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Thursday, February 24, 2011

AUTUMN OLIVE: MEDICINAL BENEFITS AND USES OF AUTUMN OLIVE


AUTUMN OLIVE, ELAEAGNUS UMBELLATA
The autumn olive tree is a member of the Oleaster family of plants, and is native to Asia including the Himalayan region, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, northern China and Japan. It is also known by many names including ghain, barnmerwa, kenoli and kancoli. In English it is also known as Japanese Silverberry, Umbellate Oleaster, and Autumnberry which it was named as by the US Department of Agriculture. In the States it is mostly viewed as an invasive species which is threatening native flora, and is classed as a “severe threat” in Kentucky and Tennessee. It was introduced into North America as an ornamental plant sometime around 1830, and its seeds, which are contained inside its red fruits or drupes, have been widely distributed by birds and foxes.
    It can grow to a height of between 3 to 5 metres, and have leaves that have silvery scales on the undersides. It has silvery white flowers which are funnel-shaped and fragrant, then, in the autumn the red berries make it a good food tree for birds. The fruit and seeds are edible and can be used in jam, jellies and preserves as well as eaten raw. The have a sour-sweet taste and are a little like pomegranate seeds, or perhaps like morello cherries. The fruit contains vitamins A, C and E, minerals, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron as well as the essential fatty acids and bioflavonoids. It is also rich in the carotenoids, lycopene, which is currently of interest to medical researchers as it has exhibited possibilities as a deterrent to heart disease and cancers of the prostate, cervix, the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly ovarian cancer. (The lycopene content in the autumn olive fruit is 17 times higher than that in a tomato.) Other carotenoids the berries contain are B-carotene, phytoene, and a- and b-cryptoxanthin. The fruit also contains malic acid like the crab apple and when fully ripe has glucose and fructose present.
   When under-ripe the fruit has astringent qualities, and in traditional medicine the flowers are used as a cardiac tonic, for their astringent qualities and as a stimulant. The seeds are said to be good for coughs, and the oil from the seeds is used to treat afflictions of the lungs.
   The berries can be dried and stored to use in fruit teas or tisanes, and the flowers can also be made into a tisane with the leaves. However as little research has been done on this tree yet, it is advised that women do not take it when pregnant, as there is insufficient data on it as yet.
   The tree itself can be used as a hedge as it has thorns on its spurs and deters animals from trespassing. It also fixes the nitrogen content in the soil and is good as a nursemaid for less hardy plants such as young walnut trees until they become established. You can make a jelly with the fruit if you follow that given for Rowan berry jelly, although you do not need to use pectin.

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