The Autumn Olive (sometimes also called Oleaster or Japanese Silverberry) is a woody shrub that grows up to 20 feet tall, having elliptical leaves and a measure of spines. It is considered an invasive species, first introduced into the United States from China and Japan. For years it has been used to serve one particular purpose; yet, the USDA has identified some most surprising properties of the Autumn Olive that casts this admitted pest in a completely different light.
Autumn Olive – Its Positive Uses
USDA lists uses as wildlife habitat and erosion control-especially for the reclamation of strip mines. Interestingly, Autumn Olive, though not a legume, is one of the relatively small number of plants that introduces nitrogen to the soil via bacterial root nodes. It was promoted as an ornamental, and indeed it is not without its charm. The shrub produces small but attractive flowers that develop into small, abundant, and lovely, silver-mottled red pseudodrupes. Birds and foxes are not the only ones finding the berries tasteful.
The Autumn Olive as People Food?
Some humans have considered adding it to their diet. The fruits of the Autumn Olive afford many health benefits, its nutrients including lycopene, phytoene, cryptoxanthins, and beta-carotene. USDA Agricultural Research Service horticulturist Ingrid M. Fordham was the discoverer of the edible nature of the Autumn Olive berry. She turned them into jam. Then ARS nutritionist analyzed the fruit for nutritional value. It was found the level of lycopene in the berry of Autumn Olive may be as high as 17 times that of tomatoes; thus, Autumn Olive may be of value in the fight against prostate cancer.
USDA Document Verifying Food Value
There is even a document that can be viewed or downloaded in “pdf” format, offered by the USDA National Agricultural Library Digital Repository website entitled, Autumn Olive: A Potential Alternative Crop.” In addition to its nutritional value, what makes this plant such a potentially useful crop, despite its invasive nature? Autumn Olive is both drought and disease resistant. It also tolerates poor soils. The ripe fruit may be eaten raw or cooked.
Possible Precautionary Measures
Autumn Olive unfortunately has established itself in some states along the edges of highways. It is difficult to eliminate, and so it is probably advisable not to grow this plant except in areas where it already has a foothold. Also, gathering the fruit alongside roadways may prove dangerous to the harvester and motorists, alike.
References and Resources:
USDA National Agricultural Library – Autumn Olive
Prostate Cancer Activist News – Autumn Olive, a berry high in lycopene.
USDA Agricultural Research Service – “Tiny Berry Tops Tomatoes in Lycopene”