Russian Olive

Biological Name:

Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russian-Olive)

Natural Habitat:

Russian-Olive: Woodlands, North America


Russian-Olive is a deciduous tree with silvery-green leaves and small yellow flowers. It can grow to be up to 30 feet tall and is often used as an ornamental plant. However it can become weedy and invasive in some areas.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What is Russian olive good for?
A: Traditionally, Russian olive was used as an anti-ulcer remedy for wound healing or sometimes gastric disorders. E. angustifolia fruits were also famous in Turkish folklore as tonic, antipyretic, kidney disorder healing (anti-inflammatory and/or kidney stone treatment) and anti-diarrhea (astringent).

Q: What is another name for Russian olive?
A: Elaeagnus angustifolia, commonly called Russian olive, silver berry, oleaster, or wild olive, is a species of Elaeagnus, native to western and central Asia, Iran, from southern Russia and Kazakhstan to Turkey, parts of Pakistan and parts of India.

Q: Does Russian olive burn well?
A: One perk of Russian olive: it burns hot. Ponderosa Pine, commonly used to heat homes in this area, burns at 21.7 British thermal units (BTU), which in simple terms, means it burns hot and long. In comparison, Russian olive burns at 23 BTU.

Q: What are the side effects of olives?
A: Little is known about any adverse effects from olive leaf. Olive oil or olives, as food, are safe.

Q: Is Russian olive wood good for anything?
A: Common Uses: Knife scales, bowls, pens, and other small woodturning projects. Comments: Originally brought to the United States in the late 1800s for windbreaks and erosion control (and as an ornamental tree).

Q: What are the pros and cons of eating olives?
A: Olives are low in cholesterol and a good source of dietary fiber, which the body needs for good gut health. They are also high in minerals that the body requires to function, such as iron and copper. However, it is best to consume olives in moderation, as producers usually preserve them in brine that is high in salt.

Q: Can you make olive oil from Russian olive trees?
A: Despite their name, Russian olive trees have little to do with real olives. You can’t make oil out of their fruits, and they are only very distantly related to true olive trees. They’re only called “olive” trees because of their medium size, their silvery green color and their small dry fruits.

Q: Are Russian olive invasive?
A: (Elaeagnus angustifolia) Unfortunately, Russian olive escapes cultivation easily, especially along riparian zones, and is invasive throughout much of California, as well as in 16 other western states.

Q: Why is Russian olive a problem?
A: Russian-olive trees are a thorny, hard-wood tree that easily takes over riparian (river bank) corridors, choking out native cottonwoods, boxelders, and willows. They out-compete other native vegetation, interfering with natural plant succession.

Q: Is a Russian olive A good tree?
A: Russian Olives are both frost and drought resistant, making them the ideal landscaping plant in dry and hilly areas. In summer, these trees look magnificent with their silver-grey foliage, fragrant flowers with a subtle honey aroma and the sweet berry-like fruits that can be eaten raw or used in preserves.

Q: What do Russian olive trees smell like?
A: Soft, sweet, a little spicy (like if cinnamon was a flower) with musky almost jasmine notes that strengthen as the sun sets. We’ve spent whole days just sitting under the trees smelling as the light changes. (8am is a completely different fragrance than 8pm, same spot.)

Q: How fast do Russian olive trees grow?
A: Growth Characteristics: Russian olive is a shrub or small tree usually 12 to 45 feet tall. It can grow up to 6 feet per year. It forms a dense, rounded crown. Near the ground its branches spread from 10 to 20 feet.

Q: What is the difference between an olive tree and a Russian olive tree?
A: umbellata). The leaves of Russian olive are narrower than those of autumn olive, particularly relative to their length. The scales on the twigs of Russian olive are silver, while the scales on autumn olive are frequently silver and rust colored. Finally, the fruits of these species are distinctly different.

Q: Do Russian olive trees smell good?
A: (Kinda specific, we know, but it’s a seriously good smell.) Soft, sweet, a little spicy (like if cinnamon was a flower) with musky almost jasmine notes that strengthen as the sun sets. We’ve spent whole days just sitting under the trees smelling as the light changes.

Q: Do Russian olive trees use a lot of water?
A: These silvery leafed trees gulp up 75 gallons of water a day and eagerly push out native trees, including willows and cottonwoods.

Q: Where do Russian olive trees grow in the US?
A: Russian olive is native to Europe and western Asia. It was introduced to the United States in the early 1900s and became widely distributed due to its extensive use as an ornamental species in drier regions of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.

Q: Why are Russian olives invasive?
A: Russian olive, or Elaeagnus angustifolia, is native to Europe. On other continents, it is reported as an invasive species since it crowds native vegetation out.

Q: Are Russian olives good eating?
A: Its fruit is like a berry, about ½ inch long, and is yellow when young (turning red when mature), dry and mealy, but sweet and edible.

Q: Which country has the best quality olives?
A: The combination of Spain’s ideal climate and location makes it the best country for cultivating mouthwatering olives. You may be wondering which region of Spain exports olive oil worldwide – that would be Andalucía, a coastal area in the country.

Q: Which country olives are best?
A: Spain and Italy. The top spot for olive oil production and exports is for Spain, followed by Italy. It should be noted that more than 50% of worldwide production comes from Spain.

Q: What are the healthiest type of olives?
A: If you’re trying to boost your vitamin E intake, green olives are a healthier option than their black counterparts. People who need to limit their sodium intake should make olives only an occasional part of their diet, but black olives are the better option when you do include them in a meal or recipe.

Q: What does Russian olive taste like?
A: Invasive. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia), aka oleaster: oblong yellow-green fruit. Dry, sweetish and mealy.

Q: Which olives are healthier green or black?
A: Nutritional value: Both green olives and black olives are nutritious, but if you’re looking for the healthiest olive option, green wins by a narrow margin. The reason is that green olives tend to be higher in polyphenols (antioxidants with anti-inflammatory benefits) than black olives.

Q: Is Russian olive a true olive?
A: Taxonomically, Russian olive and autumn olive are not true olives. True olives are in genus Olea, in the olive family (Oleaceae).

Q: Where can the Russian olive be found in the US?
A: Russian olive is widespread throughout the United States as a tree and is listed as a noxious weed in New Mexico. This field guide serves as the U.S. Forest Service’s recommendations for management of Russian olive in woodlands, rangelands, and riparian areas associated with its Southwestern Region.

Q: What is the difference between autumn olive and Russian olive?
A: Both Russian and autumn olive species have silvery leaves with smooth edges. The autumn olive has silvery scales on only the bottom side of the leaf, while the Russian olive has silvery scales on both sides of the leaf. Both species produce yellow flowers, blooming in June/July after 3 years.

Q: What is the best tasting olive tree?
A: Nocellara Del Belice (Olea europaea ‘Nocellara Del Belice’) The bright green olives marketed as Castelvetrano olives are grown from the Nocellara del Belice cultivar from Sicily. Thanks to their mild flavor and buttery texture, they’re considered some of the best table olives, popular worldwide.

Q: Is Russian olive fragrant?
A: Russian olive is usually grown for its silvery foliage, small fragrant flowers, olive-like fruit, and ease of cultivation.

Q: How big do Russian olive trees get?
A: Identification: Russian olive is a large, thorny, perennial deciduous shrub or small tree usually growing 10 to 25 feet tall. The leaves are 1 to 4 inches long and 0.5 to 1.5 inches wide with smooth edges and are arranged alternately on the stem (Figure 1).

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.