Aronia Berry and Your Thanksgiving Table

Aronia berry, or chokeberry, is a Midwestern native that can be used alongside cranberries for holiday feasting.

by Dawn Combs
PHOTO: Tatters/Flickr

Last year at this time, I shared about how I prepare cranberries for my family’s Thanksgiving table. I love cranberries, but they aren’t native to my area of the country. A few weeks ago, a trip to the grocery store started me thinking about a native berry that I love to teach about. When I sat down and looked over my past posts, I was shocked to find that I’ve never shared about the aronia berry (Aronia melanocarpa).

The aronia berry is a “trash tree” here in Ohio. It grows in hedgerows and goes virtually unnoticed. It’s often called black chokeberry. Our local native-plants nursery, Scioto Gardens, sells them, and they’re often used by landscapers as ornamentals. In the spring, you’ll see them decorated with beautiful white flowers, which are then followed by dark, black berries. Finally, the shrub puts on a fall display of deep rust-colored leaves that is not to be missed.

It seems to be human nature to romanticize the produce from another part of the world, favoring them over edibles that are close at hand. Most of the things we love eating during the holidays are not native to our area. There is nothing wrong with that per se, except we continually overlook the food we have literally in our own backyard. Many people pay exorbitant amounts of money for superfoods and juices, all while not knowing that they can easily grow their own.

Aronia berry has three to four times the antioxidant content of blueberry, goji or pomegranate. It’s currently being studied for its beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart attack prevention and recovery),the digestive system, the urinary tract (even better for UTIs than cranberry) and even cancer. Specifically, it is being tested against breast and colon cancer. In laboratory environments, it’s been shown to kill colon cancer cells with no damage to surrounding tissue. Very exciting stuff!

Aronia berry, aka chokeberry, is high in pectin. The first settlers added it to other fruits for a natural set for jams and jellies. It’s not likely that the chokeberry was at the first Thanksgiving, but that shouldn’t stop you from using it if it’s native to your area. Aronia grows very well in Midwestern soils. It’s a medium-sized shrub that tends to spread in clusters. The fruit is ready to pick in the fall, and it’s a real battle to get it before the birds do, so you might consider covering it with netting. It likes full sun and will perform very well year after year with very little input from you, the grower.

Last week, as I was inspecting some juice on sale, I came across a bottle of aronia juice. There are a few farms here in the U.S. beginning to bring this berry into commerce. You’ll see it in jellies, juice and some baby food blends. In Europe, it’s commonly found at the grocery, but here it was a bit jarring to me. I was excited to see it becoming more available, as we can all benefit from it.

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Include the berries on your Thanksgiving table by adding a new juice selection, adding the dried berries to your cranberry sauce, or even creating an aronia berry bread or muffin for the next day’s breakfast. Next year, perhaps you’ll grow your own and easily add a supercharge of health that everyone at the table can be thankful for.

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