A member of the olive family, Tea Olive is also known as Sweet Osmanthus, Sweet Olive and Fragrant Olive – names which refer to some of its many virtues. Native to Asia, from Himalaya to Japan, tea olive is an upright evergreen shrub or small tree from 10-12 feet high with an 8 foot spread. The leaves are a dark, shiny green with paler undersides and are located mostly at the outermost ends of the stems producing an ornamental plant which has been cultivated in gardens in Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere in the world. It most sought after feature comes from the multitude of small and inconspicuous flowers which produce a powerful and exquisite fragrance which can be enjoyed as much as nine miles away! In bloom, the flowers range from silver-white to gold-orange to reddish and the very exotic scent has been described as floral-fruity – a sweet combination of jasmine with ripe plum, raisin, apricot or peach.
Hardy to zone 8, tea olives should be planted where their fragrance can be enjoyed including where there is foot traffic, outdoor rooms or as a very attractive hedge or screen. In tender areas, it can be grown in a large container and protected indoors in winter since it grows rather slowly. Tea olive flowers more freely in a sunny location, but can tolerate partial shade especially in the afternoon. It prefers reasonably good, well-drained soil and is fairly drought tolerant once established. Tea olive can be clipped to maintain size and encourage branching, but remember that flowers form on old growth and removing branches will reduce the flower display.
The flowers are used for a variety of purposes from tea to insect repellant. An infusion of the flowers produces a yellow-green liquor with aromatic hints of sweet summer peaches when brewed alone, but is valued as an extra special additive for tea and other beverages such as wine. In China, it is frequently used to enhance the flavor of tea by adding the blossoms during the processing of the tea leaves so that the scent is infused into the tea. In Chinese cuisine, the flowers are also used to produce jam, sweet cakes, dumplings and soups. The unripe fruits can also be preserved in brine like olives. An essential oil from the tea olive flowers is used as a flavoring especially to disguise obnoxious flavors in herbal medicines. The extract or absolute is an expensive but useful tool for the perfumer and is used in only the most expensive perfumes which are very popular in Europe.
TEA TIME TIDBITS
The lingering scent from Tea Olive
will stay on your breath
for a long time after drinking the tea
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”