For the past few months I've been doing quite a bit of research on the Aronia Berry. As a former culinary student with much knowledge of nutritional science I enjoy learning the facts about food; where it comes from, its history, how it has influenced modern culinary traditions, its cultural significance and its effects on health.
The Aronia Berry has been an interesting study in that, despite its berry-like qualities it's not actually in the berry family. It's actually in the apple family instead. The bush is of a hearty breed. It's easy to grow and doesn't need much care or water. The bush is fairly self-reliant and can survive the intense heat of the summers and the bitter cold of the harsh winter months. The berries are usually ready for harvest in late August or early September and can be eaten directly off the bush.
The history of the Aronia Berry is also a fascinating study as the berry was originally used for a number of purposes by the Native American cultures in North America. The leaves and twigs of the Aronia Berry bush were a staple used for medicinal teas and herbal remedies to treat everything from colic to fever. The juice of the berries was used as dyes, war paint and for treating cuts and abrasions. During the long winter months, dried berries were used to boost nutrition and health among the Native American tribes. Aronia Berries were also a much used to cure and tenderize various meats. The cured, tenderized meats were called pemmican (dried meats) and were used for food during the harsh winter months when game was scarce.
Aronia Berries and the nutritional value that surrounded them were eventually lost to legend as the United States industrialized and Native American tribes were moved onto reservations. The cultural shift of the industrial era and the trend toward modern agriculture sent the Aronia Berry into relative obscurity on the North American continent. However, as knowledge of the Aronia Berry waned in the States, the Aronia Berry gained wider prominence in the Eastern Bloc countries, particularly in Poland.
Today, Poland is by far the largest producer of Aronia Berries in the world, accounting for some 80% of the worldwide production of Aronia Berries. Because of the high production of Aronia Berries, a number of medical institutes in Poland have been studying the potential health benefits of the berry over the years and how it affects everything from bone and joint health to cardiovascular health. The results of some of these studies have been posted on the internet or in Doctor Iwona Wawer's book , "The Power of Nature."
Only recently has the Aronia Berry begun to regain its once storied prominence in the United States as medical studies, trends and knowledge of the power of antioxidants rise. More Aronia Berry farms are dotting the landscape in the United States, with the state of Iowa as the leader accounting for most of the Aronia Berry production in the United States at this time. Various academic institutions in the United States are also seeking funding for additional studies on the potential health benefits of the Aronia Berry, and numerous articles are popping up on the web touting the antioxidant value found in this purple berry.
The "ditch-weed" once reviled for its astringent taste and nearly lost to another time is now regaining its spot with the Cranberry, the Blueberry, the Strawberry and a host of others. It will be interesting to watch where the future of health and wellness take the once forgotten Aronia Berry.