What are Aronia Berries?
Hello! I am so excited to share this post with you today. Even after living on the farm now for over one month, there are still many days where it feels surreal and dreamlike. I suppose that has a lot to do with the fact that it is winter, and we cannot truly get started on working the land as a farm until spring arrives. I am beginning to enter the stage of woe, which will soon turn to stirring in February. But even with that, I am really excited to tell you more about what aronia berries are because we inherited over 900 bushes of them! We are guessing anyway; I still need to take a walk and individually count them. That sounds like a fun task, doesn't it?! Ha! To say that we are excited and nervous is an understatement. The thing is, while I first heard of aronia berries two years ago, I still really don't know much about them... or at least, what they can be used for! I am not an aronia expert, and while there are many wonderful ideas online about uses, I am still in the phase of learning how exactly to market and profit of these berries that take up most of our acreage.
Today, I want to share with you what aronia berries are, how they are grown, and a little bit about how you can use them along with how we plan to use them in the coming year. They are truly interesting, and I think that you may enjoy learning what they are and even perhaps grow a few bushes of your own!
What Are Aronia Berries?
Aronia is a woody perennial shrub known for its dark black berries. It is also known as the black chokecherry, which makes sense as the berries don't really taste that wonderful. They are similar in size to a blueberry but are much darker and have an astringent flavor unless extremely ripe; this flavor is caused by tannins, which causes a dryness in the mouth. It is also what makes a wine dry. They are native to the eastern United States, down into Georgia and as far west as Iowa. They produce in late summer, August and September, and are extremely resistant to pests, frost, and other negative elements. That makes them a pretty hardy crop! The bushes that we have are of the Viking cultivar, which was selected and developed in Russia for commercial fruit production. Our bushes will grow to be 6-8 feet tall (some of them are already!) and live about just as long as a lilac bush. They make a really beautiful addition to landscaping as well as they produce beautiful white blooms in late spring, and their foliage turns orange, red, and deep purple hues in the fall.
Along with their look, they also produce some of the best fruit you can eat! Aronia berries are extremely high in antioxidants, in fact, higher than grapes, elderberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, prunes, cherries, bananas, oranges, apples, and pears. According to recent studies, the health benefits they hold include reducing blood pressure, cholesterol levels, inflammation, coronary issues, weight gain, muscle recovery time, the chance of developing cancer, and regulate blood sugar. That is amazing!
How Can You Use Them?
That's a good question! When we first picked a bushel of berries two years ago, we weren't quite sure what to do with them. Our friend recommended placing a handful in smoothies to gain the benefits of the fruit without suffering the taste. That's all that we have really done with them since then! Now that we own so many bushes, I have been looking a little more into what exactly they can be turned into. Really, I have not eaten one since that summer... I only remember a bitter taste, but maybe my opinion will change!
Apparently aronia is quite commonly used in commercialized food... for dyeing. Yes! The juice from the berries is used a naturally colorant in fruit juices, wines, and other beverages. It is one of the darkest natural dyes that you can produce, creating either a beautiful black or deep purple hue. Looking online at some results, I am itching to try experimenting with using them as a dye myself!
They can also be used in various cooking recipes like chili, bread, muffins, pies, cookies, juices, jams, jellies, syrup, salsa, yogurt, ice cream, and other products. There is much to experiment with it appears in my kitchen! My favorite option? Drying them. Drying and freezing the berries helps lessen their bitterness and bring out the sugars. I am excited to try mixing them into herbal teas that we can sell here in our online shop. How wonderful will that be? We actually just dropped some new tea mixes in the shop today along with more individual bulk herbs!
I am really excited to try my hand at growing these berries when the warm weather returns. I am so nervous to have to handle so many of them, but also thankful that they are already established and have been producing well for years past. I am sure there is much to learn, and I have already received messages from quite a few of you with advice on taking care of our bushes. Thank you! My plan is to grow them naturally, with no synthetics or chemicals. I have a feeling our biggest threat will be the many deer that frequent our property. Yikes! I have already spotted droppings all throughout the acreage.
It is going to be a busy growing season for us soon-to-be farmers. I love hearing about all of your adventures in learning how to grow your own food. This adventure continues to expand and progress and grow each year. I am still amazed that we somehow landed on this tiny farm and are planning to profit off of it. I know there are many who call us crazy, but those of you that send messages of encouragement, support, and love are what show me that this is the right journey for us!