Goumi

Elaeagnus multiflora

Herbs gallery - Goumi

Common names

  • Cherry Elaeagnus
  • Cherry Silverberry
  • Goumi
  • Gumi
  • Natsugumi

Goumi (scientific name Elaeagnus multiflora) is a shrub with edible fruits native to Asia. It is part of the Elaeagnus genus and can be found in China, Japan and Korea. The name of the genus is composed of two ancient Greek words, olive tree (elaia) and chaste tree (agnos).

The goumi is a shrub with a round crown that can reach a height between 2 and 8 m. Depending on the local climate, it can be semi-evergreen or deciduous, which means that it loses its leaves during winter. It grows in China, Korea and Japan in open forests and at the borders of woodlands. It is known for the edible fruits, which resemble smaller cherries due to their red color.

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Despite being small in height, closer to a shrub than a tree, goumi has a solid trunk that can have a diameter of up to 30 cm, covered in brown bark. Shoots have an additional layer of small scales, red or brown in color. Goumi leaves have a length between 3 and 10 cm with a width of 2 to 5 cm, with an oval or elliptical shape. They are green on top while the underside is silver or dark orange.

Goumi flowers grow on leaf axils and are usually found isolated or in groups of two. The bloom takes place during spring. While the goumi flowers are not very beautiful, they compensate with a strong attractive fragrance. Each flower is about 1.5 cm long and consists of four yellow or white petals.

Goumi fruits are small, no longer than 1 cm. They are drupes with an oval or round shape and hang on a peduncle with a length of 2 or 3 cm. The fruits are orange with silvery scales when young but turn red after maturing. They can be harvested once ripe at the end of summer and are edible, with a particular taste. Since they are both astringent and sweet, the taste is often compared to the one of rhubarb. Immature fruits are very astringent, which makes them inedible.

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Once ripe, they become very sweet and juicy, even if some of the tart taste persists. They can be consumed raw but also in dried form, or used as an ingredient in preserves and bakery products. They are not very useful as a commercial or food crop because the skin is thin and they are easily damaged if transported.

Similar to other related plants from its genus, the goumi is an actinorhizal species. This means that it lives in a symbiotic relationship with the actinobacterium Frankia, which is found in the soil around its roots. Goumi benefits from the presence of these bacteria because it fix nitrogen from the air in the ground. The effect enriches the soil and the goumi can grow in poorer soils than normal, which also helps nearby plants.

The goumi has a long history of usage in China. The Chinese include it among the so-called nutraceutical plants, which designates food that have both nutritional and medicinal value. It is sometimes cultivated in both North America and Europe for its edible fruit and as an ornamental species. In some areas of the eastern USA, it has become established but it is still considered to be an exotic plant.

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Parts used

Fruit, leaves, root.

Uses

Like most of its relatives, the fruit of goumi is known as a great source of vitamins and minerals. It is especially rich in bioactive compounds such as flavonoids and the vitamins A, C, and E. It is also one of the few fruits that provides essential fatty acids, very useful compounds that are usually found only in food with an animal origin.

Due to the potent combination of antioxidants, the fruit is investigated as a potential solution to prevent cancer or to limit the growth of tumours. The great combination of vitamins and antioxidants has made some authors include the goumi among the super foods. The fruit can be eaten raw but also lasts a long time in dried form. Its sour taste makes it perfect for jams, jellies and other types of preserves.

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Other parts of the goumi plant have medicinal uses. Cough can be treated using the leaves, while the astringent root can be used to alleviate sores and itchiness. Consuming the fruit helps patients who suffer from watery diarrhea. Antioxidant content of goumi fruit can help to boost our immune system.

Culinary uses

The goumi fruit is very versatile and can be consumed fresh or in various dishes. It retains an acid taste even when fully ripe, which makes it an interesting addition to preserves or pies. It is not easily harvested since the skin is very fragile and it is also very easy to break the young shoots while doing it. It should only be picked when fully ripe, to avoid the very astringent taste. The large seed inside the fruit is also edible and can be chewed along with the pulp, even if it's fibrous. The seed can also be cooked.

Habitat and cultivation

It is very easy to grow and can thrive even in poor soils, as long as they have good drainage. The goumi actually enjoys dry and poor soils more than the very fertile ones. Light sandy loams are the best and it can be planted in both sunny and partially shaded locations. It is a very resilient species that can tolerate significant air pollution, as well as drought and strong winds. Goumi plant can survive severe frosts of -30°C, although only the roots will live in such a case, the aerial part being killed at around -20°C. When propagated using cuttings, it needs 4 years to start producing fruits. It is sometimes cultivated in Japan, where several varieties have been developed.

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Fruits are not easy to harvest because they are very fragile and grow well inside the shrub, which can be easily damaged. However, birds are able to fly in and consume them in large numbers. A particular variety, E. multiflora ovata, is more easily harvested since the fruits are found on long stalks.

An interesting feature of the species is the symbiosis with some bacteria that live in the ground around its roots. These fix nitrogen from the air, which is not only used by the goumi but by some other nearby plants as well. This makes it a great choice in orchards, because the other fruits trees around it will use a part of the nitrogen and produce about 10% more fruits than normal. It is also popular in gardens due to the very pleasant fragrance of the flowers, similar to the one of lilac.

Seeds are viable and can be used to easily propagate the goumi plant. They should be placed in a cold frame immediately after the fruits are ripe. Sometimes, it germinates at the end of winter or start of next spring, although it can take up to one year and a half in some cases. You can speed up the process through two periods of stratification, a warm one of 4 weeks and a cold one of 12 weeks. Once it germinates, the young plant grows very well and it should be immediately pricked into individual pots. After they reach a height of around 15 cm, they can be moved outside. Cuttings are also good for propagation, semi ripe wood with a length of 7 to 10 cm. Mature wood has a lower percentage, cutting should be 10 - 12 cm with a heel and need about one year. Layering has to be done in autumn, in September or October.

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