What is an autumn olive? Well for starters, they're nothing like Kalamata, green stuffed Spanish or pitted black pearl olives. I'm told the best way to describe them is autumn olive berries that taste like nothing else. They are both sweet and tart and pleasantly acidic.

They were brought to the states over 150 years ago from East Asia, and today they grow everywhere from Maine to Virginia and west to Wisconsin. According to my longtime friend Hope Hallett, writing in Facebook group Dartmouth Helping Dartmouth, autumn olives grow abundantly and they're "very healthy" to eat.

Hallett says they are "one of the most nutritious berries that grows freely in Dartmouth, on silvery leaved bushes." She goes on to say, "These great tasting berries grow everywhere in the woods and fields, and tons of them in Dartmouth."

So why are we just finding out about these wild gems? Until recently, few people were aware that the berries of the autumn olive were edible. Fully ripened autumn olives are made into preserves and jams that have a curious, tangy taste.

When it comes to enjoying these berries, the local skunks, opossums, racoons, and birds are way ahead of us in this regard, and goats and sheep will eat autumn olives to effectively control heavy defoliation in the spring.

The key feature to look at are the leaves. Hallett says autumn olives "are a free super healthy food whose leaves have a silvery color." Even though the colder months are quickly approaching, Hallett pitched that you visit the Dartmouth Community Gardens, just off Chase Road, and for a small fee start your own garden plot next season, where you can grow your own healthy food.

Around the SouthCoast, there are still about four weeks remaining to harvest these small, reddish-brown-to-pink berries dotted with silvery scales, likely growing in a nearby field and free for the picking.

One last thing: if you don't like the tart taste of pomegranates, you probably won't be a fan of the autumn olive, but I'm also told if you do, they make a unique-tasting wine. The autumn olive might be something worth experimenting with.

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