A few days ago I had the pleasure of tasting my first farm-grown fructus of the season, goumi berries, a new fruit for the orchard. I knew the berries were ripe from their red-orange translucent color and the ease of release from the stem. Goumi berries have an astringent tartness with the first bite (I briefly wondered whether I should be eating them), but once through the skin, the inner flesh holds a citrusy sweetness. I lingered over the oblong seed, turning it in my mouth, and sanding off the last bit of fruit with my tongue before spitting it to the ground. Goumis remind me of mulberries, and I imagine, like mulberries, goumis would be delicious in pies, sauces, and jellies.
The goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora, comes from China. Its leaves are silvery below and glossy green above, similar to its sister plant, Elaeagnus umbellate, an invasive in America which grows up to twenty inches high and thirty inches wide, outcompeting native plants for sun and nutrients. Goumis have an Old World look that suggests they’ve been around a long time. No tender hybrid, but a strong matriarch who grows wide around the middle and rules her household.
I can attest that the plant grows on its own without much attention. The Asian pear orchard completely got away from me last year. When my daughter, Ariel, and I finally hacked our way through it last fall to liberate the young pear trees, the purple asters, bee balms, and other wildflowers were over six feet tall. (Some of you may recall the blog in which I described experimenting, once again, with creating a natural orchard.) By design, there is no access for the riding mower, and I didn’t get myself back there with a scythe or sickle. The goumis came through this neglect, strong as ever, growing three feet and flowering this spring with sweet scented delicate white blossoms for the first time. Many of the pears, on the other hand, suffered from so much competition — I promised them I would to do better this year.
I first heard about goumis though the permaculture world. Goumis are considered good companion plants for an orchard because they are nitrogen fixers. That is, like clover and vetch, they work with bacteria in the soil to make nitrogen accessible for themselves as well as nearby roots. I planted four goumi bushes in our Asian pear orchard with the hopes that the pears would then not need any additional outsourced nitrogen. Goumis are also touted for being an “insectory,” meaning they attract beneficial insects who might ward off orchard pests. Goumis make a hardy hedge and provide great bird watching early in the season. However, if you are hoping to harvest goumi fructus, you will need to cover them before the birds enjoy them all. Our English word fruit is derived from fructus, one of the verb forms of the Latin, fruor ("have the benefit of, use, enjoy"). Eating fructus we enjoy the miraculous bounty of nature