The fruit of the autumn olive
[The autumn olive, Elaeagnus umbellata, is a beautiful shrub or small tree with fragrant flowers in the spring and abundant fruit in the fall. No relation to the true olive, it’s native to eastern Asia. Since it can fix atmospheric nitrogen it can grow where little else will, and highway departments and land managers all over the United States gladly planted it along roadsides and “waste ground” to beautify the landscape, prevent erosion, provide windbreaks and feed wild birds. It does all of these things but that last is the problem: birds have spread it far beyond its intended space and it’s now an invasive pest, crowding out native plants wherever it grows. Unlike most of the growing army of invasive alien species, autumn olive has delicious fruit that look like ¼-inch red berries but are actually drupes, each with a single small pit. They’re readily recognizable because the berries are covered with tiny gold or silver speckles. Besides tasting good, they’re a particularly rich source of the antioxidant lycopene (17 times as much as tomatoes).]
lends itself to some tasty treats, most of which call for cooking the fruit and removing the seeds, yielding a rose-colored puree that can be used immediately or frozen for later use:

  1. Gather ripe autumn olive fruit
    [In the unlikely event you can’t find autumn olive growing nearby, resist the temptation to plant your own. Instead, consider planting a close relative, the Goumi or Cherry silverberry, Elaeagnus multiflora, which has comparable fruit and isn’t on the USDA invasive list. The fruit is borne in mid-June: be sure to cover the shrub with bird netting, or our feathered friends will pluck every single fruit just as it becomes ripe.]
    by stripping them from the branches into a large bowl or bag. I typically collect enough to have two quarts of cleaned fruit.

  2. Clean the fruits by dumping them into water, skimming off twigs, leaves, withered fruits and other debris, then scooping out clean fruits with a pierced spoon or sieve.

  3. In a pot, add 1 part water for 8 parts fruit, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

  4. Run the mash through a food mill or, more tediously, through a sieve, to remove the pits, resulting in 5 parts puree (that is, if you started with 8 cups fruit, you’ll now have 5 cups seedless pulp).

A convenient way to store autumn olive puree is to pour one-cup portions into zip-seal plastic bags, lay each bag flat on a baking sheet, expel all the air and seal it, then place the sheet into the freezer. Once all the bags are frozen stiff, group them in large bags or other containers and stack them compactly in the freezer.


I’ve been trying many different recipes to make use of these fruits since I like their taste, I like the idea of harvesting wild food and I especially like that every cup of fruit I cook is a thousand seeds that won’t grow into more of these invasive plants!

This recipe for autumn olive puree is an elaboration of the first step in making autumn olive jam, as described by “Leslie” at I’ve excerpted that recipe, adding canning instructions.

By all means try that autumn olive jam, fantastic on a toasted English muffin on a cold winter’s morning, or fruit leather.

A confection I came up with on my own is autumn olive bars, which take advantage of the fruit’s typical tartness. If you happen to find fruit that’s especially sweet and not tart, use it for jam or fruit leather instead.