Elaeagnus plants are deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees native to Asia including the Himalayan region, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, northern China and Japan. The fruit is a fleshy drupe containing a single seed; it is edible in many species.
When ripe in mid- to late summer, the fruit is juicy and edible, with a sweet but astringent taste somewhat similar to that of rhubarb. The expressed oil from the seeds is used in the treatment of pulmonary affections.
The fruit of many members of this genus is a very rich source of vitamins and minerals, especially in vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids and other bio-active compounds. An essential oil obtained from the flowers is used in perfumery.
A gum from the plant is used in the textile industry in calico printing. Grown in shrub borders or as specimen shrubs, the evergreens are also suitable as a hedge or screening plant.
The fruit must be fully ripe before it can be enjoyed raw; if even slightly under-ripe it will be quite astringent.
The leaves and the stems are concocted and used in the treatment of asthma, cough, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids; the root is astringent and is applied to sores or itchy skin.
It is also rich in the carotenoids, lycopene, which is currently of interest to medical researchers as it has exhibited possibilities as a deterrent to heart disease and cancers of the prostate, cervix, the gastrointestinal tract, and possibly ovarian cancer.
The berries can be dried and stored to use in fruit teas or tisanes, and the flowers can also be made into a tisane with the leaves.
The expressed oil from the seeds is used in the treatment of pulmonary affections. Pregnant women should avoid this herb because it can cause adverse side effects and should be given to children.