found that high fertilizer rates promoted plant growth, but more moderate fertilizer rates favored high levels of organic acids. Jeppsson achieved maximum production of anthocyanins per plant in his field work on sandy soil with these fertilizer rates: 50 kg/ha nitrogen, 44 kg/ha P, 100 kg/ha K (45 lb/A N, 39 lb/A P, 89 lb/A K). Bussières et al., working in cut-over peatlands, reports that fruit yield increases with increasing fertilizer rate, and that annual fertilizer applications improve vegetative growth.

Plant spacing: Kask reports that in Russian production, black chokeberry has generally been planted at 2 meter spacing (6.6 feet) within rows and 4 meter spacing (13.1 feet) between rows. Currently available planting guides vary in their plant spacing recommendations. Trinklein recommends 30-36” spacing within rows. McKay recommends space .8 – 1 meter (31-39 inches) within rows, with plastic mulch in the rows to prevent weeds. Knudson recommends commercial field spacing of 4-6 feet between plants within rows, and 10 feet between rows.

Plant spacing in field research reports also varies. Strik et al. planted rooted cuttings at 2 meter (6.6 feet) spacing within rows. Bussières et al. and Rousseau and Bergeron planted at 1.5 meter (59 inches) spacing within rows and 3 meter (9.8 feet) spacing between rows (density = 2222 plants/hectare, or 900 plants/acre).

Pruning: Pruning recommendations vary. Trinklein and McKay recommend pruning five years after installation, to keep plant centers open. Kask reports Russian research that found that optimal production is achieved when plants are pruned to 1 meter height every 4-5 years after they reach 8-10 years of age.

Harvest: Determination of optimal harvest date is an area of current research. Strik et al. base harvest time on visual assessment. In a study focused on use of black chokeberry for food coloration and antioxidant purposes, Jeppson and Johansson report that the two most important factors that should determine harvest date are yield and anthocyanin level, with fruit browning being a third consideration. In their research in Sweden, maximum yield was reached by 22 August, but on that date anthocyanins were still accumulating, reaching their maximum on 8 September. Browning, a negative attribute for fruit used in the food industry, could be reduced by 32% if harvest was one week earlier, but at a cost of 20% of anthocyanins.

Yield: Reported yields vary greatly, suggesting the importance of local field trials with known cultivars. Trinklein recommends harvesting black chokeberry with a mechanical blueberry harvester, and reports yields of 6-8 tons/acre. Rousseau and Bergeron report an average harvest of 2424 grams per plant, equivalent to 5.2 tonnes/hectare (2.32 tons/acre). Kask reports average commercial yields in Russia to be 5.3-7.7 tonnes/hectare (or 2.36-3.43 tons/acre). Plocher notes that production begins in the second year, but is rather low at that time. Strik et al., in researching six cultivars in Oregon, found ‘Nero’ to produce the highest yields, with the equivalent of 22 tonnes/hectare (or 9.81 tons/acre) from 3-year-old plants and 43 tonnes/hectare (or 19.18 tons/acre) from 5-year-old plants (these are values extrapolated from small numbers of individual plants in research plots). McKay reports that 5-year-old plants can be expected to yield 5-10 tons/hectare (2.23-4.46 tons/acre).

Labor: Strik et al. reports a hand-harvest efficiency of 7.3 kg fruit per hour, but did not test machine harvest efficiency.

Problems: Many authors, both in research and field production, note no significant disease/pest problems under normal field conditions (Rousseau and Bergeron; Strik et al., McKay). McKay noted aphids on shoot tips and leaf-eating beetles, but indicated that they are not problematic on vigorous plants. Knudson notes that mildew can be problematic under condition of inadequate light and poor air circulation. However, Strik et al. did not harvest during one year of their research because of bird depredation, while Plocher noted that the fruits are very attractive to deer but that ripe aronia berries were not attractive to birds.

Weeds can be problematic. McKay recommends mulching with plastic, and removing it after two-three years as the plants sucker into a hedgerow. Weed control within rows is usually not needed after 3-4 years. Knudson recommends shallow cultivation of weeds, which can also stop the spread of plants by suckerering if desired.

Harvest: Trinklein notes that black chokeberry can be harvested with machines used to harvest blueberries. Jeppsson 1999 notes that the fruits can be harvested with standard black currant mechanical harvesting equipment, and that the fruits are not prone to mechanical damage during transport.

What are the health benefits of aronia berries?

Share on PinterestAronia berries are also known as chokeberries, and are native to North America.

Anti-cancer effects

A 2004 study looked at the effects of grape, aronia, and bilberry extracts in preventing the growth of colon cancer.

The study found that while all the extracts inhibited the growth of the cancer cells, aronia had the strongest effect.

A 2009 study found that an aronia extract helped to reduce cell damage in relation to breast cancer.

The study’s authors concluded that the aronia extract had been shown to have protective qualities in people experiencing breast cancer.

Anti-diabetic effects

Research seems to support the anti-diabetic effects of aronia. A 2015 study in rats found that an aronia extract helped to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation related to diabetes.

A 2012 study, looking at insulin-resistant rats, found that an aronia extract fought insulin resistance on several levels. This result potentially makes it an effective aid in preventing diabetes from developing.

A 2016 study found that blood glucose levels and obesity were positively affected by aronia.

Organ health

A 2016 study looked at the effects of aronia fruit juice in rats with liver damage. Researchers found that the juice reduced the severity and symptoms of the liver damage.

A similar 2017 study also found aronia juice to have protective effects against liver damage in rats. The study’s authors suggested the effect might be due to the antioxidant activity of the aronia.

Another rodent study from 2017 found that aronia juice helped to reduce the severity of symptoms in rats with damaged stomach linings.

The study suggested that, in this case, the benefits of the aronia might be due to it boosting mucus production, as well as its ability to combat oxidative stress.

Artery and blood vessel health

A 2015 study found that aronia could protect against coronary artery disease. Aronia was thought to protect against the plaque that develops inside the arteries.

Both the aronia and bilberry extracts helped to relax the tissue, which would allow for improved blood flow. This is important, as many cardiovascular diseases result in a hardening of the arteries and reduced ability for the blood vessels to relax. This can also mean that the blood pressure drops.

Out of the three extracts tested, aronia had the most powerful effects. The researchers concluded that the extracts could have significant benefits in treating vascular disease.

A 2013 study supported these findings. Researchers found that aronia was effective at reducing blood pressure, and might help combat high blood pressure in the arteries.

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!

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.

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.Garden art is trending to be more sophisticated, as is the landscaping around the sculptures and other features. Photo of Chihuly sculptures taken at the Dallas Arboretum.LESLIE F. HALLECK

Getting ahead of trends and driving them, is key to a thriving garden center business. One green industry trend that’s emerging, or reemerging, as people renovate and build new gardens is that of designing with art in mind. Gardeners and landscape designers are arranging sculptures and décor in a way that makes them more prominent features. Do you know what today’s customers are looking for in garden décor? Here’s a hint: Garden flags alone don’t cut it anymore.

Overall, it seems homeowners are taking a more sophisticated approach to their outdoor spaces. Be it efforts to make their landscapes more sustainable and useful to local wildlife or extending seasonal use with outdoor rooms, furniture and fire pits, homeowners are putting as much emphasis on their outdoor spaces as they do the insides of their homes.

Trent Mohlenbrock, owner of Changing Seasons Landscape Center in Marion, Ill., says he’s seeing shifts in preferences for higher-end décor.

“Last year, we experienced a very large increase (400 percent in gross for this category) in sales in art/sculpture and high-end pottery for landscapes,” Mohlenbrock says. “Items such as the Face Collection by Castart Studios; larger sized glazed pottery pieces and large terra cotta fern fiddleheads by Big Grass Living are doing extremely well. It’s early in the season in southern Illinois; however, we project strong sales in this category again this year.”

Gardeners and landscape designers are searching for unique, unusual pieces that will stand out in a garden and enhance the plants and landscape features surrounding the art. LESLIE F. HALLECK


There is a growing desire among our customers to create landscapes around featured pieces such as sculptures, specialty containers and water elements. Some use sculptural pieces to complete their garden stories. It’s not enough to surround a sculpture with a formal boxwood hedge anymore. Rather, the featured piece must complement and be complemented by the surrounding plant choices. The art and the garden become integrated and harmonious. To create such harmony, garden décor should echo or enhance the colors and shapes of the plants and other elements in the garden.

With harmony in mind, gardeners and designers are seeking out unique artistic pieces that will have a lasting effect. Gardeners seem to be prioritizing quality construction or repurposed materials over disposable ones. That’s a logical preference, given that homeowners and gardeners are investing more money in sophisticated landscape designs and higher quality outdoor furniture. They want their garden ornamentation to reflect the quality of those choices.



Over the past several years, handmade garden sculpture has become more popular with customers. Whether it’s hand-blown glass hummingbird feeders or garden flourishes, bird houses and wind chimes; or metal sculpture and hand-crafted pottery, more independent artists are getting into the garden décor game.

As handmade pottery is experiencing a resurgence of popularity, even it is becoming more sculptural in its nature and use. As I wrote in a recent article on emerging bonsai trends (July 2015, “Breathe new life into an ancient art form”) there has been an upswing in the creation and popularity of handmade pottery. With container gardening continuing to gain popularity, gardeners are turning to their planters as sculptural features.

What’s hot

Many other objects that were once primarily utilitarian are also going through artistic transformations. A great example is the fire pit: sculptural fire pits are now the thing. They were quite the attraction at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, and I’ve seen more of them featured in sophisticated landscapes. Jump on www.Houzz.com and you’ll find more than 70,000 images of fire pit installations. Search for sculptural fire pit and you’ll find even more. The large steel globe shaped fire pits are particularly impressive and mesmerizing.

Get wet

Rain barrels, which can be an eyesore in the landscape and often require camouflage, have also been getting an artistic upgrade during the past several years. Artists have taken to painting the barrels with beautiful murals so that they become not only an important garden water management tool, but also a unique ornamental focal point or feature in the garden.

Partner with local artists to bring color and life to rain barrels to help sell more and encourage homeowners to use them. Painted rain barrels can also be used during fundraisers. Students from Lebanon School in Lebanon, Ohio, painted the barrel pictured here, and the Cincinnati Zoo auctioned off the item to raise money for conservation, education and sustainability initiatives.CINDY KLOPFENSTEIN, CITY ENGINEER WITH LOVELAND

There are a number of city water management programs and environmental groups that hold artistic rain barrel events, where they bring in local artists to customize rain barrels. These pieces of functional art are then sold or auctioned off to raise funds and awareness for the respective organizations. The art serves as both an excellent conservation teaching tool and a community outreach opportunity.

Pop over to Pinterest for a search on “artistic rain barrel” and you’ll be rewarded with a bevy of beautiful specimens. Yet, I haven’t seen many independent garden centers taking advantage of this opportunity, even though it’s a perfect fit for our customers. Rain barrels already provide a healthy average sale for garden centers in the business of selling them. Try hooking up with local artists to customize them for your customers for a boost in profits.


Repurposing objects as sculptural features in the garden is also a growing trend. Salvaged items and artifacts with an industrial feel are being incorporated into gardens as pieces of sculpture and plant containers. Artists are getting very creative, especially in the kinetic sculpture and wind chime departments, by upcycling everyday items into unique garden features that function both as eye-candy and a source of soothing movement and sound in the garden.

Fire pits, once seen as a utilitarian object for producing heat to extend outdoor enjoyment, are going through an artistic transformation, as producers add extra embellishments and features.LESLIE F. HALLECK

Vintage style

Another growing landscape design trend is era-appropriate design and vintage garden pieces. As savvy homeowners are leaning toward landscapes that better match the design era and architecture of their homes, they’re also seeking out complementary vintage (or vintage-inspired) pieces of sculpture and garden art to echo the style of their homes.

A cool comeback

Just around the corner from my home in Dallas, and across the street from the Dallas Arboretum, a new shop called Curious Garden just opened. The entire shop is devoted to antique and vintage objects, sculptures and containers specifically meant for decorating the garden. The new shop is a satellite extension of the owner’s original and successful antique mall-type shop, called Curiosities. There was so much demand and opportunity for unique, vintage and repurposed items meant for the landscape, the owners decided they needed a dedicated garden art location. The message here? Garden art is cool again.


The price tag

Don’t get sucked into the quicksand that is price prejudice. While higher-end garden sculpture and décor can come with a much steeper price tag than your average garden flag or flamingo, that doesn’t mean your customer won’t buy it. They simply may not be accustomed to being able to find such unique specimens at their local IGC. Perception is everything, after all. If you allow your own price prejudice or fear to keep you from bringing in higher-priced, unique pieces, you could be leaving many sales on the table.

It’s up to you to best identify how your customers are evolving their outdoor spaces and meet their demand. If you want to start catering to customers seeking finer garden art, consider installing some special pieces in your own street side landscape to reset their expectations and provide inspiration. Do some research on sites such as Etsy, Pinterest and Houzz to see what type of handmade garden art is trending, then work with your community of local artists to source local treasures.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, digital content marketing, branding design, advertising and social media support for green industry companies. www.lesliehalleck.com

Everything You Need to Know About Aronia Berries

Aronia berries have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (6, 7).

This may protect your cells from damage and benefit your health in many ways.

Contain powerful antioxidants

Aronia berries pack high levels of antioxidants (8, 9).

These compounds defend your cells from damage caused by free radicals. A buildup of free radicals can cause oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer (3).

Aronia berries are an excellent source of polyphenols, which is a group of antioxidants that includes phenolic acids, anthocyanins, and flavanols (3, 10, 11).

Test-tube studies indicate that the antioxidants in aronia berries can inhibit free radical activity (8, 9).

The berries themselves also showed superior antioxidant activity, compared with five other berries (9, 11).

What’s more, a study in 30 healthy people found that extracts from aronia berries significantly reduced oxidative stress caused by an antipsychotic medication within 24 hours (12).

Moreover, test-tube studies have linked the antioxidants in these fruits to other impressive health benefits, such as decreased inflammation, as well as reduced bacterial and cancer cell growth (13, 14, 15).

May have anticancer effects

Aronia berries may protect against cancer (16).

Test-tube and animal studies show that the anthocyanins in aronia berries may stop the growth of colon cancer cells (15, 17, 18).

One test-tube study found that 50 mg of aronia extract reduced colon cancer cell growth by 60% after 24 hours. It’s thought that the potent antioxidant activity of anthocyanins is responsible for this cancer-suppressing effect (15).

Similarly, extracts from the berries may reduce oxidative stress related to breast cancer.

In one study, these extracts reduced the number of harmful superoxide free radicals in blood samples taken from women with breast cancer (19, 20).

That said, current research is limited, and human studies are needed to evaluate the relationship between aronia berries and cancer protection.

May benefit heart health

Due to its antioxidant properties, aronia berries may improve heart health (21, 22).

In particular, they may help people with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions — including high cholesterol and triglyceride levels — that increases your likelihood of heart disease and diabetes (22, 23).

One 2-month study in 38 people with metabolic syndrome observed that supplementing with 300 mg of aronia extract daily significantly decreased triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and total cholesterol (22).

A similar 2-month study in 25 people with metabolic syndrome found that taking 300 mg of aronia extract daily significantly reduced the same health markers, as well as blood pressure (23).

More human research is needed to identify the role that aronia berries may play in heart health.

May provide immune support

Aronia berries may strengthen and support your immune system (13).

A test-tube study noted that aronia berry extracts exhibited strong antibacterial activity against the potentially harmful bacteria Escherichia coli and Bacillus Cereus. It exerted this effect by reducing the bacteria’s production of a protective shield called biofilm (14).

In addition, a 3-month study in residents of 6 nursing homes found that those who drank either 5.3 or 3 ounces (156 or 89 ml) of aronia berry juice daily experienced 55% and 38% reductions in urinary tract infections, respectively (24).

Aronia berries may also reduce inflammation by inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory substances, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-ɑ) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), which may boost immune health (13, 25).

Finally, the berries may have antiviral effects.

One mouse study determined that the ellagic acid and myricetin in aronia berry extract may protect against the influenza virus (26).

Summary Aronia berries provide antioxidants. These compounds may have cancer-fighting properties and support your heart and immune health.

Aronia: Beautiful and Healthy

Aronia berries

Aronia melanocarpa, or simply “aronia,” is an attractive shrub that has recently been gaining more attention in the Midwest – its berries are very high in antioxidants thought to be beneficial for human health. Aronia is also known as chokeberry (berry, not cherry), descriptive of the astringent taninns present in the dark-blue fruit. When fully ripe, the berries, which look somewhat like blueberries or chokecherries, have a sugar content as high as table grapes and sweet cherries, but balanced by high acidity and complex flavors. Those who prefer dry wine may find the berries quite tasty; others may prefer to eat them frozen, cooked, or in jams, smoothies, or baked products.

Nutritional benefits

Regardless of how they are consumed, the berries are known as “superfruit,” containing higher levels of antioxidants than other fruit commonly given that designation, such as elderberries, black currants, cranberries, and blueberries. A number of studies have found evidence that aronia berries may have protective benefits against various types of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, among other health issues. According to the USDA, 100 grams (about ½ cup) of the fresh berries also contains significant amounts of Vitamins C and K (35% and 17%, respectively, of Recommended Daily Allowances), and only 47 calories.


There are two species of Aronia (recently reclassified as Photinia by botanists), both native to Eastern North America. A. melanocarpa is a hardy variety with edible black fruit. The other species is A. arbutifolia, which is somewhat less hardy. It has red fruit which is somewhat less edible than the black fruit of A. melanocarpa, but can be used for jams and jellies. Both species are stunning landscape plants, three to eight feet high, with beautiful white clusters of flowers in the spring, glossy dark green foliage which turns brilliant shades of orange and red in the fall, and fruit that may stay on the plant through the winter.

The chokecherry or prunus virginiana is said to be the most widespread tree in North America. It is found from Newfoundland to British Colombia, through all but the most northern areas. It ranges as far south as Georgia and in the Rockies through southern Arizona and New Mexico. The chokecherries of the Southwest are said to be darker in color and less astringent.

Native American tribes of the Northern Rockies, Northern Plains, the forest region of Canada and the United States, considered chokecherries as the most important fruit in their diets. The bark from the chokecherry root was used as used to ward off or treat colds, fever and stomach maladies by Native Americans. According to the Cherokees, you boil the bark for fifteen minutes and drink the tea. The fruit was collected by many Native American tribes and was pounded with the seeds included, then dried in the sun.

European settlers adopted the use of chokecherries, particularly in the northern Plains. They were mainly used for jam, jelly, wine, and syrup. Today many people mistakenly think that they are poisonous. Chokecherries are toxic to horses, and moose, cattle, goats, deer, and other animals with segmented stomachs.

The mature fruits are spherical or oblong, occasionally even with a pointed tip. When fully ripe, they are dark purple to black. The cherries are about one quarter to one third of an inch across, and contain a large pit. The cherries are usually in hanging clusters three to six inches long, each cluster contains about eight to twenty cherries.

The biggest problem with chokeberries is created by those who gather the fruit when it is under-ripe. Chokecherries should be left on the tree until they are dark purple-black, showing no hint of red. Then they should be left on the bush another week or so to over-ripen. These will taste better than ones collected as soon as they darken, as their astringency will be greatly reduced. The best time to collect chokecherries is from the middle of August into early September. Sometimes the fruit appears ripe in late July, but don’t be fooled, give them more time.

Chokeberries also make a good tall hedge or windbreak. They grow to be ten to fifteen foot high and do not have thorns. Chokeberries will attract birds which love the cherries.

Since we are trying to replace the inedible scrubs in our yard with edible plants, we plan to plant a hedge of chokeberries this spring.



By Rachel Turiel –

Delicious chokecherry jelly adds summer flavor to a simple snack. Photo by Mona Neeley

Chokecherry preserves are a southwestern delicacy. The jellies, jams and syrups have a deep berry sweetness with a whisper of wild earth tang. The flavors are layered — sweet, then spiced, then nutty, then grassy — like geological strata or a fine wine. If the berries had a spokesperson, it would be a cultured debutante who ran off to the mountains to learn the crazy wisdom of the Earth.

Capturing that illusive, delicious taste is worth the effort. If you’ve ever made pints of chokecherry jelly, gleaming with a magenta shine, you know the feeling of pride that blooms when you line up your finished jars on your pantry shelf.

However, making chokecherry jelly is so time consuming that after you squeeze the last drop of bright fruit juice from your jelly bag, you begin to regard other popular jelly-making fruits — raspberries, blackberries, blueberries — as obscenely rudimentary.

Chokecherry recipes start with juice. Photo by Rachel Turiel

You cannot buy chokecherries at the store. You must roam the hillsides like a hungry black bear before landing under a chokecherry tree laden with accommodating fruit. But, those tiny purple orbs contain as much seed as flesh, and separating the two is like sneaking a lovey out from under a sleeping toddler. Case in point: 26 cups of berries equals 9 cups of finished jelly. Nine extremely precious cups.

But not to take part in the historical gathering of chokecherries that beckons every which way in Colorado’s late summer would be like attending a wedding and not jumping to your feet when the cover band thumps the first chords of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) are in the rose family, along with apples, cherries, apricots, pears and many other cherished, cultivated fruit trees. Chokecherries often have multiple trunks and their bark ranges from grey to red, marked with lenticels (horizontal pores through which gases are exchanged). The leaves are uniformly and mildly serrated, and oval with a pointed tip.

The writer’s kids run through blooming chokecherries. Photo by Rick Scibelli Jr.

They bloom in early spring in profuse racemes or clusters of tight white flowers, and then brighten Colorado slopes from August through September with drooping berries. The berries are ripe when the color is so dark purple they’re almost black. Fresh off the tree, their flavor is sweet with a hint of cotton balls inserted between your lips and gums. Astringent is the technical term. My children, whose taste buds are mysterious, confounding organs, eat them raw by the handful.

Chokecherries are typically considered shrubs, but if said shrub is lucky enough to grow along a waterway, it can become a 15-foot-tall tree, providing welcoming shade for a bedded deer or picnicking family. In Colorado, chokecherries grow at elevations of 5,000 to 10,000 feet, interspersed most commonly with scrub oak, ponderosa pine, piñon pine, juniper, cottonwoods and aspens. They are especially abundant along waterways and can be found in 47 out of our 64 Colorado counties. Chokecherries grow all over North America, except the far north and south, but, lucky us, the western berries are thought to be sweetest.

Chokecherries were the most important fruit crop in the diet of many Western Native American tribes, who pounded and dried the berries (including the protein- and fat-rich seed), making it with meat to make pemmican, a dried, portable and indispensable snack. It was such a valuable plant for the Ute tribe, they called it, simply, “berry.” According to Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman, chokecherry juice was given as a special drink to husbands and favored children of the Blackfoot tribe.

Chokecherries have high amounts of anthocyanins, a group of phytochemicals or flavonoids responsible for the purple color of the fruit. Anthocyanins have antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties, and are also anti-inflammatory. Including anthocyanins in one’s diet decreases capillary permeability, protects the integrity of blood vessel walls, is membrane-strengthening and alters development of hormone-dependent disease (such as breast or ovarian cancer). Research trials have shown anthocyanins to markedly reduce tumor formation and cancer cell proliferation, and to improve night vision.

There’s no doubt that a pantry stocked with chokecherry preserves contributed to the food security of Colorado pioneer families. However, if you want to avoid muddling through what Katie O’Hara Barrett of O’Hara’s Jams and Jellies calls the most labor intensive jam in her repertoire of commercial fruit preserves, there are plenty of options to procure authentic Colorado chokecherry preserves.

The writer’s daughter squeezes the juice from chokecherries, a messy job. Photo by Rachel Turiel

These preserves are intrinsically special because companies can’t order a flat of domestically grown chokecherries to be shipped to their commercial kitchen any time of year. Just like the wild animals that rely on chokecherries, you must scour ditches and hillsides, creeks and alleys to procure this fruit that ripens in elevational succession.

O’Hara’s Jams and Jellies, in business for 24 years in Durango, purchases between 1,400 and 2,000 pounds of fresh, hand-picked chokecherries each season. “The berries come to us in bags, buckets, boxes,” Katie says. “One season we put an ad in the paper seeking berries, and now people just bring them to us every year. Our best picker is in his 70s.”

Katie, who owns the business with her husband Jim O’Hara Barrett, explains that despite having to “boil, boil, boil, then smush, smush, smush all by hand,” it’s worth it. “It’s a local favorite and one of our top sellers. Plus, when we’re making chokecherry jelly and syrup, our kitchen just reeks of chokecherries.” And that, she maintains, is a good thing.

In autumn, Colorado black bears must consume 20,000 calories a day to achieve denning weight. Because of their abundance and close proximity to acorns, chokecherries are an ideal source of food for bears, who may eat 20 to 30 pounds of berries and acorns daily in the fall. According to Bryan Peterson of Bear Smart Durango, an organization that helps people and bears coexist, it takes 1,500 chokecherries to make a pound. That’s a whole lot of chokecherries.

Additional partakers of the chokecherry fruit are wild turkeys, grouse, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, skunks, foxes, coyotes and deer. Many birds seek the seed in fall, some of them spitting out the fruit flesh for the reward of the fat- and protein-rich seed. Nabbing the high berries that the rest of us can’t reach are evening grosbeaks, robins, thrushes, jays and woodpeckers.

It seems that every Native American tribe had its preferred medicinal use for the chokecherry. The Navajo made an infusion of fresh berries for stomachaches. The Blackfoot tribe drank berry juice for diarrhea and sore throats. Arikara women drank berry juice to stop postpartum hemorrhage. The Sioux placed poultices of dried roots in open wounds to stop bleeding.

The chokecherry was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopeia National Formulary from 1820–1970. And, in their journals, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark recorded that, while camped on the upper Missouri River, Captain Lewis developed abdominal cramps and fever. He made a tea from chokecherry twigs and fully recovered by the next day.

Debra Reuben, clinical herbalist and proprietor for 26 years at Durango’s Dancing Willow Herbs, relies on chokecherry for respiratory care. Reuben uses the inner bark as a cough suppressant, noting that not only does chokecherry help to loosen mucus so that it’s easier to expectorate, but it also calms coughs by soothing spasms of the smooth muscles involved in coughing. Furthermore, because chokecherry supports the nervous system, while quieting coughs it can also address anxiety caused by uncontrollable coughing.

Reuben makes chokecherry tinctures (plant constituents extracted in grain alcohol) for adults, and for children, syrups. Reuben points out that there is no need to cut a central tree trunk for medicine; small diameter branches or newly downed branches are useful. And even twigs contain the same bark medicine. And finally, because in spring the bark contains high levels of cyanide, which as summer progresses migrates into the pit, the optimal time to harvest chokecherry limbs is fall after the cherries become ripe.

Seeds and wilted leaves contain hydrocyanic acid. When the seeds are ground or pulverized an enzyme is released that breaks down the hydrocyanic acid making it toxic. The hydrocyanic acid is supposedly poisonous, although it’s indisputable that Native American tribes ate many seeds, as they would grind the berry whole to mix with meat and dry in “sun cakes” or pemmican. Wilted leaves have killed livestock, though deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose and other ungulates eat the leaves with no problem.

According to the exhaustive tome Native American Ethnobotany, out of all native plants, the chokecherry tree rates second in having the greatest number of uses. This category of “other uses” is my favorite, as it begs the question: What was chokecherry not used for?

There is a certain poetry to the practical: For the Okanagan tribe, ripe berries indicated that salmon were coming up river to spawn. Also, the leaves were used as a green dye, the berries as a purplish dye. The branches were used for arrow shafts, and the trunks for bows. The sap was used to fasten arrowheads to shafts, the leaves as a poultice for cuts. Branches were used as digging sticks and as tipi stakes. And the berries were mixed with bear fat for painting pictographs.

My son’s godmother once told him that the letters he sent her were more valuable than gold. “Then if I give you letters, will you give me gold?” the 6-year old wondered.

“No, honey,” she said, “They’re so valuable you can’t put a price on them.”

This is exactly how I feel about the jars in my pantry packed with thick, magenta oceans of chokecherry jelly.

Rachel Turiel is a professional writer who has lived in La Plata County for the past 17 years. She shares her experiences on her blog http://6512andgrowing.com.

Culturally and Economically Important Nontimber Forest Products of Northern Maine

Plant Profiles

Choke cherry, Prunus virginiana

Family: Rosaceae
Other Names: Cerisier (French), oluwiminol (Maliseet), lluwiman (Mi’kmaq)

“I know one thing that makes good wine. The choke cherry.” -Frances Plourde

“We’ve made wine with choke cherries before. That’s pretty common around here. My family’s done that for a long time.”

Choke cherries are a familiar sight along the edges of fields and woods in northern Maine. The fruit of the choke cherry is incredibly tart and astringent, and only a few people enjoy their flavor raw.

Physical Description: Choke cherry is a small tree, reaching heights up to 30 feet. It can reproduce through seeds or underground rhizomes, and tends to have a thicket-forming habit. Its leaves are egg-shaped and finely toothed. Five-petaled white flowers form in 3-6 inch long cylindrical clusters (racemes) at the ends of current-season growth. The smooth bark of young Choke cherry can vary in color from reddish-brown to gray. As the tree ages, bark becomes darker brown and more furrowed. Like other cherry species, choke cherry bark is covered by long horizontal pores called lenticels.

Habitat: Choke cherries tolerate a variety of soil types, and interviewees often found them growing in field margins or along rivers and streams.

Uses: Chokecherries are a very popular ingredient in homemade wines. They are also used in jellies. Medicinally, the juice of the choke cherry is used to treat gout, and the bark is an ingredient in cough syrup.

Preparation: Although the flesh of choke cherry fruit is edible, the pits contain hydrocyanic acid, and should not be ingested. One interviewee likes to use a tomato seeder to remove pits while extracting juice for wine. To avoid musty flavors caused by the breakdown of the outer skin and pits, another experienced winemaker pours hot sugar syrup over the fruit, instead of cooking the fruit itself.

When to harvest: Harvest ripe fruit (known as drupes) in September, when they turn from red to deep purple-black. Harvest bark in the fall after leaves have fallen off the trees.

Tips for Sustainable Harvesting/Management: Leave some fruit for birds and other wildlife. Harvest only twigs or branches for bark, do not disturb the main stems.

Photo by Michelle Baumflek

Species information reference: 16

Information about medicinal plant uses is provided for educational purposes only. It should not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for consultation with a licensed physician.

Last Modified: 05/24/2010

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