Health Benefits of Orchard Fruits

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As you might already know, POP’s community orchards are beneficial in a number of ways, providing:

  • Beautiful neighborhood green spaces that provide opportunities for community gathering and engagement;
  • A wide range of environmental benefits including providing pollinator habitats, sequestering carbon, and reducing stormwater runoff;
  • Opportunities for micro-enterprise and hands-on food system and nature education;
  • A bounty of fruit, herbs, and perennial vegetables for communities to harvest from and enjoy,
  • And, lastly, the incredible health benefits that come from orchard fruits themselves — nutritionally and medicinally! 

Read on to learn about 5 key orchard plants that provide incredible health benefits for caretakers and harvesters all throughout the city! Please also read our edible plants disclaimer at the end of the article before consuming any parts of the fruits or plants described below.

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) 

The fruit of chokeberries or aronia are known for their high levels of antioxidents!

Native to the eastern United States, black chokeberries (or Aronia berries, as they’re sometimes called) are astringent, dark-purple fruits that grow on a compact 3 to 5 ft tall and wide, cold-hardy shrub. Belonging to the rose or Rosaceae family, this shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade in most well-drained soils, is drought tolerant, and ready to harvest in July and August, sometimes as late as September. The shrub produces brilliant red foliage in the fall and has few pest and disease issues. Learn more about this incredible shrub, here.

Nutritional benefits: 

Chokeberries pack an incredible nutritive and medicinal punch – possessing the highest level of antioxidants among any temperate fruit species! Additionally, the phenolic (anthocyanin) compounds in the fruit contains anti-inflammatory,  blood thinning properties, as well as acting as an anxiolytic (helpful for reducing anxiety) and as a liver protectant. Chokeberries are astringent directly off the bush, so generally processed before eating. To enjoy, consider making a fresh juice from the fruits, incorporating them into smoothies, or baked goods, or making a medicinal syrup. 

Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) 

Blueberries are delicious but also full of vitamins and anthocyanins!

The highbush blueberry, which comes from the heath or Ericaceae family, are deciduous, bush-grown, round blue fruits with a sweet, seedy and lightly sour flavor profile. Blueberries are native to neighboring New Jersey, where the acidic soils from the pine-lands produce well-formed and flavored fruit.  In order to thrive in POP’s community orchards, blueberry shrubs require full sun or partial shade, well-draining and highly acidic soils with a soil pH between 4 and 5 and can reach up to 4-6 feet high and wide. Planting sites in more naturally alkaline soils are best amended with peat moss, sulfur, or pine-needle mulching. Blueberries ripen late July to mid-August; but beware! This well-loved fruit of birds may require some protective netting if you are anticipating plucking your own, fresh and sun-ripened! 

Nutritional Benefits: 

Blueberries are low-calorie, nutrient dense fruits that are high in fiber and rich in the chemical compound, anthocyanin, the deep blue and purple pigment found in many health-supporting fruits.  Blueberries are a rich source of vitamin C, K, B6, folate, potassium, copper, and manganese. Being rich in calcium, iron, and magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and vitamin K, blueberries help improve bone health and elasticity of joints, muscle and arteries. The abundance of vitamin C in the fruit helps build collagen, helping to foster healthy skin and prevent oxidative DNA damage. The fruit also helps dissolve LDL cholesterol and helps strengthen cardiac muscles and reduce blood pressure. Enjoy blueberries fresh, out of hand, in your favorite fruit salad, cooked grain porridge, or as a juice, or jam! 

Elderberry (Sambucus spp)

Elderberries have strong medicinal value in supporting both the immune system and respiratory health.

Elderberries are native to much of Europe and parts of North America and produces deep purple drupe fruits in mid-July to early September. The musky sweet fruits of this hedgegrow shrub are best eaten after cooking, as the raw fruit contains a mild toxin that can cause digestive upset. Elderberries belong to the moschatel or Adoxaceae family, reach heights and width of 8 to 15 feet, and are extremely easy to care for — with their only true preference being that for full sun and well-draining soil. In their natural habitat, they grow along water banks and at the forest edges. Elderberries require little pruning, their pithy stems become fragile when dead and clip away easily at the base.

Nutritional Benefits: 

Elderberries are an incredible health tonic that’s become quite popular in folk and herbal medicine for their rich supply of anthocyanins — (notice a theme here with these dark-pigmented fruits?) which help to boost the body’s inherent immune system functioning and to prevent viruses from replicating in the body. Decoctions (hot water extraction of the fruit) has also been used to assisting in soothing upper respiratory infections, allergies, gastric upset, cystitis, bladder and urinary infections. Enjoy fully ripe elderberries processed into jellies, wines, or syrups. The berries freeze well, too, for long-term storage and later use! In addition to producing nutritionally powerful fruit, elderberries also produce edible, cream-white flowers in early spring that can be harvested away from their clusters for use in soothing teas that can help break fever and soothe away itchy, red rashes of the skin or eyes.

Peaches (Prunus persica) 

Did you know that both peach leaves and fruit have medicinal uses?

Like apples, pears, almonds, cherries, hawthorns, chokeberries and other common well-loved fruit, the sweet, juicy peach comes from the rose or Rosaceae family. Cultivated peach trees are generally maintained at 15 to 20 feet in height. These vigorous growers do best in medium (loamy) soils, and full sun in order to produce well-formed fruit.  This deciduous tree flowers in the month of April and should be pruned during or shortly after bloom. Fruits ripen when the flesh is tender to the touch in July or August. Learn more about the peach tree, here.

Nutritional Benefits: 

Peaches boast a number of health benefits being high in vitamin C (one fruit contains up to 15% of the daily recommended value of vitamin C), vision-supporting beta-carotene, fiber, and vitamin E. As such, the fruit can help with bladder, lung, stomach, and bowel issues.  Additionally, this fruit is said to improve irritability, agitation, upset stomach, nausea, anxiety, restlessness, and morning sickness. Cold infusions of the chopped green leaves are also an incredible folk tonic for soothing a sour stomach and soothing the nervous system. Topically, the leaf and fruit has been used to lessen insect stings and sun or heat burns.  Whether you eat them fresh out of hand with the juices dripping down your arm, or baked into a pie, jam, or cobbler, peaches will have you feeling peachy keen!

Apple (Malus spp.) 

The association of apples with good health is supported by a wide range of nutritional and medicinal value.

Apples have a reputation for being one of the healthiest fruits — a rich source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Originating in central Asia, apple trees are now cultivated globally. Depending on the rootstock, they can grow to be anywhere from 6-10 ft tall and wide on a dwarf rootstock, 10-18 ft tall and wide on a semi-dwarf rootstock, and 18-25 ft tall and wide on a standard rootstock. This deciduous tree belongs to the rose or Rosaceae family, like some of the other fruits in this round-up; it generally flowers in April and ripens late August to October depending on the variety. Apples and can survive in a variety of climates, however full sun is best for apple production. Learn more about apples, here.

Nutritional Benefits:  

A 2006 study published in the Journal Experimental Biology & Medicine found that quercetin, one of the antioxidants fond abundantly in apples, was one of the two compounds that helped reduce cellular death caused by oxidation and neurological inflammation. That journal also found that juice from apples may increase neurotransmitter acetylcholine, responsible for memory. In addition to those incredible findings, the fruit has also been found to be high fiber, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, minerals calcium, potassium, and phosphorous, pectin as well as malic acid, which help with digestion and kidney stone prevention. The flesh of the fruit is also said to help whiten teeth.  The leaves of this fruit contain anti-bacterial phloretin, which is found to aid in inhibiting E.coli, Staph, and lessen colon inflammation. Apples can be enjoyed raw, cooked, baked into pies, cobblers, cakes, jammed, and buttered, pressed into cider, or fermented into hard cider. The possibilities are limitless!


So, next time you’re in an orchard, consider this useful knowledge, and enjoy the many health benefits of these delicious fruits!


The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

To the best of our knowledge,​ the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed​ material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness,​ or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned ​herein.


POPCORE:3 – Plants, Fungi, and What To Do With Them

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This POP Blog Post was drafted by Development Assistant Natalie Agoos with content contribution from POP Education Director Alyssa Schimmel.  

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:


Pruning: Bushes, Brambles, and Vines

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard CareTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site
Pruning the prolific black raspberry canes at The Village of Arts and Humanities and PhillyEarth permaculture site

These categories of woody perennial edibles are are often considered much lower maintenance than fruit trees. As a result, it’s come to POP’s attention that they may not be receiving the attention they deserve when interplanted in our community orchards, so we’ll be working this season to highlight what to watch out for and how to properly care for them throughout the orchard seasons.

Just as winter is time to prune your fruit trees, it’s also time to prune and tend your berries to ensure a boom harvest this season!

Tools needed: gardening gloves (especially for thorny bushes), pruning shears, loppers, pruning saw, isopropyl alcohol (for sanitizing tools before each plant)

BRAMBLES (cane-bearing shrubs)

Raspberries and blackberries are unique in the world of berry bushes in that they don’t have any permanent wood.  Each cane (branch growing from the ground) only lives for 2 years.  In old-fashioned bramble varieties, first year canes have no flowers or fruit and then bear in spring/summer of their second year.  Newer ‘ever-bearing’ varieties flower and fruit on new canes in the fall of their first year and then again in spring/summer of their second year.

Dead second-year canes are generally easy to identify by gray/brown coloration, pealing bark, and more side-branching.  Newer canes tend to have more reddish/green coloration and a more upright habit.

Blackberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all 2nd year canes and thin out to 8 or 10 strongest new canes. Shorten canes to 7’ and laterals to 15”.  In summer, pinch out tips of new canes when they reach 3’ height.

Raspberries (Rubus): In winter, remove all canes after 2nd year. Thin out weak or crowded 1st year canes. For “everbearing” varieties, shorten remaining canes to below previous fruiting.

Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what's young and old/dead.
Sometimes dead canes will easily snap off or pull out of the ground, leaving your young canes behind with more breathing room. The colors of the canes often make it very easy to see what’s young and old/dead.

All other berry bushes fit in this category (we’ve listed some of the ones we plant most often below).  Use thinning cuts for a less bushy effect. This increases light and air circulation to the interior of plant. Remove stems that are more than 4 to 6 years old, sometimes younger for certain species. Older stems are less productive, so their removal enables younger stems to take their place. When pruning, cut stems to l-2” above crown of plant.

IMPORTANT: avoid removing more than 30% of living wood in one growing season, or there will be a flush of vegetative growth as the plant tries to restore its former food-producing capacity. The same can be said for fruiting trees.

Blueberry (Vaccinium): Cut back stems older than 4 years.

Currant/Gooseberry/Jostaberry (Ribes): Remove shoots after their 3rd year. Remove all but 6 new stems.

Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.
Phil demonstrating currant pruning at the Teens4Good 8th & Poplar community orchard. Remove dead and diseased wood, and then move onto removing the oldest wood and any far-reaching runners.

Elderberry (Sambucus): Cut out wood older than 3 years and thin new suckers.

Goumi (Eleagnus): Minimal pruning needed. Cut back stems and suckers to desired height and girth.



Grapes: During the First year after planting, simply cut to 2-3 buds.

During the second year, you must select a training system. If you have 2 wires, use the 4-arm kniffin method, if one wire, use single-curtain cordon method, if you have a fence, use the fan system to utilize the area of the fence. Decide on a height for the trunk and thin the plant to a single trunk. Cut back to just over the height of the highest canes you want. If no vine reaches the desired height, repeat simple first year pruning to focus energy from the weak roots into 2-3 good shoots, one of which will be chosen next year as the trunk.

During the third year select 4 vines of first year wood. Always choose thick, vigorous vines with at least 6” between nodes (places where this year’s buds will grow). Cut them to 10 buds on each, then select 4 other vines and cut them to 2 buds each.

Each subsequent year select the 4 best vines (usually from the 2-bud stubs you left last year) and cut to 10 buds (for Concord grapes 15 buds is okay) for this year’s bearing wood. Remove last year’s bearing vines, but leave four 2-bud stubs to produce next year’s bearing wood

To prune an overgrown vine, select the canes to save, choosing from the canes which received the most sun during the previous season. They are usually darker in color and larger in diameter (at least as thick as a pencil). Cut Concord grape vines to the best 60 buds, cut less vigorous varieties to 40 buds (these are the maximum numbers for a mature, healthy plant, which lead to good quality grapes).

Tom Zabadal has an extensive series of YouTube videos on maintaining grapes if you’re interested in learning more and expanding your production.

This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!
This prolific kiwi at SHARE orchard needs summer pruning to open up its fruit to air and light!

Hardy Kiwis (Actinidia): Regardless of the structure they are growing on, kiwi vines should be pruned initially to a single trunk and trained straight up by tying to a post (no twining!). At the appropriate height for the structure, the vine should then be pruned into two permanent cordons (main branches) in opposite directions. Thin out laterals growing from the cordon to 12” apart. Additional summer pruning is needed to keep these vigorous vines under control. Here’s a great video to assist and a guide with photos from Penn State Extension to read through as well.

Adapted from POP’s Pruning Guide, amended by POP Program Director, Robyn Mello and Executive Director, Phil Forsyth

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia:


The Pruning Book, Lee Reich

Grow Fruit Naturally, Lee Reich

The Holistic Orchard , Michael Phillips

The Backyard Berry Book, Stella Otto