Last Updated on December 5, 2022
Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), also known as aronia berry, is an edible dark purple berry rich in antioxidants that’s easy to grow or forage. Here’s everything you need to know about this up-and-coming superfood you can find in wild areas or grow in your garden.
WHAT IS CHOKEBERRY, ARONIA MELANOCARPA?
Black chokeberry is a native plant easily found growing wild or planted in urban landscapes. Like many other dark purple fruits, such as elderberries and mulberries, aronia is prized for its exceptional concentration of anthocyanins, one of the highest known.
A member of the rose family, Aronia melanocarpa produces clusters of edible berry-like fruits technically called pomes.
An attractive plant, chokeberry is a terrific choice for your edible landscape, allowing you to sneak in some fruit, even if you don’t have a food garden. Aronia’s pretty white spring flowers yield the prized purple fruit, which persists even after your other plants have succumbed to frost. If you’re a forager, Aronia melanocarpa is a good one to know for late-season foraging when other options have dwindled.
Note that chokeberries (with a ‘b’) are not the same as chokecherries (with a ‘ch’). Chokecherries (Prunus virgininia) are another plant entirely, and unlike chokeberries, they have poisonous seeds that need to be avoided.
Chokeberry plants are easy to find wild or in urban landscapes where these pretty native shrubs are often used as ornamentals.
ARE CHOKEBERRIES EDIBLE?
You’d think from its name that it isn’t, but indeed black chokeberry is edible, and many enthusiastic foragers consider it quite tasty in juice and pie, or baked into muffins.
Next time you’re out walking and someone asks you, “Can you eat chokeberries?” you can answer in the affirmative. Just know that plucked right off the bush isn’t the best way to enjoy them. More details on the best ways to eat chokeberries at the bottom of the post. As is the case with mountain ash berries, black chokeberries need some heat and sugar to make them more palatable.
Aronia berries contain fiber, vitamins C and E, as well as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, though amounts will vary quite a bit with the variety and growing conditions.
BENEFITS OF BLACK CHOKEBERRY, ARONIA MELANOCARPA
Rich in antioxidants, black chokeberry has received quite a bit of attention from neutraceutical researchers. Below are the primary benefits they’ve explored so far.
1. BLACK CHOKEBERRY IS EXCEPTIONALLY HIGH IN ANTIOXIDANTS
Black chokeberries are a rich source of compounds called antioxidants, which help our bodies deal with oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a condition that can affect proteins and DNA and may contribute to chronic diseases like cancer and arthritis.
One study of aronia berries found they contained even more anthocyanins than elderberries, often touted as one of the most antioxidant-rich foods around. Analyses of the oxygen radical absorbing capacity (ORAC) of numerous fruits rank black chokeberry at the very top. Some detailed explanations of the many polyphenols found in aronia berries can be found here and here.
Here are other antioxidant-rich superfoods to consider adding to your diet.
2. ARONIA BERRIES CONTAIN ANTI-INFLAMMATORY COMPOUNDS
Many of the polyphenols in black chokeberry are believed to help reduce inflammation, which may help address inflammatory conditions like arthritis and diabetes. Researchers are also looking into aronia’s use for inflamed respiratory tissues and damaged stomach lining.
3. BLACK CHOKEBERRY MAY SUPPORT CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Those anti-inflammatory compounds also help support cardiovascular health. One study found that aronia had a positive effect on cholesterol levels, while another reported that clotting and lipid profiles improved in patients with metabolic syndrome after one month of supplementation with aronia.
A small study of human subjects found markers of cardiovascular disease improved in heart patients taking aronia extract compared to those in a placebo group.
A 2017 animal study found supplementation with aronia extract had a positive impact on blood pressure.
Another fruit ripening around the same time, hawthorn, is prized for supporting cardiac health. Here’s what to know about making hawthorn berry tea if you’re curious.
4. ARONIA MELANOCARPA MAY SUPPORT THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
The anthocyanins that give aronia berries their dark purple color are the same as that found in elderberries. Preliminary research suggests that like elderberry, black chokeberry may also stimulate the immune system and have antiviral properties.
5. BLACK CHOKEBERRY MAY HAVE ANTIMICROBIAL PROPERTIES
6. ARONIA BERRIES MAY PROTECT AGAINST CANCER
Reducing oxidative stress can lower cancer risk, while some studies suggest that compounds in aronia berries may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Aronia berry extract is also being studied for its beneficial effect on breast cancer.
7. BLACK CHOKEBERRY MAY SUPPORT LIVER FUNCTION
8. ARONIA MELANOCARPA LEAVES MAY ALSO HAVE THERAPEUTIC USES
BLACK CHOKEBERRY / ARONIA MELANOCARPA IDENTIFICATION
Chokeberries grow on multi-stemmed shrubs with a rounded growth habit, usually reaching 3 to 7 feet in height. Stems have grey-brown bark.
Oval leaves with pointed tips grow on short petioles in an alternate pattern. They’re typically 1 to 3 inches long, dark green and shiny on top, lighter beneath, and have finely serrated edges. Foliage turns a lovely red in fall.
Clusters of white flowers about 8mm across appear on chokeberry shrubs in spring. Flowers have 5 petals with prominent pink stamens.
Flowers develop into glossy black berries toward the end of summer, hanging in clusters on reddish stems.
In the south, you’ll find red chokeberries, Aronia arbutifolia, which ripen later in the season and are less likely to drop their fruit than black chokeberry. Some foragers find red chokeberries more palatable.
BLACK CHOKEBERRY FORAGING TIPS & LOOKALIKES TO KNOW
–> Remember, there are many dark purple berries out there, and some are quite poisonous. Use all the features — growth habit, leaves, bark, and berries — to positively identify black chokeberry.
Berries that resemble black chokeberry: Pokeberry, Virginia creeper, and most notably, buckthorn. If you pay attention to the pattern of leaves and berry clusters, though, you’ll see they’re pretty easy to tell apart. Look carefully at the images of buckthorn, pokeberry, and Virginia creeper below.
Always consult a good foraging guide and make absolutely certain you have the right plant before consuming aronia berries, or any wild food for that matter. Here are my top recommendations for the best foraging books to add to your foraging library.
You might also consider hunting black chokeberries with a veteran forager, who can help teach you to correctly identify them. Or check out the Herbal Academy’s online foraging course, which teaches plant identification and ethical wildcrafting practices.
Foraging expert Samuel Thayer recommends harvesting chokeberries soon after they ripen in September, as they become drier if left on the plant. They may persist till winter, however, and if you’re looking for something to forage when everything else is gone, they could still be used in sauces and fruit leathers, even if they won’t be great for juicing at this stage. Some people say that a frost will improve the flavor, but Thayer thinks that a hard freeze actually hurts it.
WHERE TO FIND BLACK CHOKEBERRY
Black chokeberries prefer wet areas, along lakeshores and in swampy conditions and will produce best with adequate moisture and full sun. Range from northern Georgia to Newfoundland and northern Minnesota red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) in the south.
If you don’t have black chokeberry growing near you, you might consider growing some. This tough native shrub makes a lovely landscape plant and doesn’t require much special care. Plus they’re self-fruitful, so you only need one plant to get fruit. Best of all, they’re extremely cold-hardy, tolerating temps all the way to zone 3. A perfect addition to the secretly edible landscape or permaculture garden!
I’ve had a black chokeberry plant growing in a part shade area of our tiny yard for years. It produces a few cups of berries each season. On a trip to a local orchard recently I noticed this gorgeous chokeberry bush heavily laden with fruit, yielding far more in a full sun location.
Increasingly popular as an attractive landscape plant that produces bonus superfood, you can often find chokeberry bushes growing in street plantings, in front of shops, or in public parks. The aronia cultivars sold in garden centers may have a milder flavor than chokeberries growing in the wild.
WHAT TO DO WITH BLACK CHOKEBERRY?
Some sources suggest that chokeberry’s flavor improves with freezing. I did a test batch of muffins with chokeberries I put in the freezer for a day and some that I left in the refrigerator. The flavor and texture of the frozen berries was somewhat improved, but the blueberries I used in some of the muffins were definitely juicier and tastier. My berries were picked later in the fall than recommended, though, so I should repeat the experiment next September and see if the results taste better.
1. MAKE CHOKEBERRY JUICE
Aronia berries are typically made into juice, which can be consumed on its own, added to other juices for flavor, color, and nutrients, or included in other recipes.
Thayer recommends making juice from fresh rather than cooked berries. Unlike elderberries, chokeberries do not need to be heated before eating. He notes that while cooking the fruit may yield slightly more juice, the bitterness from the pulp will affect the flavor of the finished product.
2. ADD CHOKEBERRIES TO HEALTHY TREATS
You can also use whole chokeberries or chokeberry juice in ice cream and homemade popsicles.
3. BAKE WITH CHOKEBERRIES
Aronia berries can also be baked into quickbreads and muffins or used in pies, cookies, crisps, and bars if you want to sneak some superfood nutrition into your dessert. I didn’t find the flavor enough to stand on its own in the muffins I made with the berries from our shrub, so I recommend mixing them with other fruits like red or black raspberries to add flavor.
In a crisp where some liquid will form, black chokeberries might do better on their own, but mixing with a sweeter fruit like apple or peach might make them more enjoyable.
4. TRY CHOKEBERRY SYRUP OR JELLY
I know a number of people who add chokeberries to their homemade elderberry syrup, while others take aronia syrup in place of elderberry syrup, though the research on aronia’s antiviral properties is significantly less than that on elderberry.
Some sources claim that chokeberries are high in pectin, making them a good choice for jams and jellies, while others have found that additional pectin is needed.
If you need more ideas about what to do with your aronia berry harvest, check out this collection of aronia berry recipes, and try your hand at aronia ice cream, chutney, wine, and much more!
Love growing fruit in your yard? Be sure to try extra-early haskap berries and ultra-yummy saskatoon berries for tasty fruit all season long. Or perhaps you’re already growing edible fruit and didn’t realize it. Check out these uses for edible crab apples and edible hackberry fruit if you have these trees in your landscape or growing nearby.
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Additional black chokeberry / Aronia melanocarpa photo credit on cover photo and pin: Goran Horvat
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.