Gardening

Goumi berries: a nitrogen-fixing fruit shrub you should grow

Goumi berries: a nitrogen-fixing fruit shrub you should grow thumbnail
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Goumi berries are Asian, fruit-producing shrubs that make their own nitrogen fertilizer. Find out how to grow this plant yourself — and how to identify its invasive but edible relatives growing in your area. 


Our first Goumi berry plant

A few years back a friend of ours with an impressive permaculture garden had to move out of town. She reached out to tell us to come dig up as many of her perennial plants as we wanted before her home sold the next day. (The buyer was planning to get rid of them all.)   

Down the fire pole we went, shovels in tow. Among the many plants available was a large mature Goumi berry bush. 

Since all we had was a car, we had to do considerable damage to the roots and branches of the 6′ tall Goumi bush in order to fit it in our trunk. It was late summer/early fall and the plant was NOT dormant, so none of us had much hope the plant would survive — but at least it would have a chance. 

We immediately transplanted the Goumi into our yard and waited… As the weather began to warm in late winter the following year, buds appeared, then leaves and flowers. We now had our first Goumi berry bush — and a story that tells you just how resilient these plants are!       

Our toddler picking Goumi berries from our bush.

Our toddler picking Goumi berries from our bush.

What is a Goumi berry?

A Goumi berry (Elaeagnus multiflora) is a perennial, fruit-bearing shrub native to Asia. The plants are deciduous, dropping their leaves after first frost. In the spring, the plants are covered with highly fragrant, small yellow flowers with a distinctive bell shape.  

Goumi berries flowering on April 2nd in our Zone 7b garden.

Goumi berries flowering on April 2nd in our Zone 7b garden.

Though its fruit is called a berry, it’s technically a drupe, which transitions from green to bright, deep red when perfectly ripe. A ripe Goumi berry fruit is about the size of a blueberry. 

A plant that can produce its own fertilizer? 

Goumi berry plants also have the added benefit of being able to “grow” their own nitrogen fertilizer, which helps make them a very low-maintenance plant that can grow in multiple soil types with virtually zero care required. They accomplish this feat via their symbiotic relationship with the soil bacteria, Frankia, which convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available nitrogen in the rhizosphere. Excess nitrogen produced also indirectly feeds other nearby plants.

The only downside of Goumi plants is they do feature relatively large, sharp thorns. Perhaps that would make them useful in a deer-deterring hedge! 

The thorns on Goumi berry plants aren't sufficient to deter toddlers.

Note: The thorns on Goumi berry plants aren’t sufficient to deter toddlers.

Goumi berry’s other common names

Depending on where you live, you may have heard of Goumi berries under other common names, including:

  • Cibie
  • Cherry Elaeagnus
  • Cherry silverberry
  • Daio-Gumi
  • Longpipe bush
  • Mupan-hsia
  • Natsu-gumi

Are Goumi berries edible? What do they taste like?

Yes, you can eat Goumi berries! Perfectly ripe, vibrant red Goumi berries taste like sweet, tart cherries or red currants.  

The under-ripe, orange-red fruit is still astringent so waiting an additional 2-3 days for the fruit to turn vibrant red and swell can make a big difference in flavor. From our experience, this is more likely to happen if you don’t have a toddler or child around who picks every single fruit the second it even gets a hint of red color! 

Perfectly ripened Goumi berries. You can see others still on the plant in varying stages of ripeness from green to orange to red.

Perfectly ripened Goumi berries. You can see others still on the plant in varying stages of ripeness from green to orange to red.

In our Zone 7b garden in South Carolina, Goumi berries flower in March and ripen from May-June. 

Can you eat Goumi berry seeds?

Inside each Goumi berry drupe is a single, fibrous seed. Yes, you can eat the seeds, too! Goumi berry seeds taste like mild snap beans. 

Closeup of Goumi berry seed. Goumi berry seeds are a bit fibrous, but they're soft and pleasant-flavored. They're full of essential fatty acids, so eat them for extra nutrition!

Goumi berry seeds are a bit fibrous, but they’re soft and pleasant-flavored. They’re full of essential fatty acids, so eat them for extra nutrition!

How do you use Goumi berries? 

Due to their soft skins, Goumi berries aren’t an ideal commercial fruit (they’d probably be mush by the time they reached a grocery store shelf). If you grow more Goumi berries than you can eat fresh, they can be made into pies, jams, beverages, and more. 

Are Goumi berries healthy?

Goumi berries are packed with nutrition. They’re especially high in vitamins A, C, and E.

Unlike most fruit, they contain heart-healthy essential fatty acids, especially in the seeds. A recent analysis found that Goumi berries also contain, “biominerals, polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, chlorophylls, and tocopherols, which contribute to its high nutritional value.” 

Is Goumi berry considered an invasive species?

No, Goumi berries are not considered an invasive species anywhere in the US. However, they have relatives that are… 

Three edible and related Elaeagnus species that ARE invasive: 

There are three other commonly found Elaeagnus species in the US that are considered invasive species:

1. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)

Russian olives can grow to become large, 40′ tall trees. The fruit ripens from yellow to red in late summer-fall and stays on the tree over the winter.

It’s most common in the central and western US. We have yet to see one here in South Carolina. 

2. Autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata

As their name implies, Autumn olives ripen in fall. Berries often form dense clusters on their branches, with plants reaching up to 20′ tall at maturity. 

Autumn olives are most common east of the Mississippi River, including here in South Carolina. 

2. Silverthorn (Elaeagnus pungens)

Silverthorns are the most common Elaeagnus species growing in our area. They form massive thickets with weeping branches.

Silverthorn berries look a lot like Goumi berries but the plants have different growth habits. Goumi berry bushes are more tree-shaped with upright branches. Silverthorns form dense thickets and the plants have weeping branches.

Silverthorn berries look a lot like Goumi berries but the plants have different growth habits. Goumi berry bushes are more tree-shaped with upright branches. Silverthorns form dense thickets and the plants have weeping branches.

Their fruit ripens in early spring (March -early April). Fruit quality varies by plant, from astringent to almost strawberry-flavored.

If you have one of the three invasive species listed above growing on your property, consider removing it. If you encounter one in the wild, forage the fruit but don’t allow the seeds to propagate. 

The seeds from these foraged Silverthorn berries will not be allowed to grow into new plants.

The seeds from these foraged Silverthorn berries will not be allowed to grow into new plants.

How to grow Goumi berries

Since they’re not invasive and they have numerous benefits (including tasty fruit), you may want to grow Goumi berries. Here’s what you need to know to get started: 

Plant basics you need to know before you get Goumi berries:

  • Ag Zones: Grow from Zone 4-9, down to -20°F (-29°C).
  • Size: 15′ x 15′ at maturity (unpruned) or 10′ x 10′ (with pruning)
  • Sun/Shade: Tolerates some shade, but will produce more berries in full sun, 6+ hours direct summer sunlight. 
  • Self-fertile: Yes, but produces more and larger fruit with at least one other variety growing nearby. (We currently only have one Goumi plant and it produces a lot of fruit without another pollenizer around.) 
  • Water needs: 1″ water per week, rain or irrigation 

Goumi berries might just be our lowest-maintenance fruiting plant. We put about 3″ of mulch around our plant early each spring but don’t provide any additional fertilizer. And we only water our Goumi if we haven’t had rain for over 2 weeks. 

As for pruning, we haven’t bothered yet, but if it grows too tall to make fruit picking easy, we’ll prune it back in late winter.  

Best Goumi berry varieties

Other Goumi aficionados have told us there’s not much difference in fruit quality between named varieties. We grow ‘Sweet Scarlet’, and can attest that it produces good fruit. 

Other popular Goumi varieties include ‘Red Gem,’ Tillamook’, and ‘Carmine’.  

Can you grow Goumi berries from seed or cuttings? 

Yes, you can grow Goumi berries from seed, but it will take longer for them to reach maturity and begin bearing fruit than if you buy young plants. 

Goumis can also be propagated from cuttings. In the summer (June through August), remove pencil-sized or smaller branches, lightly scrape the bark, dip them in rooting hormone, and plant them 2-3″ deep in a container of damp seed starting mix (use potting mix if that’s all you have but seed starting mix is best). Maintain even soil moisture and keep them in shade for the first 2-3 weeks. As roots form, you can slowly transition them back to full sun over 2-3 weeks. 

Transplant to final locations in the late winter through early spring before they break dormancy. 

Where to buy Goumi berry plants

Check with local plant nurseries in your area to see if they carry Goumi berries. Our Goumi originated from Useful Plants Nursery outside Asheville in North Carolina.

Online nurseries like RainTree and One Green World can also ship Goumis straight to your doorstep. 


Toddler picking and eating Goumi berries.

Ready to grow your own Goumi berries?

We hope you enjoyed learning about Goumi berries, an interesting and unusual berry-producing plant you should consider for your garden, homestead, or small farm! 

KIGI,

Tyrantfarms

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