The Aronia Berry up until recently was called the Chokeberry due to its astringent taste and its grainy properties. The Chokeberry is not to be confused with the Chokecherry. True, the two berries spring from the Rosaceae family of plants, but they are only distantly related at best. The chokecherry does not have near the antioxidant value that the Chokeberry has and the leaves and stems of the chokecherry are poisonous when ingested while Chokeberry leaves and stems are a rich source of anthocyanidins and used in various herbal teas.
The Chokeberry bush, unlike a host of other plants, is of a hearty breed. It’s easy to grow and doesn’t need much care or water. The Chokeberry bush is fairly self-reliant and can survive the intense heat of the plains summers and the bitter cold of the harsh winter months. Chokeberries are usually ready for harvest in late August or early September and can be eaten directly off the bush.
The Chokeberry was originally used for a number of purposes by the Native American cultures in North America. The leaves and twigs of the Chokeberry bush were a staple used for medicinal teas and herbal remedies to treat everything from colic to fever. The juice of the Chokeberries was used as dyes, war paint and for treating cuts and abrasions. During the long winter months, dried Chokeberries were used to boost nutrition and health among the Native American tribes. Chokeberries were also used to cure and tenderize various meats. The cured, tenderized meats were called pemmican (dried meats) and used for food during the harsh winter months when game was scarce.
Chokeberries and the nutritional value that surround 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 Chokeberry into relative obscurity on the North American continent. However, as knowledge of the Chokeberry waned in the States, the Chokeberry gained wider prominence in the Eastern Bloc countries, particularly in Poland.
Today, Poland is by far the largest producer of Chokeberries in the world, accounting for some 80% of the worldwide production of Chokeberries. Because of the high production of Chokeberries, a number of medical institutes in Poland have been studying the potential health benefits of the chokeberry over the years and its effects on everything from bone and joint health to cardiovascular health. The results of some of these studies have been posted on the internet and in Doctor Iwona Wawer’s book “The Power of Nature”.
Only recently has the Chokeberry regained some of its once storied prominence in the United States as medical studies, food trends and knowledge of antioxidants rise. More Chokeberry farms are dotting the landscape in the High Plains and North Central United States, with the state of Iowa leading the way and accounting for most of the Chokeberry production in the States at this time. Various academic institutions are also seeking funding for additional studies on the potential health benefits of the Chokeberry, 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 Chokeberry.