Maybe you’ve heard of this particular berry. I hadn’t. The chokeberry can be used in making jams, syrup, juices, wine, and even teas. These berries are mainly eaten by birds but are also cultivated as ornamental plants. They are high in antioxidant pigment, like anthocyanins which we’ve noted in other berries. No surprise that they are called “chokeberries” because of the astringency of the fruit which is inedible when raw.
In Eastern North America the two well-known species of chokeberries are named after their color: red chokeberry and black chokeberry. You can also find a purple chokeberry which is actually a natural hybrid of the two other species. They are drought resistant are resistant to insects, pollution, and disease.
You will most likely see this type of berry plant growing as ornamental plants for gardens, growing quite well when planted under trees. Birds will be attracted to the berries and then disperse the seeds in their droppings.
Another unique berry is actually called chokecherries. It can be confusing especially if you see chokeberries. These two berries are two separate plants but actually from the same “family”, the rose family. Some people feel that the chokecherry has toxicity issues whereas the chokeberry does not. Chokecherries are most often used for jelly which requires extracting the juice and mixing with sugar and pectin to thicken but are also used in jelly, put on pancakes, in ice cream, and even muffins.
The plant or bush itself is devoid of thorns and usually stands eight to fifteen feet tall. The mature fruit is more oblong and sometimes has a pointed tip. They are dark in color—purple to black—when fully ripe. The cherries are in drooping clusters and usually each cluster contains either to twenty fruits, and they thrive as a riverside shrub able to tolerate wet or dry conditions without disturbance. They ripen in late August and are a favorite food for black bears.
The remains of the chokecherry were discovered at archeological sites in the Dakotas more than any other wild plant. It was a valued food for many Native Americans, and were central to the economy of the Cheyenne Indians and the Blackfoot Indians who simply called it “berry”.