Picking Aronia Berries

One of my favorite parts about living in Kalona is discovering and learning gardening tips, natural ways of living, and tried and true home remedies. We have a great friend, Renea, who continues to introduce us to great things like mint tea and how to bake the most delicious honey whole wheat bread. Her parents own the sheep farm where we've taken quite a few pictures of our clothing collections, and she's always teaching us something new about farm life (and Amish life) here in Iowa. We love finding new things to do and new recipes to follow!
This past weekend we took a trip with Renea out to a friend's small farm to pick aronia berries. We had never heard of them before, so this was a completely new experience for us! Thank you Renea and Heather!

We were told that aronia berries look a lot like blueberries, which we discovered was true. However, we were also warned that they taste nothing like blueberries. After trying them for myself, they really didn't have much of any flavor. The best word I could think to describe the way they taste was, "vegetable-like," which is technically two words... technically a compound adjective. Either way, it's an acquired taste. Tad was popping them like candy, so now we know what's the matter with him - ha! Renea doesn't enjoy eating them plain and said she had substituted them for blueberries in muffins and coffee cake, but finds that she has to add double the amount of sugar, and her kids still don't like them. So what do you do with them?

After a little research (otherwise known as my favorite thing to do) I found that aronia berries are a fairly popular health provider. One of the first websites to pop up on The Google was "Aronia Berry Services of Northeast Iowa" - well, shucks, that's close enough to where I live! So here's a little about aronia berries and why they're so good for you:

  • They're known as a "super berry" as they are packed full of antioxidants. It's one of the highest ranking foods for its health benefits and help toward disease prevention. These little berries are packed full of anthocyanin and flavonoids, up to ten times more than other healthy berries such as blueberries and cranberries. And after reading a bit farther, I found out that they have the highest concentration of antioxidants present in any fruit. What! Antioxidants protect the body's cells from the damaging effects of oxidation. The next highest is the elderberry.
  • Also known as the "Chokeberry" or "Black Chokeberry." They have been used for ink and dyes for hundreds of years, used by the Native Americans and early pioneers. They provide one of the world's darkest natural dyes (which is exactly what I will be using my haul for!!!) Also, super cool, this type of berry is native to the Midwest. Love knowing that! We may have to plant some for next year.  
  • Aronia berries are also great for urinary tract health, improving blood circulation, strengthening blood vessels, balancing blood pressure levels, preventing and treating diabetes, preventing carcinogens, suppressing viruses, and protecting the eyes.
  • These berries grow in clusters of 10 to 15 berries, are extremely firm, and are much easier to pick than blueberries, in my opinion. They become ripe in late August and can be harvested for up to six weeks. They do not need to be pollinated or fertilized and are rarely bothered by pests or insects. 

All of those benefits sound great to me! But they taste awful. Renea likes to put them in smoothies. We drink a lot of those around here, so I am sure I'll save plenty of them for that. Because they aren't sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers, they can just be rolled up, stored in the freezer, and used in smoothies and juices. I'll also be using them as natural dye for some yarn - they turned our hands purple, so I'm not sure if they'll make a nice dark purple yarn or black. It will be fun to experiments with different mordants! Another great use for aronia berries is kombucha. I'd never tried it before, and Heather brought some out for us to try. She said she used to brew it herself, but had bought the kombucha we drank from a more established brewer at the Iowa City farmer's market. Because it's fermented, there was a vinegar smell to it, but it wasn't bad at all. Definitely not something I would crave, but if it's really good for you, then I can see myself having a shot on the daily. 

So, the berries were great and all, but I think my favorite part of the entire experience were the three farm kittens following us around. I had a cat for the longest time, a beautiful, lazy, cuddly calico who I loved with all of my heart. My parents surprised me with her on my third birthday after months of begging and wishing. She died suddenly when I was seventeen; my mom found her curled up in the basement. I still feel a little sad when I think about her! So, these cats were super cuddly and just wanted to be hugged. They were used to little ones playing around with them, which was even more heartbreakingly sweet. If I could have, I would have brought them all home. Also, this photo above. I mean, if that's not the photo I want to describe my entire life, then I don't know what is! Give me a farmhouse, somebody!!

PURE CAT BLISS. In case you couldn't tell, I am a cat person. 

Back on subject! Aronia berries! I have never seen them for sale in a grocery store, co-op, Whole Foods, etc. But that doesn't mean they're not there! And if you live the Midwest, now is the time to go picking. Seriously, go check these out!! I can't wait to experiment with them and make something tasty and extremely healthy too! Yay for beating oxidation!!!

xoxo Kayla