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Japanese Silverberry, Autumn Olive or Autumnberry

Japanese Silverberries
I found small trees laden with berries, growing in my backyard along the treeline bordering the lawn.  After some research I identified them as the Japanese Silverberry, Autumn Olive, or Autumnberry. The scientific name is Elaeagnus umbellata.

Japanese Silverberries

Japanese Silverberries – photo by Mary Codd

This large deciduous shrub grows quite tall, perhaps 15 or 16 feet. It bears a tremendous amount of fruit, beautiful red berries about a quarter inch in size, covered with tiny silver dots. The berries are in large clusters that weigh down the branches. The leaves, which are borne alternately, are 2 to 3 inches long, oval-shaped coming to a point at the ends, dull dark green on top and silvery underneath with slightly wavy edges. Siverberry or Autumnberry are much better names for this plant because the ripe berries taste slightly tart, and not at all like olives.

Japanese Silverberries

Japanese Silverberries – photo by Mary Codd

Elaeagnus umbellata is not native to New England or North America, and is now considered an invasive species, having been introduced from Asia in 1830 where it is used for food. Forty or fifty years ago these shrubs were planted by government agencies in North America primarily for erosion control, soil improvement, wildlife food and cover, and landscaping. It is drought tolerant and the berries are enjoyed by birds and mammals so the seeds are spread widely and it has crowded out many species of native shrubs. I found an Autumnberry well established in a lilac bush in my yard. I’ll have my work cut out for me trying to eradicate it so that it doesn’t choke out the lilac.

Japanese Silverberries

Japanese Silverberries – photo by Mary Codd

The good news is that the berries are very tasty, easy to pick, and good for you, too! They are high in vitamins A, C, and E, and contain about 17 times more of the anti-oxidant carotinoid lycopene than tomatoes. You can eat the ripe berries raw or cook and puree them to use in yogurt, jam, pie filling, cake, ice cream, sherbet, or dried as fruit leather. I’ve also read that you can use them to make a light fruit wine.

I cleaned all the berries that I picked (about 3 quarts) cooked them in 4 cup batches, and pureed them in a food mill to remove the seeds. Removing the seeds was the hardest part because they are quite large relative to the size of the berries. I froze two of the three batches and used one to make a vegan Autumnberry Sherbet with almond milk in my ice cream maker. It was very good!

Silverberries, to be cleaned and measured

Silverberries, to be cleaned and measured – photo by Mary Codd

Silverberries cooked

4 cups of Japanese Silverberries cooked – photo by Mary Codd

Autumnberry Sherbet

Autumnberry Sherbet – photo by Mary Codd

 


I found helpful information on Japanese Silverberries and other wild plants in these books:

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