Sunday, September 12, 2010

Shhhh! Don't tell anyone, but I think I found the new superfood!

A couple weeks ago I was walking around our property examining the woodline for anything that looked suspiciously edible. Not normally a forager, this was unusual for me but I was curious to know if there were currents, elderberries, or anything vaguely familiar growing wild and waiting to be discovered. One reason was economic in nature, another had to do with the motherly frustration of having a picky eater (I'm looking at you, Akea) who refuses to make any sort of dent in the copious amount of pears in the fridge.

Don't get me wrong - I was not about to go pick the first attractive berries I saw and try them out on my kids. Far from it. I'm sure I've kicked over mushroom varieties that would make chefs worldwide swoon in sorrow. I detest pokeweed, which is highly toxic to humans, even though some people claim it can be eaten if it's cooked correctly. But I did find a curious bush that sported little red berries that seemed to almost sparkle. After looking up every variety of berry I could think of and coming up empty, I cut a small sample of the bush took a drive over to our Extension Office.

The lady at the front desk was very pregnant and very helpful and told me right away that I had a Russian Olive, which is considered an invasive plant. After giving me an adamant "No!" when I asked if the berries were edible, I thanked her and went home to do research on my own.

After spending some more quality time on Google, I found that I do not have a Russian Olive, but its cousin - an Autumn Olive, or Autumnberry. And they, too, are invasive; like the Russian Olive, they were imported from Asia to attract wildlife, control erosion and can survive in drought-like conditions. However, I also stumbled upon something else. Several of the blogs and websites I visited claimed that the berries were, indeed, edible. I found recipes for fruit leather, someone who had made jam using a berry recipe, and even some websites on making wine from the berries (which are not, technically, berries - I think since they have a pit, which is edible, too). Hmmm. I went to the kitchen to look at some I'd picked. They looked at me. My Spidey Sense was not going off, but I decided to do more research before trying one.

Back to Google. It turns out that the sparkly little gem is high in the anti-oxidant lycopene, which is being studied as a deterrent to heart disease and certain cancers. In addition, it's packed with vitamins A, C, and E, flavanoids, and essential fatty acids. Even the USDA has caught on and is studying the plant as an organic farming possibility.

The taste was described as tangy-sweet, and they get sweeter as the first frost approaches and should be picked when they easily come off of the branch. Now I really wanted to try some. Byron checked out some of the info I'd found. I headed back toward the kitchen and tentatively put one in my mouth. That was useless to my tastebuds, so I went for a handful.

Byron: What does it taste like?
Me: (choking as if poisoned - no, kidding!): Pomegranate!
I ate a few more, then some more. They really were pretty good. Byron went out and picked about a quart's worth, as he found even more bushes. Eventually, we let the kids try some. They are, thankfully, Akea-approved.

The fruit really is very pretty - they're round or oval, pink to red, and look as if they've been lightly spattered with tiny dots of silver paint. The plant itself has oblong leaves that are silvery underneath. A very sparkly combination. I could imagine them being everyday sustenance to the Elves in Tolkein's Lothlorien.

As for now, I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do with them once more ripen. Freezing is an option, and I already made pancake syrup and muffins with the juice. The muffins were pink and therefore a hit with Akea. I'd like to try the fruit leather but we'll have to see how much time I have to mess around with them. Maybe I could start eating these all day instead of bon bons. And if I develop any superpowers, you'll be the first to know.


  1. Fun times! Our favorite foraging find are morel mushrooms - but they only come out at the end of April, for about a week. Man they are good.

  2. I've heard about morels (and other edibles) but haven't gotten into that...yet. I'd like to, but maybe need to find someone experienced to go out with me the first time so I know what to look for.