Wild fruits are ripening. It is nearly the time of the traditional "first harvest", Lammas or Lughnassadh.
Today when I was out and about I noticed the boughs of Autumn Olive weighed down with fruit.
Also known as: Aki-gumi (Japanese), Autumn Elaeagnus, Autumn-olive, Oleaster, Silverberry
Habitat: Autumn olive is a deciduous shrub of the Oleaster family that is capable of growing to a height of 20 feet. The leaves are alternate, oval to lanceolate, with smooth edges. The underside of the dark green leaf is covered with silver-white scales, hence the common name Silverberry. The small, pale cream-colored flowers emerge after the leaves appear in early Spring. The bloom occurs from April to May. One of the important characteristics of the flower is its sweet, spicy scent that can be noticed from quite a distance. In fact, Myra Bonhage-Hale of La Paix Herb Farm in Alum Bridge, West Virginia has been distilling the flowers for essential oil and hydrosol. Unfortunately, the product does not contain a scent to match the flowers, but she is hopeful that the essential oil and hydrosol may prove medicinal. This is still in the research phase.
The small, round, juicy fruits are reddish brown to pink, dotted with scales, ripening in October. The red-speckled berry is said to taste of currants, plums and raspberries, only better. It is a fall favorite of wild food enthusiasts and is even made into jam.
Autumn Olive is easily confused with a closely related species, Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia). Both are now considered invasive species. Russian olive branches are usually thorny, and its fruit is yellow, dry and mealy.
Autumn Olive has nitrogen-fixing root nodules that permit it to thrive in poor soils. Nitrogen fixation happens when plants shelter nitrogen-fixing bacteria within their tissues. The most common example of this symbiotic relationship is that of legumes and the bacteria in the genus Rhizobium. The bacteria and the host plant are each capable of independent survival. The relationship, which benefits both the bacteria and the plant, is called “mutualism”. Because of its nitrogen fixing abilities, Autumn Olive has been planted as a “nurse plant” for Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) in Canada and the United States.
Autumn Olive is a favorite planting on poor soils and roadsides to prevent soil erosion. The bush tolerates road salt well. You will find Autumn Olive thriving in disturbed areas, along roadsides, in abandoned pastures and fields. It is quite drought tolerant. It does not do well near wetlands or in dense forests.
History and Folklore: A native of Japan, Korea, and China, Autumn Olive was introduced to the United States in the 1830's. The berries ripen in October and are a favorite of birds. Birds serve as seed planters by enjoying the juicy fruits and planting the seeds complete with fertilizer (!) in other areas where they perch. It is often planted as a wildlife food for the purpose of attracting game such as wild turkey, pheasant, quail, or doves to an area. It is now found from Maine south to Virginia, and west to Wisconsin. Many states consider it to be a dangerous invasive weed and have entered into programs to eradicate it with herbicides. It can take extreme pruning and continue to flourish.
Medicinal Uses and Constituents: In September of 2001, the news broke that the berries from Autumn Olive are as much as 18 times richer in the antioxidant lycopene than tomatoes, and could be an important ally in the fight against cancer and other diseases. The berries have a remarkable keeping quality and can be stored up to 15 days at room temperature.
Lycopene shows promise as a preventative nutrient in heart disease and prostate, cervical and gastrointestinal tract cancers, according to ARS’ Phytonutrients Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. About 90% of the lycopene ingested in the United States comes from tomatoes and tomato products, but we now know that Autumn Olive berries contain the same carotenoids as the tomato--lycopene, beta carotene and lutein. Beta carotene and lutein levels appear to be comparable to other more commonly ingested vegetables and fruits. When lycopene content is measured, however, Autumn Olive berries contain from 15 to 54 milligrams of lycopene per 100 grams, compared to an average 3 mg/100 g for fresh tomatoes, 10 mg/100 g for canned tomatoes, and 30 mg/100 g for tomato paste. That is an amazing difference.
M. K. Kaushal and C. Parmar, authors of Wild Fruits (Kalyani Publishers, New Delhi, India, 1982) studied the plants of the Himachal Pradesh, a region of their native India where the Autumn Olive grows prolifically. They report that the seeds and flowers of Autumn Olive are used as a cough stimulant and the expressed oil is a remedy used in pulmonary infections by local herbalists. They also note that the flowers are used as an astringent and in cardiac ailments.
Flower Essence: This essence lends strength when venturing into new territory. An example is people who are entering or reentering the job market after a period of schooling or being unemployed. These individuals may feel overwhelmed and intimidated. Autumn Olive brings inner strength to face the unknown and confidence that they are up to the task. The essence brings a feeling of peace, protection, and healing. Many regard the night as the beginning of day. We are at that time preparing for the light, as we move from dark to light, womb to birth, rest to action, dream to realization and manifestation. Autumn Olive eases that transition from uncertainty to confidence.
Astrological considerations: As one might expect, this essence will have a great affinity for Autumn and the Autumnal Equinox. At this time of year, we are often facing an important new beginning as schools and colleges begin a new year. The year is tipping into the time when darkness (the unknown) will overpower the light (that which we know and are comfortable with). The time of the Dark Moon will be an important time to use the essence and it is at this time that the greatest insights may be gleaned