Late Summer, early Fall signals the ripening of one of the most prolific, delicious foraged foods I’ve ever know. In this post we talk about how to forage for the Autumn Olive.
It is sometimes also called the Russian Olive or silverberry (because of the silver sheen that the berries have).
Autumn Olive is a type of invasive plant that rapidly grows in the Western and Eastern parts of the country. While it’s invasiveness is unfortunate, it is an excellent supply of food for wildlife, and the knowable forager as well!
If you’re interested in learning more about Foraging (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love FREE, health food!?) I can’t recommend Herbal Academy’s course enough. They walk you through where to look, how to find, and how to harvest wild edibles in the most respectful way possible.
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What is an Autumn Olive?
Autumn olive is an invasive native plant that originates in Asia, specifically in China. It was introduced in the country in the 1830s and was promoted in 1950 as a good source of habitat for wildlife and a means to control corrosion.
At the end of Summer it has a shimmery look because of its grayish green leaves with silvery scales on the bottom. It has speckled stems and bell-shaped flowers.
When it is fully ripe, its fruits turn from silver to red.
And as an edible plant, you can eat the fruits raw or make an autumn olive jam out of it.
What is more interesting about this plant is that when it grows, it can spread across grassland, forest edges, meadows, and roadsides.
Not only is Autumn Olive prolific, it can easily be differentiated from other native plants so you can prevent harvesting dangerous look alikes.
Why Autumn Olive is a Forager’s Delight
I absolutely love the Autumn Olive. The shear abundance of fruit, at a time when my vegetable garden is starting to die down, it nothing short of miracluous to me.
Another bountiful Fall forage is Paw Paw. I’ve wrote another post about how to forage for Paw Paw here.
In addition to it believe delicious, and plentiful, Autumn Olive is also extremely healthy for you!
- Health Benefits
Foraging autumn olive is one way to improve your health because of its nutritional benefits. One of the reasons foraging is so important to my family is that wild foods tend to be more nutrient-dense than their farmed counter-parts.
Autumn olive contains lycopene which can improve your heart condition and lower your risk for cancer. It is also an antioxidant.
- Gallons of fruit
In addition to being good for you, Autumn Olive is one of the most bountiful wild edibles you can forage. Each tree produces thousands of little red berries. I don’t worry about how much I harvest because i know there will be plenty left for wildlife.
Because it grows so much, we always cut Autumn Olive back in the Fall so it doesn’t keep encroaching on our pasture. We always trim back when the berries are ripe, so we can pick the berries right off the trimmed branches and kill two birds with one stone.
- Easy to find
Almost any road-side, or construction site, or anywhere with disturbed soil can support Autumn Olive. At least in Virginia, you don’t have to look very long to find it. They like sunlight, so they’ll find tree lines, or fence lines, or the sides of roads to establish themselves.
- Delicious to taste
My son’s favorite thing is to show other kids who visit our homestead the Autumn Olives, and watch their faces as they take their first bite! While you might expect sweetness out of a red berry, Autumn Olive’s berries are tart. And I mean, suck-the-saliva-right-out-of-your-mouth tart!
However, no matter how tart they are, we have yet to have a kid NOT eat them! I joke with their parents that they can leave their kid to forage for lunch and not have to feed them later.
How to Forage for Autumn Olive
Autumn olive is easily recognizable for those who know what it looks like. However, if you’re still a foraging novice, there are some great apps that can help you identify plants.
- iNaturalist (this is the one I use)
Late Summer/Early Fall is when they’re most ripe, and you’ll notice the branches simply bursting with little red berries with a silver sheen.
You can pick them off by hand by simply teasing a clump of berries with your fingers, or clip the branches down, like we do, and spread them over a table to harvest by hand.
Pro tip: invite your friends to help! Many hands make for light work, and there will be enough harvest that each one of you will be able to take home buckets of fruit.
Recipes Using Autumn Olive
Autumn olives can simply be snacked on while you’re working outside, or sprinkled over salad for a bright pop. Below I’ve gathered recipes from Pinterest you can try too!
This year I’m making an autumn olive wine…but more on that later!