Black chokeberry (botanical name, Aronia melanocarpa) is a short-lived deciduous herb that grows up to a height of anything between 2.5 meters and 3 meters. The herb branches effortlessly and has a shrub-like appearance. The stems of the herb are woody having a brown to grey color that turns out to be more uneven or creased as it ages.
The shrub bears alternate, oval-shaped leaves that are about four inches in length and around 2.5 inches in width. The elliptical leaves are delicately jagged along the margins, but do not have any hairs or bristles. Frequently, these leaves are found to be most expansive further than the middle point and possess small thick tips. The leaves have a comparatively pale green hue on the underside.
The central vein on the upper surface of every leaf possesses minute blackish glands, which are properly noticeable using a hand lens. A thin petiole is found at the base of each leaf of the black chokeberry plant. The flowers of this herb emerge in compound cymes from the upper and exterior branches and each cyme contains approximately 12 flowers. However, their profusion differs.
Every flower is approximately half an inch in diameter and comprises of five white rounded petals, a reddish green calyx having five small teeth. Each flower also has about 16 stamens encircling the styles positioned in the middle.
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The anthers of the stamens are prominent and have a pinkish hue. Although the individual flowers are somewhat small, they are produced in large numbers. The black chokeberry plants bloom during the latter part of spring and the flowering season lasts for around three weeks.
A black rubbery fruit, which is globoid and approximately 1/3 inch in diameter, replaces each of the fertilized flowers during the latter part of summer. These fruits enclose numerous small seeds. The ripened fruits of the black chokeberry have a short life span and they fall on the ground quite soon after maturing.
During the fall, the deciduous leaves of the black chokeberry change their color to vivid yellow, red or orange. The root system of black chokeberry shrub comprises a wood-like branching taproot. Although rare, plants of these species are sometimes found to develop into large colonies.
Black chokeberry offers a number of health benefits and, hence, it has been traditionally used to treat several ailments and health conditions. An infusion prepared with the berries of this herb is employed to treat colds.
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Findings of researches undertaken by scientists have revealed that consuming the berries of this herb regularly provides several health benefits, such as combating cancer, inhibiting the aging process and treating inflammation, neurological disorders, bacterial infections as well as diabetes.
Similar to the other familiar health promoting fruits, the fruits of Aronia or black chokeberry possess a rich content of red, blue, purple and also black pigments known as anthocyanins.
These anthocyanins are known to have antioxidant actions and form a part of a bigger set of bioactive flavonoids present in all fruits and vegetables. In fact, although black chokeberry is connected with the blueberry, it possesses a much higher level of positive antioxidant activity.
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Apart from the health benefits offered by the black chokeberry, this herb is also an excellent ornamental shrub owing to its striking spring flowers as well as attractive color during the fall and its fruits. In many places, black chokeberry is grown as a shrub border.
This herb is also of use when grown in clusters or massed in gardens comprising native plants, open forestland or when it is grown in naturalized areas where the plant's imposing growth habits should not be restrained. The black chokeberry plant has the aptitude to endure damp conditions making it apt for growing beside the ponds, water gardens and/ or streams.
The fruits of black chokeberry are cooked before consumption. The pleasant flavor of the black chokeberries also has a number of culinary uses. Although the berries taste good, they are extremely caustic. Hence, the berries ought to be consumed when they are completely ripe, especially after one or two frosts - this is known to reduce the astringent property of the fruit.
The berries are dried up and used to make pemmican, while an excellent jelly can be prepared by adding sugar to the crushed berries. Since, black chokeberries have rich pectin content, while making jams and other items with other fruits having low pectin content, these ripened berries can be mixed with those fruits. It is said that pectin is effective in protecting our body from radiation, especially the ultra violet (UV) rays of the sun.
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Black chokeberry has a preference for damp peaty, swampy soil and likes to grow in full sunlight or partial shade. Although this herb can thrive in most soil conditions, it avers shallow chalk soil. Compared to other members of its genus, black chokeberry has a greater tolerance for dry soils.
Black chokeberry plant is tough and can thrive in temperatures as low as -25°C. In fact one cultivar of this species has been developed by scientists for its superior fruit quality. This cultivar, called Nero, bears fruits that are twice the size of the fruits borne by other plants of this species and also has a rich content of vitamin C - around 15 mg to 30 mg.
The fruits of Nero appear in bunches of 15 and are known to be additionally flavorful as well as the yield is approximately two times more compared to the plants of the species that are found growing naturally.
A number of other cultivars of this species, such as 'Viking', producing extra large berries, and 'Aron', bearing innumerable large berries, have especially been developed as ornamental plants. Generally, all plants belonging to this genus are honey fungus resilient.
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Ideally, black chokeberry plants are propagated by their seeds. It is best to sow the seeds immediately when they mature. The seeds may be sown in containers outdoors, or, alternately, in a cold frame. The process involves soaking the seeds overnight in water and subsequently cold stratifying them for a period of three months at 2°C.
It takes anything between one to three months for the seeds to germinate when they are kept at temperature around 15°C. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, they should be pricked individually, placed in separate containers, then grown in a cold frame during the first winter. It is ideal to plant them in their permanent positions outdoors in the latter part of spring.
Alternately, the black chokeberry plant may also be propagated by its suckers. For this, cut the semi-ripe wood in the period between July and August and place them in a frame. The division of suckers is done when the plant is passing through its dormant season. Propagating the plant by this procedure is very simple and the sucker divisions may be planted directly into their permanent position outdoors.
The black chokeberry is indigenous to the eastern regions of North America, but over the years this herb has been introduced in several other regions of the world, such as Russia and Eastern Europe, where it has become very popular. The fruits of this species (Aronia melanocarpa) are known to be among the most excellent sources of phenolic substances, especially anthocyanins - glycosides of cyanidin.
In effect, anthocyanins are pigments that are soluble in water and are responsible for the deep blue and also black hue of the fruits. When the fruits are ingested, they are soaked up directly as intact glycosides by the body.
The juice extracted from the fruits (berries) of Aronia melanocarpa as well as the anthocyanins obtained from the berries have been examined by scientists and herbalists for the past 15 years. It has been found that majority of the results of Aronia melanocarpa anthocyanins are attributed to their elevated antioxidative actions.
Several studies have shown that the juice extracted from the Aronia melanocarpa fruits has an extraordinary hepato-protective (a proactive action on the liver), an excellent gastro-protective (protecting the stomach) as well as a distinct anti-inflammatory action in rats.
The black chokeberry juice also has bacteriostatic (preventing further bacterial growth) actions against Syaphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli as well as an anti-viral action against type A influenza virus in vitro.
Findings of researches undertaken by other authors have shown that anthocyanins of Aronia melanocarpa have the ability to regularize the metabolism of carbohydrates in patients suffering from diabetes as well as in streptozotocin-diabetic rats.
In addition, these anthocyanins possess an in vitro anti-mutagenic (capable to lessening the frequency of mutations) activity and show a remarkable immune-modulatory (a chemical substance altering the functioning of the immune system) actions in the lymphocyte cultures of humans as well as in patients enduring breast cancer.
The other activities of Aronia melanocarpa anthocyanins include holding back the growth of human HT-29 colon cancer cells, diminish the toxicity as well as cumulation (accumulation) of cadmium (a supple yielding toxic bluish-white metallic component) in the liver and kidneys and slow down the formation of N-nitrosamine in rats.
As of now, no data is available in any medical literature regarding the undesirable and noxious consequences of using the Aronia melanocarpa fruits, its juice or any other extracts of the plant.
It has been found that phenols enclosed in black chokeberry offer an elevated free radical scavenging actions. Anthocyanins as well as proanthocyanidians are basically excellent metal chelators (any of diverse compounds that merge with metals to form chelates) and develop complexes with copper and iron.
The existence of free iron and copper ions promotes free radicals reactions. In addition, in vitro, the phenolic compounds present in Aronia melanocarpa attach bivalent (possessing two combining sites) transition metals as well as decrease the intensity of such cations effectively and, thereby the amount of pro-oxidant activity.
When experimented on animals, it was found that black chokeberry not only reduced lipid oxidation, but, at the same time, also augmented the actions of antioxidant defense enzymes. In addition, antioxidant of black chokeberry has also been detected in humans, wherein providing a dietary supplement of Aronia melanocarpa restricted the damage to red blood cell due to oxidation induced by exercise.
Several studies have shown that black chokeberries contain considerably rich quantities of phenolic flavonoid phyto-chemicals known as anthocyanins. It has been found that the overall anthocyanin content in black chokeberries is around 1480 mg for every 100 gram of freshly obtained berries, while the concentration of proanthocyanidin is around 664 mg for every 100 grams of the berries.
When the anthocyanins present in black chokeberries were analyzed in a laboratory, it was found that they enclose a number of chemicals, such as caffeic acid, cyaniding-3-glactoside, peonidin, epicatechin, quercetin, delphinidin, malvidin and pelargonidin. It has been established that the flavonoid poly-phenolic antioxidants have several health benefits, as they act as scavengers of the harmful free radicals in the body.
In addition, chemical analysis of black chokeberries has revealed that they are an excellent source of several antioxidant vitamins, including vitamins A, C and E, folate, beta carotene as well as some minerals, such as iron, potassium and manganese. It has also been found that 100 grams of freshly obtained black chokeberries supply approximately 35 per cent of our everyday vitamin C requirements.
Black chokeberries also have a rich content of flavonoid antioxidants like luteins, carotenes and zeaxanthins. It may be noted that zeaxanthin possesses photo-filtering consequences on ultra violet (UV) rays and, thereby, helps to protect our eyes from the age-related macular disease (ARMD), which is common among the elderly people.