Osmanthus (also known as sweet olive) is an evergreen shrub which looks a bit like holly. The shiny dark green leaves change to yellow and red from September. It provides a nice contrast with the scented white or cream flowers that appear in the spring. There’s also a variety which flowers in September and October if that suits your garden colour scheme better. The plant reaches a height of 2 m, and is suitable for a solo display or use as part of a hedge.
Osmanthus is a member of the olive family. There are some 30 different known varieties. The plant originates from Asia, where it grows in China, Japan and the Himalayas. There are also a few species that occur in the Caucasus, Mexico and North America. The wild species can become 12 m high trees. The plant differs from true holly in terms of the leaves: on holly they are spread along the branch, whilst with Osmanthus they grow in pairs.
The fragrance of Osmanthus’s flowers is said to have a calming effect, and is popular as an ingredient in perfumes.
In China Osmanthus flowers are mixed with black or green tea leaves. The tea is said to enhance the complexion.
In Asia rice wine is often flavoured with Osmanthus flowers and traditionally drunk during autumn festivals.