“Sacred Olive Tree”
I recently discovered this beautiful plant not too long ago living in my neighborhood. We are neighbors and I didn’t even know it! Autumn Olive is such a unique looking plant and quite easy to recognize once you know what to look for. I was on a walk with my daughters and like most walks, I spend half my time poking around in the forest and identifying plants. It was the large amount of red berries that caught my eye this time. As we ventured closer, we noticed the silver dots speckled all over the berries and the silver green leaves that danced around them. They were not fully ripe so our mouths puckered up a bit when we tried them!
Everyday the kids and I go for a walk and say hello to the Autumn Olive plants, check to see if the berries are ripe, and nibble on a few. I really enjoy this plants presence, she celebrates fall with her juicy red berries providing food and shelter for the animals. However, I can’t help but be reminded of the holidays to come when I see her silver speckled berries and shimmery green leaves!
She originates in tropical and temperate Asia and is considered an invasive species across wild and cultivated areas in much of the eastern United States. Each red berry contains a single pit, which allows her to spread quite easily, especially areas that have been disturbed, cut down or burned. This may sound quite scary for some but not to worry, she serves a purpose! E. umbellata fixes atmospheric nitrogen in its roots and can enrich the soil, therefore rebuilding land that we have, in a sense, destroyed. Now that’s plant magic!
What’s so wonderful about these berries?
The red berries are sweet and often tart but full of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and lycopene. Um, what’s lycopene? Lycopene is a pigment in food, typically found in tomatoes but can also be found in some red fruits and vegetables and even not so red ones. It’s also a cancer-preventative phytonutrient, in other words a substance in plants that are beneficial to human health and can prevent various diseases. This berry is indeed life enhancing! It can be eaten raw or typically made into jam, jelly, and fruit leather. I’ve also seen it added to homemade ketchup! The leaves and stems have been used in Chinese medicine to remove toxins from the body, including those from snake bites.
Autumn Olive Fruit Leather Recipe (followed from Our One Acre Farm)
9 cups autumn olive berries
1 cup water or less of water (you want just enough to help break the berries down without sauteing them!)
2 Tbsp honey (optional but a lovely addition)
What to do
- Bring the berries and water to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring and mashing occasionally
- Reduce heat and allow berries to simmer for 10 minutes, or until berries have burst
- Pass the mashed berries through a food mill to remove seeds. I don’t have a food mill (yet!) so I opted to use a strainer and wooden spoon, pressing the juice and leaving the skin and pits behind. What should be left is a watery paste.
- Stir the honey into the puree to taste
- Place puree on a greased dehydrating tray, spreading it fairly thin, and setting it for 135-140 degrees. Cook for 10 hours or until it’s not sticky anymore. My dehydrator was being used so I opted for the oven. When using the oven, spread the puree on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and dry in oven at 130-140 degrees. My oven only goes down to 170 degrees and that seemed to work fine. It did take a few hours.
- Cut fruit leather and roll it up as desired. I tend to roll mine in parchment paper to avoid it sticking to itself.
- Store in an airtight container. If the fruit leather is tacky, it’s best to store in the freezer.