Maqui berries

How To Grow Sensational Superberries

Maqui (Aristotelia chilensis)

You can't live forever but eating 'superberries' can make you healthier

Who wants to live forever? Probably not an option at the moment, but you can significantly improve your quality of life as you age disgracefully by eating ‘superberries’.This group of berries are mainly known for their high levels of antioxidants; with more benefits being discovered every day. They include: Acai, Aronia, Blueberry, Cranberry, Goji, Maqui and Noni berries. Some are only available prepared from health shops but a great many of them can be grown at home.

Antioxidants neutralise and prevent the formation of free radicals which damage body cells leading to disease and ageing. Anthocyanins, which give the Acai, Aronia and Blueberries their deep red colour, and vitamins C and E are the most common antioxidants found in these superberries. Anthocyanin is one of the most powerful antioxidants to be found in berries and grapes. The body naturally creates these free radicals to combat bacteria and viruses, but, they can be formed by exposure to cigarette smoke, herbicides, pollution and radiation. Free radicle molecules are unstable and attempt to stabilise by stealing electrons from other cells, which results in the attacked cells becoming damaged. This cell damage accumulates with age, but eating 5 – 8 portions of antioxidant rich fruit and vegetables daily can help delay the signs of ageing. 

Acai berries (Euterpe oleracea)

This is a tropical palm native to Central and Southern America so cannot be grown in the UK; as a result it is available as tablets, capsules, juice and a tea. It is a 1” long red/purple berry and can provide up to 30x’s more anthocyanins than red wine. These anthocyanins in Acai improve blood circulation and relax blood vessels and so help prevent blood clots. This berry is high in essential fatty acids (EFA’s) which keep skin and hair healthy; protect against cardiovascular disease and are a good source of energy. EFA’s are essential in the fight to lose weight as they increase the metabolic rate which means that the body burns off more fat. They contain organic vegetable proteins which are more easily digested than animal and dairy proteins. The soluble fibre it contains helps to lower blood cholesterol while the insoluble fibre is thought to reduce the risk of suffering from certain cancers. Plant sterols protect the immune system, reduce cholesterol and help maintain prostrate health. This fruit is becoming more popular as more and more benefits are being discovered. 

Aronia (Chokeberry)

Aronia (Chokeberry)

These berries are either red or black, with the black having the highest anthocyanin concentrations of any fruit, but the red are not quite as bitter. They are native to North America and live in swamps and wet woods, flowering in autumn and winter. They are mainly eaten in puddings, sauces and smoothies blended with other fruit as they are too sharp to be eaten raw. They have fairly high concentrations of vitamins C, E, B2, B6 and folic acid which help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, liver failure, diabetes and DNA degeneration. They also strengthen bones and help reduce the risk of cancer, particularly colon; tests on mice reported an 80% reduction. Improved circulation, strengthened arteries and virus suppression are also benefits of taking this berry. It also contains quinic acid which prevents infections of the urinary tract.

Aronia x prunifolia ‘Viking’ is readily available in the UK, is easy to grow and quite hardy. Plant in moist, fertile soil in sun or partial shade and remember to keep well watered as they are not drought tolerant. A single plant can produce up to 9kg (20lb) of fruit. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and bees. All in all this would be a worthwhile plant to grow in that problem boggy area.

Blueberries

Blueberry

See the blog: 'How to grow super healthy blueberries’.

Cranberries

These are widespread on acid bogs in the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are usually eaten as sauces or juice and are available fresh in supermarkets or as a prepared product in health shops. They are high in vitamin C and manganese; commercially grown berries are grown in water where they are exposed to maximum sunlight which increases the amount of anthocyanins they contain. They will grow easily in the UK in damp acidic soil. They are mainly known for preventing urinary tract infections, by preventing harmful bacteria from adhering to the bladder and urethra. They also lower the risk of blocked arteries, lower the amount of bad cholesterol and increase the good, lessen the risk of stomach ulcers, reduce inflammation in the cardiovascular system and digestive tract and reduce the risk of gum disease. Astringent tannins act as an antibiotic and contract tissue which helps stop bleeding. Fresh berries applied as a poultice can speed up the healing of wounds.

Make sure you buy established plants as they can take two years to produce a crop. They are a low growing, creeping shrub which likes moist, acidic, humus rich soil. They are not drought tolerant so make sure they don’t dry out. They are shallow rooted so don’t need a deep soil and can successfully be grown in hanging baskets; if you do grow in hanging baskets I would install an automatic watering system to prevent them drying out, which is easily done on a hot or windy day.

Goji berry flowers

Goji berry (Lycium barbarum; Wolfberry)

This is a deciduous, woody perennial which is native to the temperate and sub-tropical regions of northern China, Asia and parts of south east Europe. It belongs to the nightshade family which also include: Deadly Nightshade, potatoes, tomatoes, chillies and aubergines. The small orange/red berry is usually consumed fresh, in smoothies and dried on cereal or baked in cakes. It has been used for over 6,000 years in India and China; in Chinese traditional medicine it is used to treat liver, kidney and eye diseases. It contains carotenoids, an antioxidant which protect the eyes and prevent age-related vision loss. Further antioxidants and polysaccharides fight the free radicals which cause ageing. It stimulates the pituary gland which improves sleep, increases the growth hormone, accelerates the healing process and reduces body fat, all of which result in a more youthful appearance. Damaged and broken DNA leads to genetic mutations and cancer; the Goji berry helps protect the DNA against this damage. Its vitamin C levels are comparable to those found in strawberries and citrus fruit.

It is a relatively easy plant to grow being hardy and drought tolerant, just needing well-drained soil and a sunny position. It is well-suited to growing at the seaside. It will reach a height and spread of 3 – 4m (10 – 13’). Feed with a balanced fertiliser, such as Growmore, in spring. It may take 2 – 3 years to bear fruit. When harvesting take care not to bruise the fruit as it turns black; place a sheet under the shrub and gently shake off the fruit.

Honey Berry (Lonicera caerulea; Blue or Edible Honeysuckle)

Honey Berry is a shrub native to the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. They are similar to Blueberries and can be eaten fresh, in jams, sauces, juices and made into wine. They have high levels of antioxidants and vitamin C.

If you want to grow them you will need two compatible plants to ensure pollination. To achieve an even greater crop you can hand pollinate with a soft brush. They are generally easy to grow being drought resistant, tolerant of wet conditions and surviving temperatures as low as -40C (-40F). They need a humus rich, well-drained soil in a sunny position; they are not fussy about pH, it can be acid or alkaline. In spring mulch and feed with a little blood, fish and bone, not too much or else it will put on a lot of leafy growth and not produce much fruit. They fruit in late winter and early spring; the berries being blue with a bloom and the flesh purple/red when ripe. When it has reached its maximum height of 180cm (6’) you can prune to shape after fruiting. A mature plant can produce up to 6kg (14lb) of fruit.

Maqui Berry (Aristotelia chilensis; Chilean Wineberry)

This small evergreen tree is native to the rainforests of Argentina and Chile, where the natives used to eat it to enhance their stamina and strength. As it is tender it is not normally grown in the UK, but there are a few specimens in frost free areas. It is usually bought in health shops as a powder to be added to cereal, smoothies, desserts and ice cream. It is high in antioxidants, contains strong anti-inflammatory properties which help strengthen the immune system and fight various diseases and helps combat allergies and diabetes. Fungal growth is inhibited by its antimicrobial properties, which also slow down the growth of bacteria and disease.

Morinda flower

Noni Berry (Morinda citrifolia; Great Morinda, Indian Mulberry)

This member of the coffee family is native to Australasia and south east Asia. It was used by the Hawaiians and Polynesians at least 2,000 years ago as an energy booster. Today it is recognised as having strong anti-fungal properties. It also reduces the oxidised plaque which builds up on artery walls, which in turn restricts the flow of blood. Cancerous DNA can also be reduced. It is available through health shops as it has a bitter taste so has to be processed. As it needs a hot wet environment it is not suitable for growing in the UK.

For more information on growing fruit just click the link to read the blog: 'How to grow fruit in small spaces and containers on a limited budget', 'How to grow tasty tropical fruit' and 'How to choose which raspberries to grow for the longest cropping season'.

Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer so always used to producing something from the earth, whether it was animals or garden produce. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I also keep a few hens and grow vegetables for my own personal use. I gained a BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management. As a result of this I have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening.