Health Benefits of Orchard Fruits

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , ,

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:


Unusual Fruits for Philly Orchards: The Benefits of Being Different

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, Orchard Care, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On February 10th 2018, more than 20 people gathered at Awbury Agricultural Village to learn about some of the “unusual” fruits that POP plants and why. There were some great takeaways from this workshop including learning more in depth about some of the less common options available to Philadelphia-based orchards. The most important piece from my perspective, was understanding that these “unusual” fruits were not just exciting because they were less common, but because they are also generally a lot easier to care for compared to common fruits.

Apples and peaches were highlighted as being among the most challenging to grow in our climate because of intense pest and disease pressure.  They and all of the other common fruits are closely related members of the Rosaceae family and are prone to a variety of growing challenges, resulting in greater need for pruning, spraying, and other maintenance requirements. 

By contrast, figs, paw paws, persimmons and other “unusual” fruits are less commonly planted, more distantly related, and much easier to grow and maintain. How much easier?  This depends on the specific plant, but most have very few pest and disease challenges and many approach our idyllic vision of fruit growing as “plant, water, and then harvest year after year”.    

So it’s one thing for certain fruits to be easier to grow, but what about the other benefits? Well, with more than 30 fruits discussed, plus a handful of nuts and some zone 8 possibilities, there’s a great variety and selection to choose from, and by incorporating a diverse array of them into your growing space, you can continue to lessen the impact of pests and diseases, which favor targeting large stands of singular plantings  (or ‘monocultures’) rather than having to scavenge through mixed plantings all over the city.

Another benefit from planting more unusual fruits is the opportunity to increase your window for harvestable fruit – beginning in May with the goumi berry, a sweet-tart berry that can be used for jellies or syrups. The goumi is a medium sized shrub that is self-fertile (meaning you only need one to produce fruit); partial-shade tolerant; and nitrogen fixing (meaning it absorbs the important nutrient nitrogen from the air and adds it to the soil near its roots, thus feeding itself and other neighboring plants).  An ideal plant for food forests!  

Native to East Asia, the goumi fruit is an early-spring producer with tart-sweet berries that have small pits and richly speckled coral-red skin.

Come June, there are many harvest options among the unusual fruit set —  including the aforementioned goumi; the mulberry, beloved by birds as the sweetest fruit; honey berry, a small shrub with blueberry like fruits; alpine strawberries, which produce crops in both June and in September/October and grow low to the ground, tolerant of partial-shade, and in addition to producing sweet berries, are also quite attractive; and of course juneberries, which get their name from the their ripening month. A true POP favorite, juneberries (also known as serviceberries) have a widespread presence in Philly as a native planting that is frequently featured as a street tree throughout the city.  

As the native Juneberry tree ripens, the berries turn from magenta into a deep blue-purple and their flavor develops with its signature blueberry-almond-cherry notes.

If you’re interested in getting a more hands-on experience with juneberries, keep a look-out for POP’s 3rd annual Juneberry Joy week in Spring 2018.  We’ll be harvesting juneberries from throughout the city with volunteers and then partnering with local businesses to feature some delicious juneberry products.

In July at the peak of summer, your options are a’plenty! Nanking cherries, black, clove, red and white currants, gooseberry, jostaberry, and beach plum are all in fruit this time of year. These mostly small and medium shrubs offer a variety of tasty, healthy fruits; nanking cherries are quite productive and ornamental; and currants are especially shade tolerant.  

2016 intern Lucia Kearney harvests Nanking cherries at Awbury Arboretum.

From August through November, another 15+ shrubs and trees enter their prime blossoming and fruit period: figs, paw paws, persimmons, jujubes, cornelian cherry, elderberries, and hardy kiwis, to name a few! 

Jujubes (aka Chinese red date) at the SHARE orchard.  This fruit has been cultivated for four thousand years and features vitamin C-rich fruit that are easy to grow and very productive!

By working with a diversity of plants, POP orchards are able to meet a wide range of needs, whether it be producing fruits for specific times of the year (useful to consider for school orchard sites) or throughout the entire year, providing benefit to the community as well as to pollinators, offering a variety of food crops that can be used to make value added products, frozen, dried, or of course eaten fresh!

One of the first trees to flower in late winter/early spring, cornelian cherry of the Dogwood family provides fodder for early pollinators like birds and bees!

It’s exciting to know that there are so many options for low-maintenance fruit-bearing shrubs and trees that provide so many different benefits to the orchard.  If you’re interested in learning more about these easy-to-grow options, below is a list in order from most recommended (for both ease of care and deliciousness) to least recommended.

Also, I would be remiss not to mention the AMAZING paw-paw pudding Phil provided at the end of the workshop – which was a real treat!

UNCOMMON FRUIT TREES (most recommended to least for ease of care and deliciousness):

  1. Fig
  2. Paw-paw
  3. Asian Pear (although a common fruit, pretty pest and disease resistant)
  4. Juneberry
  5. Asian Persimmon
  6. American Persimmon
  7. Mulberry
  8. Jujube
  9. Crab Apple
  10. Che fruit
  11. Cornelian Cherry
  12. Kousa Dogwood
  13. Trifoliate Orange (Only citrus hardy to the region)
  14. Medlar
  15. Quince

UNCOMMON FRUITING SHRUBS (most recommended to least):

  1. Nanking Cherry
  2. Goumi
  3. Red & White Currants
  4. Jostaberry
  5. Black Currants
  6. Clove Currants
  7. Gooseberry
  8. Elderberry
  9. Beach Plum
  10. Black Chokeberry
  11. Rugosa Rose (aka Rose Hips)
  12. Flowering Quince
  13. Honey Berry

UNCOMMON FRUITING VINES (most recommended to least):

  1. Hardy Kiwi
  2. Arctic Beauty Kiwi
  3. Maypop


  1. Alpine Strawberry
  2. Prickly Pear


  1. Hardy Almonds (almond x peach crosses)
  2. Chestnuts and Chinquapins
  3. Hazels and Filberts
  4. Pecans and Hickories
  5. Walnuts and Heartnuts

ZONE 8 FRUITING PLANTS (require winter protection):

  1. Pomegranate
  2. Olive
  3. Chilean Guava
  4. Pineapple Guava
  5. Loquat
  6. Yuzu

NOTE: The lists above are not exhaustive- so many options!  Here is a link to the workshop slides for more details:

Unusual Fruits for Philly 

This POP blog was written by 2018 Events & Education Intern Alex Zaremba. 

Support us! 

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