Grow Your Own Superfruits: Aronia

March 16, 2014 lawanda Newspaper Columns

Health food magazine articles have frequently touted superfoods and superfruits the past few years.  While “superfood” and “superfruit” are marketing terms developed in 2005 and have no official FDA or USDA endorsement, it is generally understood that the terms refer to foods with highly concentrated nutrition in the form of heart-healthy antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.  Other than blueberries, most of the well-known superfruits are grown in tropical regions.

I recently learned that I’ve been growing a superfruit in my backyard and didn’t even know it.  The shrub I planted several years back, and that I chose because it is a plant native to our area, is the chokeberry.  That name hardly inspires a person to want to eat the berries, so today it is commonly marketed by its Latin name, Aronia.  I didn’t even know the berries were edible!

Aronia is a shrub that grows to about six feet tall and wide.  It produces white blossoms in late spring and has nice egg-shaped, glossy green leaves that turn a brilliant red-orange in autumn.  It adapts to a wide range of soils, but a moist, fertile, well-drained soil is best.  Mine is thriving in hard clay that alternates between saturated and bone dry.  They grow best in full sun to partial shade and are rarely bothered by insect pests or disease.

An aronia plant can produce 10-15 pounds of pea-sized berries by the third year and as much as 20-25 pounds by year six.  Berries are harvested in fall when they are dark purple.

Aronia berries are easy to pick without much bending or stooping or reaching.  Clusters are removed from the plants by the handful.  However, they aren’t a fruit that you’d want to eat out of hand.  They are very tart.  Of course, knowing how good they are for you, you can probably acquire a taste for them!  But there is no need – they can be juiced, mixed into smoothies, added to cookies, muffins, breads or pancakes, tossed in salads, made into vinaigrettes, used in barbeque sauce and salsa or processed into jelly or wine.

Berries can be frozen by rinsing them and spreading them on cookie sheets in the freezer until firm.  Then store them in plastic freezer bags.  Reportedly, freezing increases their antioxidants and reduces their tartness.

Three cultivars are commonly sold:  ‘Viking’, ‘Nero’, and ‘Autumn Magic’.  If potted plants are purchased, plant at the same depth as in the pot.  Bare root plants should be placed with the crown of the plant, where the stem and roots meet, no more than an inch below ground level.

Pruning is best done when plants are dormant in late winter.  Remove weak, damaged or crossing branches and a few of the oldest stems.  This will rejuvenate the plant, resulting in larger, higher quality fruit.

To propagate aronia, use a sharp spade to slice off suckers that grow from the roots.  Spade up the baby plant along with its roots and replant in another spot.

Fruits and vegetablesTrees and Shrubs

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