Sunday, September 11, 2011

Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive

Elaeagnus umbellata shrub - 10 feet tall

Not long after we moved onto our place, after the cows had been gone a while, and after we stopped raising sheep, we noticed more and more little shrubs with silver leaves popping up.
Elaeagnus umbellata flowers - April

And they grew.

They bloom in the spring and the small white tubular flowers smell like warm spices from far away places.   I thought they were enchanting, so we left them. 

Elaeagnus umbellata berries
And then they bore fruit and I figured out what they were:  Elaeagnus umbellata. [Think of it like a woman's name:  Elly Agnes.]  The autumn olive.  

UPDATE:  Apparently sometimes these have nasty thorns.   I had no idea!  We have the thornless kind.  

And then we found out that they're considered a pest here.   Because the birds love them.   And eat them.  And poop their seeds everwhere.    And now we have loads and loads and loads of them. 
The red berries are small - about the size of the nail on your little finger - and have silver spots. 

I did a lot of searching to find out if the berries are edible and indeed they are.    They're very acidic and have a large seed.   If you taste one right off the tree, you'll get that weird dry taste that you get from green bananas and unripe persimmons.

They're abundant, they're full of vitamin C and they're free, so I set about experimenting to see what kind of jam I could make.

The first thing I learned was that the redder they are, the better they are.  Also, it's best to not skimp on the sugar.   These babies are tart, I tell you.   Treat them like cranberries - be generous with the sweetener.

I tried elaeagnus jam with a touch of lavender and lemon verbena - very nice, but not great.  No one would eat it but me.   Also, I had used pectin and that jelly was firm.

Really firm.   If only my butt were that firm.

Then this year, I tried it with oranges and no pectin and Hello! We have a winner!  This jam is good!  Everyone likes it.

And it's really pretty.   It looks as good as it tastes.

This is what I did:

Elaeagnus Orange Jam

  • Pick about 4 cups of berries.  Make sure they're good and red. 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 oranges:  Zest and juice.

Wash the berries and put them in a pot with the water.  Cook until they're good and soft.   While they're hot, pour them into a chinois or strainer and mash the berries to get the juice and pulp out. 

Don't let the seeds fall into the juice and pulp.  [I don't try to squeeze them all dry.   Seeds are often bitter and I don't want that in the jam, so I stop straining when things start getting dry and sticky and most of the juice and pulp is out.]

Almost done!

Discard the seeds and skins. [Chickens like them.]  Put the pulp and juice back into the pot and add the sugar, orange zest and orange juice.   Cook until it boils hard.  

Ladle into jars.   Process for canning 10 minutes for pints and jelly jars. 


  1. That's amazing! I love the flowers. I'd let them grow too. But I'd never figure out what to do with the berries. You are a jam-goddess. Perhaps you could bring a little in a plastic baggie for me to taste when you come to visit . . .

  2. I need a chinois! I have a Victorio strainer which is good for a lot of stuff, but has so many more parts to wash. :}

    Would love to try this one of these days...sounds like a perfect and simple recipe!

  3. I am using your recipe tonight after i collect the fruit...i did copy and paste the recipe so i could have it in the kitchen as i prepare it...hope that is o.k., as i later read how you hated people to steal your stuff...i will post later how it turned out! I was very excited to find this recipe!


  4. I think you are talking about what I thought was thorny olive. They are invasive but the scent of those flowers is heaven so invade a little, I say. We have these scattered by the bike path and at the edge of the woods in our very woodsy neighborhood. I eat these right off the bush. The more silvery the berries appear, the less tart and astringent they taste. I read somewhere online that these have three times more lycopene than tomatoes. A good thing, the doctors say. I just spit out the little pit. More tasty to me than cranberries which I don't particularly like.


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