The Magic of Autumn Olive:
Autumn olive, or elaegnus is a delicious and tart berry which, before the first winter frost is very astringent due to being full of tannic acid. The great thing about tannic acid is that it is water soluable, this means that it can either be leeched out, or in some case with fruits it can be “ bletted” out. Bletting is basically using your freezer to mock the frost period in nature. The reason this is important is because after the first frost the berries will be mostly eaten by wildlife. Therefore to render autumn olives less tannic you can freeze them for a few months.
This very common plant gets a lot of negative press” in the invasive management world due to its prolific nature.
I have heard a story of an invasive plant task force killing them, and then the bird people complaining because the specific birds were starving, having become accustomed to the autumn olive during migration.
Imagine with me for a moment, what if we realized that the best way of performing “invasive plant management” is to eat them; to actually be part of the wild food chain as nature intended. These plants (like all fruiting plants) produce seed through their berries and if you eat them, then you will naturally reduce the populations. Perhaps this is a lost part of our place in the chain on the earth; the conscientious caretaker. To me, it definitely makes more sense than spraying even more chemicals into the ecosystem.
Check out my youtube video to see tips on identifying and harvesting autumn olive.
Amazingly, one autumn olive bush can yield several gallons of fruit, and to one estimation you can get 12000 lbs of fruit per acre with no pesticides or fertilizers. This is almost unheard of, especially as a forager. To pick autumn olive gives alot of fruit for very little effort.
This summer I harvested over 20 cups with just a few hours a day, casually walking to autumn olive groves.
Identifying and harvesting this wild fruit is relatively easy as it only has a few plants that it looks similar to. One of them being honeysuckle (left). The reason these look may look alike to the novice is because they are both bushes. However if you notice a large bush, and go close enough to observe it, you can easily notice that honeysuckle berries have none of the mottling or speckles that are very characteristic of Autumn olive. If you look at berries alone, then you can also realize that the berries of false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum) are also mottled. However, these are not shrubs, and it’s always important to see a whole plant, and never just focus on a berry.
You wont find these trees in the middle of forests, but look for them on the edges of the forest where the meadow begins. They are often crowding roadsides which can be a significant place to first identify them, but I don’t recommend to harvest there due to run off and pollutants of tar and car exhausts.
Medicinally, Autumn olive, is one powerful antioxidant berry. It contains more lycopene than is in tomatoes; about 18 times more in some estimates. lycopene has also been clinically shown to be directly linked with prostate health, and anticancer benefits – notice in the link, autumn olive isnt even mentioned. Lycopene, being an antioxidant is helpful against cancer because cancer is cellular mutation due to cellular oxidization, and the reverse, anti-oxidants, being able to save cells from mutating, and further recreating themselves.
Often, foragers eat the berries and spit out the seeds, because they are very chewy and fibrous, however the seeds are full of omega fatty 3 acid. With these kind of dietary reservations we lose yet another rich source of oil and brain food. And, as you may know, omega fatty 3 acid is hugely helpful to reducing systemic inflammation. Research shows that the proper ratio of omega fatty acids in the body is directly linked to how inflamed we are. All of the diagnosed diseases seen in our modern world that end in “itis” are all inflammatory issues. Generally, Omega fatty 3 reduces inflammation, and omega fatty 9 causes inflammation – necessary when there is a sprain or break to help send pain response so that we don’t go for a jog with a broken leg. Due to the modern diet high in sugar, GMO wheat, and other processed foods we are all walking around blowing our bodies up from the inside and suffering alot of issues. The modern day ratio is said to be roughly 20 to 1 ratio of omega fatty 9 to 3. That means we are 20 times more likely to have inflammatory diseases.
An easy way to consume the autumn olive seeds is to collect them and freeze them, this blet them, then after some time you can add a few handfuls into a smoothie and blend them into an easily swallow-able size.
Heres a great recipe for an autumn olive smoothie:
4 tsp of maca
1 tbsp of raw honey
2 tbsp of black strap molasses
Raw ginger to taste
1-2 cups autumn olive berries.
Add water to top it off, blend, and enjoy the anti-inflammatory blessing of this plant.
I hope that this article can transform our cultures negative perception about this sometimes perceived as negative “invasive” plant. And remember, Foraging your own food is self reliance.
Always check with an expert before consuming wild foods.
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