Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa) is a berry-producing shrub that is native to eastern North America. The fruits are known as black chokeberry or Aronia berries which are small, purple-black coloured fruit and are very tart and dry to taste. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols which are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. These berries have one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any fruit, which makes the pea-sized berries a “superfood”.
The Native American people traditionally used Aronia berries as food, to make tea, and to treat colds. European settlers soon adopted the use of chokeberries, turning them into jam, juice, wine and syrup. In the early 1900s, the Aronia Berry plants were introduced to Russia and Eastern Europe, where the Aronia bushes gained popularity and became cultivated for the food industry. They were also continued to be used as traditional remedies.
Today, Aroniaberries are eaten for their health benefits almost all over the world. They contain many compounds that help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Oxidative stress can lead to many chronic diseases, such as inflammation, cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, including Aronia may help reduce the risk for these diseases.
Aronia berries are rarely eaten fresh because they are bitter to taste, rather they are dried, juiced, or included in other dishes. Other ways the fruit is used is food production, as herbal supplements, or as a natural dye. And since Aronia berry bushes are easy to grow, they are often grown as decorative plants.
Aronia melancarpa (Michx.) Elliot belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). The shrub is also known as black chokeberry or black-seeded chokeberry. It is most widely classified as a part of the Aronia genus, but sometimes as a part of the Photinia genus, which also belongs to the rose family and is related to the apple.
The two main species of the Aronia genus are Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry) and Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry). Both species are native to North America but can be told apart by the colour of their fruits. Black chokeberry fruits mature to a purplish-black colour, while red chokeberry fruits mature to red. Aronia prunifolia or purple chokeberry is a natural hybrid of red and black chokeberry, whereas Aronia mitschurinii or Sorbaronia mitschurinii was cultivated.
All four species have a high antioxidant value, but black chokeberry has the highest. Due to the high antioxidant value, A. melancarpa cultivars like the Viking Aronia Berry are used for fruit production. The composition and health value of chokeberry fruits depend on many factors, like variety, maturity, environment, and climate.
Chokeberries are sometimes mistakenly called chokecherries. Chokecherry or Prunus virginiana is a different shrub usually grown as a windbreak for farms and fields. Although the fruits contain health-promoting compounds, the raw seeds and leaves can be toxic, whereas Aronia berry seeds can be eaten.
What does the plant look like?
Black chokeberry is a deciduous shrub that grows to about 1 to 3 meters in height. It forms large, dense colonies over time, and its oval leaves are dark green and glossy. The pretty creamy-white flowers grow in clusters and bloom in mid-May. The flowers ripen to pea-sized, purplish black berries that mature in late August and September. Aronia berries contain tannins which cause bitter and astringent flavours that may be too intense for some people.
Where the name comes from?
The genus name Aronia is thought to derive from the Greek word ‘arōnia’, meaning medlar tree. The species name melanocarpa is made up of two Greek words: ‘melano’, meaning black and ‘carpa’, meaning fruit. The common name chokeberry refers to the astringency of the berries. They do not necessarily make one choke, but their mouth-drying effect is very likely to make one’s mouth pucker.
How or what it is used for?
Fresh chokeberries are commonly used to make juice, jam, syrup, wine, or natural dye. They are also eaten dried as a snack, added to cereals, trail mixes, and baked goods. Chokeberry extract is available in form of Aronia supplements.
Due to their enhanced antioxidant activity, Aronia berries are a promising component of functional food products. However, like other plants and natural medicinal products, Aronia melanocarpa requires further thorough studies to support its therapeutic use.
Currently, Health Canada approves polyphenols as a source of antioxidants that help protect cells against the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
Medicinal Properties of Aronia
Research showed that chokeberry extract, chokeberry juice and their polyphenolic compounds act as strong
These effects may potentially prevent or treat chronic diseases related to oxidative stress and inflammations. Also, studies demonstrated that Aronia extract lowered total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure. It might also help with pro-inflammatory conditions and reduce the risk factors of the metabolic syndrome. In some types of cancers, such as colon cancer or breast cancer, Aronia melanocarpa seems to have potential anti-cancer benefits. Additionally, immunomodulatory and antimicrobial effects have been described for black chokeberry extracts.
It is well known that oxidative stress and inflammatory processes play a key role in the development of various chronic diseases. The current state of research suggests that the long-term consumption of polyphenol-rich diets might help protect against these diseases.
Test tube models suggest that polyphenols can scavenge and neutralize free radicals (or metals that could generate such radicals) by forming stabilized chemical complexes. This antioxidant activity decreases oxidative stress and ultimately prevents cell damage. It might help prevent metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, gastrointestinal problems, and neurodegenerative diseases.
By acting on cytokine pathways, polyphenols can additionally downregulate the secretion of pro-inflammatory signalling proteins. This prevents inflammatory-driven damage to end organs. It also may reduce inflammation-induced cancer formation and progression.
Still, studies investigating the effects and mechanisms of these bioactive compounds in humans are limited. Thus, further research is necessary.
Drinking chokeberry juice or taking chokeberry extract is generally regarded as possibly safe for most adults. Side effects are rare, but some people may experience constipation or diarrhea.
Patients with diabetes should be cautious when using chokeberry. The fruit can lower blood sugar, so it is important to monitor the blood sugar carefully. There is also some concern that chokeberry might potentiate the effects of anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also exercise caution with chokeberries or Aronia extract as there is not enough data available.
Always speak with your healthcare provider if you are on a medication and are unsure about a potential interaction.
Pascoe Canada does not offer health or medical advice as we are not a healthcare practitioner. Please speak with your healthcare practitioner before beginning any program related to nutrition, diet, exercise, fitness, medical, and/or wellness. All content published by Pascoe Canada is developed through collaborating with licensed medical professionals and contributors. This includes text, graphics, images, and other material on the website, newsletter, and products (“Content”). This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The content does not substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always do your own research on whether this is for you along with your healthcare practitioner advice. Always consult your healthcare practitioner prior to use specific herbs because you might have underlined conditions needs professional care. The content is general in nature and are subject to change. It is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects.
Aronia berries have higher antioxidant levels than blueberries, cranberries, grapes, and other berries. Antioxidants are believed to help protect against degenerative diseases, like diabetes, neurodegenerative and heart disease, and help to slow aging. These antioxidant activities and other medicinal properties are due to the phenolic compounds in the Aronia berries.
According to a research review in 2015, Aronia melanocarpa fruits are one of the richest plant sources of phenolic substances compared to over 140 plants. The dominating phenolic compound groups in Aronia juice and berries are so-called polymeric proanthocyanins and anthocyanins.
Proanthocyanidins, better known as condensed tannins, are very astringent. These phytochemicals are present in various plants to protect them from pathogens and from being eaten. They can also be found in many common foods such as tea, grapes, black current, cranberry, cocoa products, and red wine. Research showed that proanthocyanidins have antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects. These effects can result in a wide range of health benefits. Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) have been used to improve blood flow, reduce symptoms of diabetes, and ease swelling in the joints. Still, more clinical studies are needed to support the therapeutic use of proanthocyanidins.
Anthocyanins and anthocyanidins are two types of common plant pigments. Anthocyanins are the sugar-added form of anthocyanidins and more present in nature. The water-soluble anthocyanins are responsible for most of the red, blue, and purple colours of leaves, fruits, flowers, and root-vegetables. Especially blueberries are famous for their high concentration of anthocyanins. The anthocyanins detected in blueberries are 3-glycosidic derivatives of cyanidin, delphinidin, malvidin, petunidin, and peonidin. Among the anthocyanin pigments, cyanidin-3-galactoside is the most common in nature, followed by delphinidin and pelargonidin glycosides. Aronia melanocarpa anthocyanins have high antioxidative activity. Data from animal studies demonstrated hepatoprotective and gastroprotective effects of Aronia melanocarpa fruit juice. In vitro experiments additionally showed certain antimicrobial, antiviral and cancer-fighting activities of A. melanocarpa anthocyanins.
Aronia berries also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, including zinc, magnesium, iron, and vitamin C, B, and K. Interestingly, specific nutrient values do vary depending on the way the Aronia is grown and prepared.