Silverberries – Elaeagnus SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Mealy Sour Berry

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American silverberries or wolf-willow (Elaeagnus commutata) is Ontario’s native mealy sour silverberry shrub. It does somewhat resemble willow.

There are several nonnatives around too. Japanese silverberry AKA Autumn olive (E. umbellata) is invasive around Ontario, especially to the south. In cottage country, it’s more of an introduced small tree you’ll occasionally spot in someone’s lawn. Out west, Russian olive (E. angustifolia) gets more notoriety. None are listed in Haliburton Flora, but all are present in Ontario!

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Edible Uses of Silverberries

While you can eat the whole berry raw, it’s mealy and astringent.

The ripe berries of silverberry are best cooked, strained, and the pulp mixed with other fruits or sugar to be more palatable. This sour pulp can be used like any other berry, for baking, jam, sorbet, wine, fruit leather, etc. Some folks use the pulp as a tomato puree substitute. The Russian tree is the sweetest of the three mentioned.

You can also juice the mealy berries for a sour-ade, or make a tea out of the fragrant flowers.

The berries are a good source of essential fatty acids.

Medicinal Uses of Silverberries

Silverberry is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Immune
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Antimicrobial, Antioxidant, Astringent and Stimulant. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage in the West is as more of a superfood at present. The berry is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and essential fatty acids. If someone isn’t selling silverberry juice now, someone probably will in the future!

Alternative Uses of Wolf-willow

The seeds can be used as beads.

The fibrous bark can be twisted into rope or used for weaving.

Growing Elaeagnus Commutata

Silverberry (Elaeagnus commutata) is native and likes a sunny spot. The silvery foliage is ornamental. It’s wonderful for a silverberry hedge or a mixed hedge. Birds love a berry-full hedge!

Going on a century ago, some resource managers in the USA intentionally planted Japanese/Autumn silverberry, which changes soil chemistry and can destroy native plant communities (doubtful they knew then). There are some hangers-on for this plant in those circles, despite there being so many native shrubs, trees and vines that benefit the wildlife and soil tremendously. This seedy invasive tree can take over an area quickly and birds will spread the seeds far and wide.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

Trees of Ontario

Scout’s Guide

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants (Out of Print)

Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries (Regional Foraging Series)

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