While most promises of health benefits are reserved for southern hemisphere fruits and vegetables which have such exotic names as ‘noni’ or ‘aloe vera’, a rather timid, native crop causes quite a stir with the simple name ‘aronia berry’ (also called ‘apple berry’ or ‘black mountain ash’).
Aronia berries and their origin
The extremely modest aronia berry is native to North America, where it served as a winter food for the Native Americans. At the start of the 18th century, it was brought to Russia and cultivated there.
In the middle of the 20th century, the aronia berry gained official recognition as a fruit species and was eventually cultivated and marketed on a wide scale. A short time later, cultivation also began in Belarus, Moldova, the former East Germany and the Ukraine. The early 1980s then heralded the large-scale cultivation of aronia berries in Slovakia and Scandinavia. Aronia is traditionally cultivated in Eastern European countries; in Germany, however, there are only a few cultivation areas, such as in Coswig near Dresden and in Schirgiswalde in Lusatia, the most traditional and largest growing area in Germany. In Bavaria, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony and Leipzig, there are more, some new, albeit smaller plantations.
The aronia berry, also known as the ‘apple berry’ due to the similarity of the berry with a small apple, is a member of the Rosaceae with about three to nine species of the sub-species Maloideae. Among the most common species are the Aronia arbutifolia (‘fruity red apple’) and Aronia melanocarpa (‘black mountain ash’).
Appearance and taste
Aronia berries are similar in appearance to blueberries, blackish blue on the outside and dark red on the inside (pulp). The taste is most commonly described as tangy, which is due to the tannic acid content.
Aronia berries – the medicinal plant
Due to its high content of potentially beneficial ingredients, the aronia berry is a true blessing for both the prevention and treatment of several diseases, and has produced amazing effects in a number of studies and reports by naturopaths. This has brought it official recognition as a medicinal plant in Russia and Poland, while in Germany, it was initially used as a dye due to its shell, which stains an intense reddish violet colour. In Eastern Europe, however, it has been used for medicinal purposes for some time, particularly for gastrointestinal diseases, high blood pressure, skin diseases and urinary tract infections. Its actual scope is much larger: The medicinal plant aronia can have a positive effect on many other diseases, not least the scourge of modern humanity: cancer! Thus, it astonishes the experts again and again...
Aronia berries – the active ingredients
The aronia berry is full of highly effective ingredients; these include bioflavonoids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.
Active ingredients of the aronia berry/apple berry in detail:
Vitamins in the aronia berry
Aronia berry contains, from the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, provitamins A, E and K; of the water-soluble vitamins, it contains vitamins C, OPC, B1, B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5, B6, B7, B9 (folic acid), B12, C and H.
Vitamin A/provitamin A = 1.1-2.4 g/100 ml of aronia juice
Vitamin E = 0.8–3.1 g/100ml
Vitamin E = 0.8–1.0 g/100ml
OPC, which, like some 50,000 other substances, is actually a polyphenol, but which has also been given the name ‘vitamin P’, is found in abundance in aronia berries. OPC holds a special status within the vitamins mentioned, as it is one of the most important vitamins in addition to vitamin C and has, among other things, an above-average ability to protect cells against attacks by free radicals. Thus, the antioxidant (cytoprotective) effect of OPC against free radicals is 18 to 20 times stronger than that of vitamin C and even 40 to 50 times stronger than that of vitamin E!
Furthermore, OPC increases the effect of vitamins C, E and A in the body by a factor of 10, but, in contrast to these vitamins, it attaches directly to body proteins, especially collagen and elastin, thus rejuvenating our skin and connective tissue and – this deserves particular emphasis – rejuvenates our blood vessels, protects against atherosclerosis and can even expurgate them!
Just 24 hours after the very first intake of OPC, the resistance capability of the blood vessels doubles; it even triples over the course of regular continuous intake. OPC protects against UV rays, improves eyesight and flushes cholesterol out of our body.
Minerals in aronia
The aronia berry has an impressive mineral content, especially of iron and iodine. It provides us with 12 mg of iron per 100 ml of juice and about 0.0064 mg of iodine. It also contains potassium, calcium and magnesium.
Secondary plant substances in aronia/apple berries
Bioflavonoids, which belong to the group of polyphenols, are probably the most interesting active ingredients of aronia berries, as well as the most dominant in terms of quantity. These are biologically active substances that have all sorts of health effects; they are found in all parts of the plant, in the fruit pulp as well as in the plants, leaves and flowers.
Among other things, bioflavonoids protect against uncontrolled cell proliferation in the form of cancer, keep the blood fluid and protect it against clumping, which can lead to numerous cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. In addition, they keep our blood vessels elastic and plaque-free, regulate blood pressure, have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties and optimise the immune system.
Ellagic acid, also known as gallogen, is also a polyphenol, regenerates our cells and has also demonstrated protective potential in cancer studies.
According to Prof. Leitzmann and Dr. Watzl, the protective effect of ellagic acid is:
- antioxidant (fights harmful, free radicals),
- antimicrobial (fights bacteria),
- inhibits growth of degenerated cells,
Another substance that has highly potent antioxidant properties is phenol. This primarily affects the redox properties and the ability to bind the aggressive oxygen and nitrogen molecules. It also detoxifies by binding certain metals.
Anthocyanins are water-soluble plant dyes from the flavonoid group which are found in almost all higher developed plants (here in flowers and pulp), but especially in berries, which give them their blue, red, purple or blue-black colouration. No other plant or food has as high an anthocyanin content as the aronia berry!
Anthocyanins are especially common in the aronia berry’s skin, which is understandable: the evolutionary purpose behind this is the protection against pests, UV rays in strong sunlight and free radicals, which damage the cells from the outside and eventually destroy them. Due to their small size, which makes the fruit more susceptible to pests and UV rays, aronia berries have a particularly high concentration of these protective substances. On the other hand, the strong colours of the flavonoids attract pollinating insects and to help the plants reproduce.
While the second point is irrelevant to humans, we can easily take advantage of the first aspect, namely the protection against free radicals and ultraviolet rays to protect one's own body cells, by regularly consuming these plants, which have abundant anthocyanins. And indeed, the aronia berry has an amazing resistance to diseases and pests; it does not have to be sprayed with chemicals, which ensures gives it another high, bio-relevant value!