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Autumn Olive Fruit; Characteristics and Health Benefits

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.) is among the species that has attracted the most attention recently among wild fruits. The autumn olive plant is a shrub-shaped plant belonging to the Elaeagnaceae family.

The deciduous autumn olive plant is a thorny plant species with an increasingly dense accumulation of leaves. The flowers of the autumn olive have four divisions, are yellow-white and fragrant.

Generally, autumn olive fruits ripen in September or October. Elaeagnus umbellata plant can survive even in the most infertile soils, as it can store atmospheric nitrogen through actinomycetes in its roots. Therefore, it also increases the fertility of the soil. The autumn olive plant can quickly grow in all conditions except shade and wetlands and loves the sun.

It is known that autumn olive grows naturally in Southern Europe and East Asia. It is a shrub-shaped plant that sheds its leaves in winter and can grow up to 6 to 9 meters tall. It is also considered a member of the small tree class. The autumn olive bush has an oval structure thanks to its dense branches.

Autumn olive plant is a type of plant that can be used for different purposes. In addition to being used as food, the fruits of the Elaeagnus umbellata plant are also known to be used as an ornamental plant to prevent slipping on rough terrain or sloping areas near the road and to decorate roads. In fact, its use as an ornamental plant has become very popular in recent years.

In addition, the autumn olive plant can be used as a windbreak, hedge plant, landscaping, or to eliminate the bad appearance in mining areas. The fact that it is used in the afforestation of infertile areas in agricultural practices due to its soil-protective and nutritious properties adds great importance to this plant.

Interestingly, the autumn olive plant was brought to America from its homeland of China, Korea and Japan in the 1800s for erosion control. Later, when its nutritional value was revealed, its production was encouraged and started growing in many places. In other words, the factor that initially caused it to spread worldwide was not the nutritional value of the fruit, but the plant was a natural method of fighting against erosion.

However, the autumn olive plant can quickly spread through the seeds in fruits consumed by birds and other mammals. Therefore, if left uncontrolled, it has the potential to invade its area easily.

Autumn olive fruit can be consumed fresh or dried. It is also used as fruit pulp, fruit juice, jam, jelly and sauce or as an additive to these products. As it became clear that autumn olive fruit has important health benefits and is a good energy source, its leaves, roots and flowers began to be used in the pharmaceutical industry.

Autumn olive fruit is very rich in nutritional value. Since it contains high amounts of phytochemicals, especially antioxidants, it has the potential to become an important part of balanced and healthy diet practices.

Regarding nutritional content, the first thing that comes to mind when discussing autumn olives is “lycopene.” It is stated that 100 grams autumn olive fruit contains 7 to 17 times more lycopene than the same amount of tomatoes. As it is known, tomatoes are among the fruits/vegetables richest in lycopene. While there is approximately 3 mg lycopene in 100 grams tomato, this value is 58 mg in autumn olive.

Lycopene is a type of pigment from the class of carotenoids, found naturally in fruits and vegetables. As a result of the research, it was determined that lycopene actively prevents lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and heart tissue degeneration. Lycopene is found especially abundant in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. Many studies have shown that lycopene protects against various types of cancer, including myocardial infarction and prostate cancer. (For more detailed information about the health benefits of lycopene and rich foods, see Lycopene; Health Benefits and Rich Foods).

Scientific studies show that autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is an excellent source of lycopene as well as many other nutrients and phytochemical compounds. For example, many studies have shown that it is a fruit rich in vitamins A, C and E, essential fatty acids, flavonoids, β-carotene and protein, which are known to be very important for health. In addition, it is reported that autumn olive fruit is rich in calcium, boron, potassium, carbohydrates, copper, phosphorus, fiber, fat, folic acid, iron, magnesium, manganese, tryptophan and zinc.

Autumn olive is also an excellent source of antioxidants in terms of its properties and contents and has antimicrobial characteristics. Based on this, it is a food that can reduce the likelihood of some types of cancer.

Moreover, it is thought to be a regulator of negative cholesterol levels and to reduce and suppress the adverse effects of cholesterol on the cardiovascular system. Additionally, it is reported that it strengthens the immune system and helps regenerate cells.

Although autumn olive has just become known in many countries, it is stated that it has been used in its homeland for a very long time and is used in treating certain diseases. Many studies indicate that it is used in Chinese traditional folk medicine to treat asthma, cough, hemorrhoids, bad breath, joint inflammation, itching, traumatic injuries, general body aches, muscle pain, loss of strength in the hands and feet, digestive difficulties and diarrhea. In addition, it is reported that it is good for the lungs.

In light of the information mentioned above, it turns out that autumn olives are one of the prominent functional foods today when healthy and disease-preventing eating habits are increasing tremendously. It is predicted that the interest in such foods will increase day by day.

Today, autumn olive has managed to attract attention with its new varieties, organic structure and high income-generating features. Recently, autumn olive plant cultivation has increased in many countries outside its homeland and attempts are being made to take it into culture and turn it into an industrial/economic product.

Along with the breeding studies of this fruit, the focus has been on developing cultural production methods and increasing the yield amount. These studies aim to ensure that it is among the fruits with high added value in terms of functional quality. In the next stage, thanks to new processes, it can be processed into new food products and its consumption in different products can be increased.

It is known that autumn olive plants can grow spontaneously in many geographical regions of the world. For this reason, many countries aim to contribute to their own economy and food industry by increasing autumn olive production and yield. In this regard, encouraging practices are carried out in many countries. Autumn olive fruit is anticipated to be offered to people in different forms or processed into other products in the coming period.

Many studies show that wild fruits have many important properties, such as various antioxidants, anti-inflammatory (pain relieving, antipyretic), antimicrobial, and anti-cancer activities. This means that wild fruits have the potential to be used as functional food or medicine to prevent or treat various chronic diseases. However, wild berries have problems with acceptability and accessibility, as well as lack of interest and even neglect. In this regard, studies need to be carried out to bring wild products from where they grow to our tables. Autumn olive stands out as a fruit that should be known in all its aspects and its consumption should be widespread.

References

C. Bvenura, and D. Sivakumar, “The role of wild fruits and vegetables in delivering a balanced and healthy,” Food Research International, 99: 15-30, 2017.

A. Bayraktar, N. Yıldırım, F. Atar and İ. Turna, “Effects of some auxins on propagation by hardwood cutting of autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.),” Turkish Journal of Forestry Research, 5:2, 112-116 DOI: https://doi.org/10.17568/ogmoad.401438, 2018.

Ö. Çakır, H. Yıldız, B. Tüysüz, N. Karataş, “Evaluation of Lycopene Content in the Elaeagnus umbellata Thunb.” 3rd International Conference on Advanced Engineering Technologies, 19-21 September 2019, Bayburt, Türkiye.


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