Monday, July 23, 2018


RUSSIAN OLIVE - Elaeagnus angustifolia, Elaeagnus argentea, Elaeagnus hortensis, Elaeagnus commutata, Elaeagnus glabra, etc. 

Also known as: Oleaster, Sand jujube, Silverberry, Sarseng, Giwai, Shiulik, Persian olive, Wild olive, Thorny olive, Wolf willow.

Parts used: fruit, seeds, flowers, bark, leaves, roots.

Systems/Organs affected: lungs, respiratory, skeletal, nervous, muscles, cardiovascular, brain.

Properties: anti-catarrhal, febrifuge, muscle relaxant, cognitive, antacid, anti-ulcer, anti-tumor, nutritive, pectoral, possible anti-carcinogen, antioxident, analgesic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal.

Russian Olive is a member of the Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster) family.  It is a thorny, deciduous shrub that can get up to 23 feet tall.  Its leaves and stems have a silvery coating (can sometimes be like rusty scales, too) that give it its trademark grayish-silver look.  The leaves are lance-like and alternate on the stems.  They can get up to 3 1/2" long and up to 1" wide and are smooth at the edges.  The flowers grow in clusters and are white to yellow in color.  It is a highly aromatic plant in bloom (I think they smell like a combination of lemon and vanilla).  They bloom from late spring to summer and are followed by small, cherry-like clusters of fruit that tend to be covered in the silvery scales as well.  The fruit is edible but mealy in texture.  The fruit needs to be fully ripe (around September to October) if planning to ingest.

Russian Olive is a hermaphrodite - having both male and female parts on the same plants.  They are nitrogen fixing so can grow almost anywhere, although they don't do so well in the shade.  They are very hardy as well, withstanding cold temperatures that would kill most plants. 

Native to Asia, the Middle East, and Russia, it now can be found in Europe and North America.  It is considered an invasive species and in this region it will crowd out the cottonwoods.  (The sale of it has been banned in Colorado.)  There are about 90 different species of Russian Olive.

This fragrant plant has a long history.  Parkinson grew it in 1633 and it is believed that the Germans did as well as far back as 1736.  It was introduced in the late 19th century to North America and is a favorite of birds who often disperse the seeds.  It was originally planted as an ornamental but was found to be an effective windreak.  (One comment stated that it had survived hurricanes with practically no damage while other trees were uprooted and/or broken.)  There are several references to its uses in earlier times.  The leaves were used by early settlers for asthma, hemorrhoids, coughs; the root for itching and 'foul sores'; the fruit for diarrhea.  A decoction of the bark mixed with oil was used for frostbite.  The seed oil was used for bronchial issues and to help treat catarrh.  The seeds themselves were roasted and ground for coffee.  The flower juice was used for malignant fevers and then, of course, there is the fruit... the fruit was used for pretty much everything.  (I had a good laugh while researching this one.  There was a reference to using a decoction of the roots of Russian Olive mixed with sumac roots for syphilis.  If you survived the treatment you would probably be sterile!)  Kudos to our early folk for trying things so that we would benefit from their lives (or deaths) as the  case might be.
The fruit of the Russian Olive is a good source of vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, flavonoids, catechins, and antioxidants.  A powder of the fruit has been used in Iran for millenia to treat joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis (they mixed it with milk).  The fruit also has been used fresh or dried for indigestion, diarrhea in children, abdominal pain, excessive menstruation, cold limbs, insomnia, poor eyesight, menopause, coughing/burning in the lungs, headaches, memory loss, stomach pain, chronic enteritis, ulcers, festering wounds, boils, etc.  It also has been used to make jams, jellies, pies, and sauces.  :-)

So with all this, I am sure you are wondering what it has proven to be effective for.  Surprisingly there were quite a few studies done on the plant.  Lots of them seem to be coming from Middle Eastern countries.

In "Four Flavonoid Glycosides from the Pulps of Elaeagnus angustifolia and their Antioxidant Activities"  it was found that the flowers were beneficial for tetanus and were anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant in nature.  (Advanced Materials Research, 2013; 756:16-20.)

In one study it was found that applying the fruit extract to wounds actually increased the content of hydoxyproline - a component essential to collagen production.  This same study found that the fruit extract sped up the healing time and reduced pain and inflammation in rats.  (Acta Medica Iran, 2012: 50:589-596.)

The dried, powdered leaves have been used to control bleeding and help speed the healing process; the leaves also were found to decrease the area of the wound due to the high increase of fibroblasts and capillary buds in the connective tissue of the skin.  (Journal of Medicinal Foods; 2011; 14:140-146.)

In one study entitled, "Investigation of the Direct Effects of the Alcoholic Extract of Elaeagnus angustifolia on Dispersed Intestinal Smooth Muscle Cells of Guinea Pig", it was discovered that the fruit extract was effective against ulcers.  (Sci Pharm, 2006; 74:21.)  In America, they have used a drug called pshatin, which is made from the fruit of the  Russian Olive, for colitis and gastrointestinal disorders for decades.  (Pharm Chem Journal 2008; 42:696-698.)

Another study found Russian Olive to be an effective muscle relaxant.  Both water and alcohol extracts from the seeds were found to be as effective as diazepam in relieving tension and relaxing muscles.  (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2003; 84:275-278.)  Several other studies have shown it to be effective for pain, inflammation, osteoarthritis, and as a cardioprotective.

More recent studies have shown it to have some anticarcinogenic ability as well.  (Molecules, 2014; 19:9515-9534 (for lung cancer) (New England Journal of Medicine, 2007; 356:2131-2142 (for colorectal cancer).

This plant is also a powerhouse of nutrients - the fruit is rich in vitamins A, B1, C, E, calcium, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, and iron.  The root, leaves, and bark contain copper, iron, chromium, cobalt, zinc, nickel, cadmium, and lead (so if using those portions of the plant remember to supplement with calcium and selenium as they bind to those more toxic metals and help remove them).  The tree/bush has a fair amount of flavonoids, too - mainly catechins, quercetin, and kaempferols which all are pretty potent antioxidants.  The bark and leaves also contain large amounts of tannins (which can be both good and bad depending on consumption ratios).  Tannins have been found to be cardioprotective, anti-cholesterol, chemo-preventative, anti-inflammatory, and anticarcinogenic.

Russian Olive is also a decent source of essential fatty acids (mainly palmitic, oleic, and lignoceric.)

I was certainly surprised by the wealth of information available on this plant.  It makes me want to go out and find some right away.  I didn't find any adverse effects listed with this but I know the plant enough to say that those with sinus issues or skin sensitivities probably should be wary of it.  Also, those who are pregnant, and/or nursing should avoid it.  ALWAYS CONSULT A QUALIFIED PHYSICIAN BEFORE STARTING ANY HERB OR HERBAL REGIMEN.

As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal.  Stay strong and healthy!