Autumn olive is a little berry with great potential. Its high antioxidants and low sugar content along with abundant bearing in season when other berries are no more available makes it a very valuable addition to healthy diet.
Autumn olive is not the only name this berry is known. You could also hear such common names as autumn berry, Japanese silverberry, autumn elaeagnus, or spreading oleaster. All this names belong to Elaeagnus umbellata, plant which came to US and Canada from Asia, and is considered an invasive species meaning that it’s not the best idea to plant it on purpose, as it has negative impact on native ecosystems. From other hand why not pick it if it’s already there.
My relationship with autumn olive started 4 years ago. It was in late August when I had a walk with my hubby in the park. I’m that kind of person who likes to munch on whatever edible I can find along my route like mulberries, raspberries, apples, name it. But at that point of a year raspberries and many other berries were over. I was looking at beautiful bushes with silvery foliage and abundant red berries and thinking, what if they are edible?
I tasted one, it wasn’t bitter, and that was a good sign that it could be good to eat. So I took a little twig with leaves and berries home for further identification. At home I confirmed that it’s indeed edible and called autumn olive.
Since then we eat these little berries every autumn and pick them, so we can make a super tasty fruit leather (see the recipe below).
Autumn Olive Identification
First of all check the map below to find out if autumn olive grows in your state. Click on the map or on this link to go to the original EDDMapS website, where the map is interactive, and you can enlarge it and check plant's presence in the particular county.
Autumn olive called “an olive” for a reason as its fruit and leaves shape are somewhat similar to true olives, though they are not relatives. Autumn olives are much smaller than regular olives, only a size of large sunflower seed.
Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub up to 15 ft. high with leaves that are whitish on the back-side and have little specks on leaves and berries (see picture on the right).
They taste tart with some sweetness and a little bit of stringiness if not fully ripped. Autumn berry has a small seed which is chewable and feels like grape seed.
The most commonly autumn olive can be mixed with Tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica). But the last one has a shiny red berries (see picture below) which sits in cluster of four. Plus, they are bitter. You can try one and spit, if it tastes bitter.
If you want to know more about autumnberry history or about other lookalikes, this post is one of my favorite.
Health Benefits of Autumn Olive
The most common fact you will read about autumn olive is that it contains 5 to 15 times more antioxidant lycopene than in tomatoes. But besides lycopene autumn berries is also a source of vitamin C (around 28mg/100g), as well as other vitamins, antioxidants and minerals.
Traditionally in Asia autumn olives are used to treat and prevent myocardial and pulmonary infections as well as various forms of cancer. Many US studies also have shown anticancer potential of autumn olive.
How And When to Pick
The berry starts to ripen in August and could be found even in late November, though the max harvest is from mid-September to mid-October.
Berries become red before they are fully ripen and taste can vary from plant to plant. Always taste from different bushes and choose the sweetest and the list stringent.
One autumn olive plant can also differ from anther in fruit bearing density (check the picture below). It’s always a good idea to spend more time finding a good plant totally covered in berries.
Harvesting Method I
The easiest way to collect berries is with blueberry picker (or comb berry picker). They are not expensive and speed up process very significantly.
When you harvest with comb berry picker, you’ll end up having some leaves mixed with berries. To reduce time separating leaves from berries, choose bushes with less leaves. Autumn olives will drop leaves later in autumn. This moment is the best for picking, as berries are fully ripe and absence of leaves makes harvesting very easy.
Harvesting Method II
If you prefer to pick manually, try to hang a tray on your neck and to brush off berries right into the tray with one hand, while holding on the branch with another one.
To make a tray to pick autumnberries simply take aluminum tray, make holes on each short side and tighten ends of the rope through each hole. The rope should be long enough so you can hang the tray on your neck, and it would rest around your waist.
You can also use a large but shallow plastic container, cardboard box or fruit tray, as well as serving tray with handles, to make a tray for autumn olive picking.
Autumn Olive Recipes
Now the most interesting part… What you can do with your harvest of autumn berries?
And the easiest way will be to make fruit leather. I make two different kinds of fruit leather, depending on how much time I have. You can find the easiest recipe below..
Super Easy Autumn Olive Leather
This recipe will make coarse fruit leather with lots of fiber and intact vitamins and enzymes, as berries are raw and uncooked at all.
• Wash your berries and remove any pieces of leaves
• Add sugar, honey, stevia or maple syrup to taste or don’t add it at all. If you want the end product tastes like dried cranberry, add a cup of sugar per 2 lb of berries
• Mush the berries with a potato masher or spin in a food processor
• You can dry fruit leather in food dehydrator (I have this one and it’s the best what you can have for your buck) or in the oven.
Drying in food dehydrator:
- grease fruit roll sheets with oil of your choice (remove excessive oil with paper towel), you can use oil-sprayer if you have one
- spread mashed berries
- dry at 135F for 7-10h or until completely dry
Drying in the oven:
- line cooking tray with parchment paper or non-stick silicone mat
- spread mashed berries
- dry at the lowest oven temperature for 2-4h (mine can’t go lower than 170F)
• When leather is dry and cooled, cut in strips with kitchen scissors or tear apart with hands
• Store in airtight container or Ziploc in dry and cool place
N.B. You can add chia, flax or sesame seeds to the leather as well cinnamon or other spices.
More Autumn Olive Recipes: