In the early 1900s, Russian olive trees were introduced to North America to stabilize soil and provide windbreaks. They are now an invasive species that crowd out natives and suck up valuable water.

If you’ve decided to fell a tree, you may wonder if the Russian olive firewood is good to burn. This guide looks at whether it’s worth tossing in the fire so that you don’t waste time splitting it for no reason.

Does Russian olive make useful firewood?

Russian olive is a good choice of firewood for woodstoves, campfires, and open fireplaces. It is a dense hardwood providing above average heat that’s suitable for the coldest winters. The wood requires sufficient time to season, and mature logs may be difficult to split. Once dried, it will burn clean and provide slow-burning coals.

  • Produces good coals and burns clean.
  • Gives off long-lasting heat like oak.
  • Unseasoned wood smells unpleasant as it burns.
  • Thorny, tough wood makes splitting difficult.
An infographic showing olive firewood statistics.
Dashboard stats for olive firewood.

Olive firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Heat efficiency is well worth considering when looking at firewood to burn. Getting sufficient heat while using minimal wood is valuable, whether relaxing at home or huddling around a campfire.

At 23.0 million BTUs of heat per cord, Russian olive gives off moderate heat. It’s similar to black walnut and white ash but doesn’t rate as well as honeylocust, Osage orange, or beech.

Whatever temperatures you face, olive will keep you warm. It’s okay for use in the depths of winter, but this wood is super-dense and takes some effort to get started. A fast-lighting softwood kindling will help get the fire started much quicker.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of olive to various other common types of firewood. 

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
Rocky mountain juniper21.8
Black walnut22.2
Russian Olive23.0
White ash24.2
Black locust27.9
Gambel oak30.7

2. Smoke

Wood that gives off a lot of smoke causes sore, red eyes and isn’t enjoyable to sit next to. Well-seasoned olive burns clean and produces a light and fragrant smoke.

As with any wood, olive requires adequate seasoning before use. Green wood from the olive tree is high in water content, so it will smoke in the fire. Uncured wood is also inefficient as the fire wastes energy, evaporating moisture instead of heating the room.

3. Ease of splitting

Olive wood is a mixed bag when it’s time to start splitting. The branches are straight-grained and pop apart easily. But older trees have tough, stringy trunks that require much more work.

The tree’s crotch can be especially hard to split. In this area, several limbs come together into one knotted mess.

We recommend using a big splitting axe or maul that’s fit for purpose. Consider using a hydraulic log splitter if you’ve got a lot of wood to process.

Another challenge with Russian olive trees is the thorns that can cause nasty injuries. Take care working around them and always wear suitable boots and gloves. 

4. Sparks

Some wood gives off a lot of sparks in the fireplace. Some people find this unsettling, while popping embers can burn carpets and rugs. Russian olive produces very few sparks as it burns, so you can light the fire and relax.

For campfires, olive makes an excellent choice. Once burning, the only thing you’ll need to think about is finding the marshmallows.

Remember that fires can be unpredictable, so never leave them unattended outdoors. One random ember could quickly start an unwanted fire.

5. Aroma

As olive wood burns in the fire, it radiates a pleasant fragrance. Like other fruit trees, this firewood gives off a mild, sweet scent that many enjoy.

This wood is ideal used for cooking, adding delicious flavor whether you love to grill, spit roast, or smoke. Olive gives food a subtle flavor that’s fruity and slightly sweet.

The smoke from burning Russian olive pairs well with pork, lamb, seafood, poultry, pizzas, and vegetables. Mild food is best as it doesn’t overwhelm the subtle smoky taste.

If you want a stronger flavor, try combining olive with the punchy smoke flavor produced by hickory. The olive wood’s sweetness helps balance the slightly bitter hickory smoke.

Anyone that enjoys cooking with fire should check out these top types of wood for cooking. One of our favorite cooking woods must be peach.

Tip: Olive wood gives off a funky, unpleasant smell if it isn’t given enough seasoning.

6. Coaling

Coals produced by firewood impact how long it will burn before needing more wood added. Olive is a highly dense hardwood which makes it great for coaling. Toss in a large log; it’ll give off heat for much longer than options like pine.

Russian olive firewood leaves a lot of ashes in the fireplace once the fire burns out. That means extra work scooping it up and tossing it or scattering it over the garden.

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote is a tar-like black substance deposited inside chimneys as the fire burns. Some softwood varieties produce a lot, meaning you’ll need to clean the chimney more often.

Seasoned olive burns clean and leaves minimal creosote. No matter what firewood you choose, regular chimney maintenance is a good idea to reduce the chance of unwanted fires.

Mature Russian olive trees in a park
A grove of Russian olive trees.

How long does it take to season olive tree wood?

As with most dense hardwoods, seasoning olive firewood requires patience. Allow 18-24 months of seasoning time for olive firewood. You’ll get an even better fire leaving it for up to 3 years before use.

Seasoning time is reduced if the tree has been dead for months. They’ve had time to dry out, so seasoning may only require 12 months.

Tips for seasoning olive wood

A hot and dry climate will help speed up olive firewood seasoning. Speed up the drying time further by following these tips:

  • Create space: build stacks in rows with a 3-5″ gap between each to increase airflow.
  • Position well: face the stack towards the wind and avoid shady, damp areas.
  • Split the wood: splitting logs before drying them will increase the surface area exposed to wind and sunshine.
  • Raise the stacks: use pallets as a base to create airflow beneath the firewood.
  • Cover the wood: use a woodshed or cover with a tarp to protect the wood from the elements while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
A lone olive tree on a farm with sun setting in background
A lone olive tree on a farm.

Commonly asked questions

How do I identify olive firewood?

Olive firewood rounds have a yellowish brown or cream heartwood that tends to deepen in color with age. The wood’s grain may be straight, wavy, curly, wild, or interlocked.

When is the best time to fell olive trees for firewood?

Try to fell a Russian olive tree and split the wood between winter and early spring. At this time of year, there is lower moisture and sap content, resulting in quick-seasoning wood.

What is the best way to smoke olive wood chips?

To add a unique smoky flavor to food, place olive wood chips in a smoker box or wrap them in aluminum foil with a few holes, then position them over the heat source.

A vertical collage of various olive tree images

8 fast facts about olive trees

  1. The botanical name for the olive tree is Elaeagnus angustifolia. It is a part of the family Elaeagnaceae.
  2. The shrub can grow up to 30 feet in height.
  3. Other invasive olive trees are the Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and thorny olive (Elaeagnus pungens).
  4. Its wood is excellent for woodworking projects or turning.
  5. Other names for the Russian olive include oleaster, wild olive, or silver berry.
  6. The tree is a perennial deciduous that is native to Asia and Europe.
  7. Starting a fire with Russian olive can be challenging, so try to use softwood for kindling.
  8. The Russian olive tree has deep roots and can resprout from the root crown. Its ability to spread once established classify it as invasive in some states of the United States (source).

Summing up

Russian olive trees produce good firewood with a BTU heat rating of 23.0 million per cord. The wood is dense, like ironwood, meaning it burns slowly, and you won’t have to keep adding more to the fire. Russian olive burns clean, produces minimal creosote, and doesn’t spark and pop.

Take care when working with Russian olive, as it has thorns that can cause injuries. If it’s an old tree, the chances are high that splitting will be difficult. That means you’ll need a powerful maul or hydraulic splitter.

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