Russian Olive (Oleaster) Foraging

If you’ve never heard specifically of Russian olives before, you may picture something black or green that is soft and round–possibly the size of your thumb. Something that isn’t grown in gardens in the United States.  Something that you won’t be able to forage for.

The Russian Olive (Elaegnus angustifolia), however, isn’t the soft little fruit you may be thinking of.  Instead, it’s a smaller silvery-green nut-like fruit that can be foraged for in the U.S.

To the untrained eye, it may not seem appealing.  But to one who is adventurous and knowledgeable, it can be quite the sweet treat–even considered a pricey delicacy in places like Turkey.

Russian olives. Where do you find them and how do you use them?

Where to find a Russian olive tree

Russian olive trees are a Eurasian native that were widely introduced to the North American continent in the 1800s as a means to stabilize embankments. Due to their invasive quality, they spread widely on their own, and are now considered an invasive plant.

Because they are considered a noxious weed in Colorado and New Mexico, one should never purchase and plant these even on their own property.

Russian Olives thrive at an elevation of 4500-6000 feet in elevation, and are nitrogen fixers–which means they thrive even in poor soil.  They can be found down to a zone 2.

Places where you are likely to find them at this elevation include floodplain forests, grasslands, and irrigation ditches.  They will not only tolerate seasonal flooding, but also periods of drought.  They prefer full sun.

A Russian olive can be a shrub or a tree, and generally grows to 30-45 feet tall once mature.  It serves as a shelter and food supply for many birds.  Around here, you can nearly always find pheasants in and around them.

 

Flowers

In the spring, tiny yellow flowers with a strong scent are numerous on branches that are silvery on a young tree, or reddish brown on an older mature tree.

 

Fruit

Late summer to early fall, the fruit will have developed.  These fruit grow in drupes and can become up to 1/2 inch long, taking the shape of the better known common olive.  They are yellow in color, although they have fine silvery scales giving them a silver appearance until up-close.

Fruit can be picked off shorter trees and shrubs.  If you have taller trees like we do, wait for a wind storm, and then you can go pick the ends of the branches that easily fall to the ground in late fall or early winter.  The berries are still attached, and they make for easy gathering.

In fact, we never plan a foraging trip for Russian olives.  Instead we wait for the wind and then go collect them off the ground.  All winter long, as a gentle wind storm eases, there can be found many branches loaded with fruit on the ground.

How do they taste?  Very dry, and very sweet.  And nutty.  The outside is soft and the inside is crunchy.  The first time I had one I thought to myself, Not bad, but it’s quite dry.  Don’t think I’ll eat any more of those unless I have to.  But that sweet, nutty aftertaste had me going back for more and more.

 

Leaves

Once familiar with the leaves, they are easily identifiable again.  The tops are a grayish-green, but often not seen due to the height of the tree.  What you are likely to notice are the whitish-silvery undersides.  Leaves are 2-4 inches long, and generally about 1/4 as wide as they are long.  They can be curly toward a shut position later in the year, after picked, or during a season of drought.

They have a slightly rough texture to the touch.

 

Are there any lookalike bushes and trees?

Related species include the Silverberry, and the Buffaloberry.

 

What do you do with Russian olives?

Olives are not only edible and tasty, but they have some great nutritional value as well.  They are high in Vitamins A, C, E, and essential fatty acids and flavonoids.  If you have Russian olives in your area, these nutritional values alone are an important reason for you to become acquainted with the trees.  Should you ever be in a survival situation, these will become a key ingredient in your diet.

Fruit can be eaten raw, or dried (as they are in Turkey).  This means if you aren’t in a survival situation, you can also forage for and bring them home to keep in your food storage for a long time.

You can use them to cook with, or even make a beverage with them.  Foraging The Rocky Mountain (see references below) even has a recipe in it to make jam with these.

Overall, this fruit is widely available well into the snowy season, is highly nutritional, and very versatile.

 

Resources:

Brown, Liz;Foraging the Rocky Mountains :  Finding, Identifying, and Preparing Edible Wild Foods in the Rockies; Globe Pequot Press; Morris Book Publishing, LLC. 2013.

Groves, Marjorie P. (Editor); Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening ;  Meredith Corporation, 1979.

Marrone, Teresa; Rocky Mountain States Wild Berries And Fruits Field Guide Adventure Publications, Inc., 2012

 

10 Comments

  1. Oh that is what those are? I know right where to find some now. Thanks!

  2. We were just given some ground roasted berries (that smell very much like coffee) and a beautiful jar of Russian Olive berry jelly. Very excited to try it. We have probably ten of our own trees and now we’re excited to make some of our own.
    Thank you for your research and blog.

  3. You may also make tea for summer from the leaves and flowers but olives juices with lemon is great also

  4. I dark roast seeds really dark and grind for my coffee. Way better than powder dandilion coffee. No tummy upset with any portion of tree. No bug no disease on Russian olive trees ever. Some spray to kill the invasive species lol. I call them plentiful..not invasive

    • I am definitely not a fan of dandelion root “coffee”, but I may actually take your advice and try a “coffee” out of these this year. Thank you for the idea.

  5. Patiently waiting for the inner seed of the Russian olive to be darker brown so I can harvest while still astringent to get the best for my people that felt so much chronic pain relief from the first batches of olives. Remember to boil so flavonoids etc are released. Blender half full of the warm olives and water to get the pulp off seeds. Strain thru screen to allow juice to go in bucket. Then restrain into another bucket with holey bowl covered in cheesecloth to catch pulp. Enjoy your juice or make jelly ..itll accumulate in your body over time. Hair regrowth on balding men and women is amazing and hemroids disappear and scar tissues soften til basically unnoticeable. Most amazing thing you’ll ever experience. Truly a gift from above. Enjoy

    • So you boil, then put the warm olive and water in a blender? Then screen twice? This helps for pain relief? Topical or oral? Do you mix it with something for the flavor? How much do you ingest? Curious minds here! I have a few trees in my back yard. Would love to know what to do with them after all these years! LOL!

  6. Becky Baird, you forgot to mention that it cures cancer! Why, I’ve never heard of any food substance accumulating in your body. Most of us have colons to ensure that it doesn’t. Just think, you hold the secret to growing hair on bald men… You must be a millionaire. And hemorrhoids. And Scar Tissue. You must be a billionaire!

    Fellow readers, please don’t buy into information from questionable sources. Of course, you can try anything–blending it, boiling it, straining it, rubbing it on your head, dabbing it on your scars, dabbing it on your hemorrhoids. Or, you can follow the advice in the blog, and eat it to get the best nutrition.

    Beware the snake oil sellers…

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