Several species of Aronia berries are cultivated and marketed as superfoods, but their wild cousins are out there free for the taking. Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is native to the Eastern half of the US and Canada (map here), and though the name sounds similar to chokecherry, they’re completely different plants.
In urban areas, they’re common in landscape plantings, and our local Trader Joes grows in ditches throughout the parking lot. They produce beautiful flowers in the spring, and the berries are just ripening in the early fall as the foliage puts on a beautiful show.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with them until I picked up a few plants at one of our local nurseries. The tag said “beautiful native shrub with edible berries, a good choice for wet soils.”
Much of our land is wet, and I’m always looking to supplement our permaculture plantings with edible fruit. Once I’d had the chance to watch my plantings for a full year, I started seeing black chokeberry bushes everywhere!
That goes to show you, if you really want to learn to identify a new wild edible, just try growing it. You’ll have a chance to watch it throughout the seasons and that makes it a lot easier to spot in the wild.
Identifying Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)
Black chokeberry produces edible berries in the late summer. Unlike chokecherries which grow in bunches similar to grapes, chokeberries grow individually. Each berry grows on its own individual stem, but they’ll often grow in clusters of 2-20 berries.
The berries themselves have a dry feel to their outsides and are a bit wrinkled. Don’t let that fool you, the juice easily and aronia juice is one of their primary uses.
Harvest them in bunches by the handful with the stems on, or quickly strip them with your fingers as you work. Harvests can be huge, and I’ve harvested more than 10 pounds from a small bush. They often grow together, so it’s easy enough to come home with plenty of wild foraged aronia berries.
They look similar to buckthorn berries, which are toxic, but the leaves of chokeberry and buckthorn are very different. Buckthorn leaves are often glossy and a bit more rounded. Chokeberry leaves come to a point with a serrated edge, and they’ll often be turning a rich red color as the berries ripen.
While buckthorns have long, very sharp spikes that can be extremely painful, chokeberry bushes are thornless. They have a rough brown/grey bark along small shrubby stems.
There are many species of aronia berries, and scientists haven’t quite agreed on how many officially exist. For now, there’s a red and purple wild variety in addition to this black chokeberry. The black variety contains the highest levels of Anthocyanins, which is the antioxidant compound most famously found in blueberries.
The anthocyanin content is roughly 1.5 times higher than in wild blueberries, and it’s even slightly higher than elderberries. That makes it one of the most concentrated naturally occurring sources. In that light, it makes sense that the superfood industry is trying to cultivate and bottle chokeberries, marketing them under the much more benign scientific name “aronia.”
Black chokeberries ripen pretty late in the year, and then they hang on the plants throughout the winter. It seems the birds prefer red fruits, and they strip just about every other type of wild berry before they get to the aronia.
For that reason, Aronia berries are wonderful for winter foraging. They can often be found in abundance, even in late winter here in Vermont.
The berries themselves are a tad bit bitter, but they have a natural sweetness that makes them tasty enough for a trailside snack. They’re made into all manner of syrups, pies and baked goods. This post has 6 different Aronia berry recipes, and I’m particularly excited about the Aronia Berry pie.
There’s also this fancy chokeberry vinaigrette, where the bittersweet flavors will complement a salad nicely.
I had originally planned on making an aronia jam, but they actually have remarkably little pectin. I’ve mostly stopped using commercial pectins, and I’m opting for natural jam thickeners (like citrus seed pectin instead). Still, with so little natural pectin it’s very hard to make Aronia jelly without store-bought pectin.
While they’re not ideal for jam, the low pectin content means they’re ideal for juice. I use my steam juicer to process Aronia berries in 10-pound batches. The juice is dark and clear, with plenty of flavor.
I’ve found Aronia juice to be a bit intense at full strength, and I dilute it with seltzer and add in a dash of homemade maple syrup for sweetness. (They’re quite tart otherwise.)
Aronia berries are also made into a syrup commercially, which can be used in dozens of ways. Here are a few different ideas:
Hiw do you preserve choke berries. I have an abundant supply this year. Freeze them like blueberries ?
Yes, you can freeze them whole like blueberries. It depends on how you plan to use them. I juice them in a steam juicer and we’ve made wine with the juice, and I’ve thought about canning it. I’m not exactly sure on the pH and if it’s safe for water bath canning. One source says the juice has a pH 3.5, but really there’s limited information on canning them online.
This is all I could find from the Ag extension:
“There is little information about home juice extraction and
aronia product formulation. Juice extraction may be done in a
manner similar to that used for grapes. Hot extraction has been
reported to give a better-flavored product with less “green”
flavor and better color. This does slightly dilute the juice and
produce a juice lower in total acidity than is usually needed for
jam making or wine making. Adding acid could compensate for
the deficiency. The berries may be frozen and the juice
extracted later. Berries frozen before grinding or crushing may
produce higher juice yields. Sugar may need to be added to
juices or syrups to counteract the strong flavor of the tannins.”
Thank you for your sharing on your site. I came across it a few times looking for things since my husband and I have land in the NEK and eventually will move up there from Milton so we will be the furthest from our one and only Vermont Trader Joes and Healthy living than we’ve ever been. We are doing our best to learn as much foraging as we can make use of on our land but are having a hard time finding help online or in person to give us some place to start. Is there any chance you or someone you know would be available for a 1-2 hour walk around up in Brownington in the near future to help do some berry IDing to set me on the path for investigating further? It looks like we have about at least 6 types of berries on the land (two are raspberries and blackberries) bu the rest are totally foreign to me. Please let me know what you think and if so what type of compensation would be agreeable. Thanks so much.
I own a few acres in upstate New York and I have noticed a type of berry that I can’t 100% identify. They seem to me through research to be Chokeberry but I’m not completely sure and was looking for help with identification. The berries are small, maybe a tad smaller than pomegranate seeds, right now they have turned dark blue/purple. The stems have turned red as well as the edge of the leaves. The ground is swampy in the area and there’s lots of wild blackberries and raspberries around them. I’m just not sure if there is anything that look very similar that may be toxic. I do know what pokeweed is and I know they are not that. I do have a photo but can’t attach it. Any help would be greatly appreciated because I have a lot of them and I’d love to know if they’re edible.
There is a really great plant identification group on Facebook. You can post your picture there and they will ID it for you. https://www.facebook.com/groups/156706504394635 I also always recommend checking several other sources to confirm the identification. You can also check field guides and look for groups in your area that are knowledgeable in foraging and plant identification.
The size doesn’t sound like aronia. I’m wondering if it’s some sort of Viburnum.
I’m not sure if this is what I found. The berries and plant look the same, but the berries taste way too astringent to eat raw and each has two or three seeds/stones. The bark on the bush looks like cherry but I am sure these are not choke cherries, as I have many choke cherry bushes and gather quite a bit. These are not starchy like cherries. Also, the skin is black but the inner fruit is the color of concord grapes.
What do the seeds look like?
If you will scroll through this article from Friends of the Wildflower Garden you will see many pictures, including one with the seeds. https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/blackchokeberry.html
I even eat the leaves raw, they had no acidic or bad taste at all, tasted like acid-less protein or something. Wonder the antioxidant and nutritional value of the leaves.
Interesting. Thanks for sharing!
Ashley, Quite the coincidence coming across this post as I picked a small branch off a shrub in a local park. The leave have that fine serrated roundish shape and the berries are jet black, stems are individual for each berry. The only difference they don’t have the puckered look like your these are completely round. There doesn’t appear to be an attachment option to this post or I’d send along a picture. Bill
All the ones I’ve seen have had the pucker on the end, so it’s possible you have something different.
We have wild firecracker plants with a red flower that bees and hummingbirds like. They have berries that are black when ripe. I read that they were edible so I have been picking and eating some. They are tasty but ascerbic – slightly sweet. Have you heard of them? Would like to know their nutritional value.
I have not actually heard of those before. They sounds very interesting though.
I just harvested some aronia from a local park and made jam (or compote, because I put very little sugar) by adding a cup of blueberries to 2 1/2 cups of aronia. Then, I used a hand blender to smooth it all out. The result was amazing. It came out very thick and perfect to spread on toast, croissants, baguette and anything else you could think of.
That sounds really lovely. Thanks for sharing.
We went fishing at a new spot today & wouldn’t you know it, the dirt road across from the pond had bushes absolutely dripping with these fruits! 🤭✌️ Tomorrow’s homeschooling lesson will definitely be foraging black chokeberry! Thank you! 👏👏👏
I wonder if you could preserve these in honey?
You could possibly do a fermented honey with them.