Sea Buckthorn – a commercial crop for Chiloquin?

ChiloquinNews article Sep 2nd, 2013…

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), also known as Sea berry, Sanddorn or Siberian pineapple, grows naturally in China, Mongolia, Russia, and most parts of Northern Europe. Ancient Greek scholars wrote that the leaves and small branches were fed to horses to make their coats shiny. The Latin name was derived from Hippo (horse) and phaos (to shine). The medicinal value was recorded as early as the 8th century in the Tibetan medical classic rGyud Bzi, and it is also found in the Indian Materia Medica, and early Chinese formularies.

Hippophae rhamnoides

I got my first sea buckthorn plants about 10 years ago and planted them in Reno where they did quite well. When I moved up to Chiloquin I brought with me starts that I had made from runners and planted them here, where they have flourished. I think a rough estimate would be that this year I have about 60 lbs of berries on my one ‘Star of Altai’ female plant!

When I bought those original plants it was because I loved collecting unusual fruits and these were definite winners, making a delectable juice high in vitamin C. I knew they were popular in Europe, but there was not a whole lot of other information available about them. This week however, after giving a friend a taste of the juice and telling her to ‘google’ it to find the vitamin C content, I heard back from her that there was a huge amount of information about this fruit on the web. My curiosity piqued, I googled it too. Sometime in those intervening years, Sea buckthorn made ‘super fruit’ status. Dr. Oz had praised the sea buckthorn berry for its amazing weight loss properties!

There have been a number of fruits over the years, that have made ‘super fruit’ status, and when they do, the demand for them is tremendous. Those that come easily to mind are Pomegranate, Acai, Goji, and to some extent, Aronia. Many of these fruits require growing conditions that we can’t provide, but Sea buckthorn is perfect for the Chiloquin area.

It requires miserably cold winters (yes!), hot dry summers (yes!), sandy soil (yes!), wind (yes!), because it is wind pollinated and it will grow in alkaline soil (yes!). It can also tolerate salt spray, which, at least, we don’t have. It does not like shade so will not grow under other trees. Because it is wind pollinated, if there are no insects out when it flowers; no problem. And it does flower early. It is the first to leaf out in my garden, and takes the late spring freezes in stride. Every year the crop is huge, regardless of spring freezes. It takes me hours to pick the berries, and includes a few puncture wounds, and some interaction with earwigs, but it’s worth it.

Miniscule flowers in spring

Miniscule flowers in spring

become bright orange berries in late summer-early fall

become bright orange berries in late summer-early fall

A relative new-comer in the nutritional scene in the US, the sea buckthorn industry has been thriving in Russia since the 1940s when scientists there began investigating the biologically active substances found in the berries, leaves, and bark. These products were used by Russian cosmonauts both in their diets and as a cream for protection from cosmic radiation. Traditional uses in China date back many centuries but commercial production there is more recent. Since 1982 over 750,000 acres of sea buckthorn have been planted, and in addition, 150 processing factories have been established which produce over 200 products.

The plant is hardy, deciduous, dioecious (separate male and female plants), has narrow grey-green leaves and is covered with long, sharp thorns. It reaches 6-12 ft in height and bears bright orange berries in late summer/early fall. There are many varieties available now. You will need 1 male plant for every 8 or so female plants, and other than remembering which had fruit, the only time to tell the two apart is in early spring, when the new buds are quite different. The flowers are so small as to be almost invisible. Although considered to be drought resistant, some watering is required in summer when there is no rain at all. It rapidly develops an extensive root system and is an ideal plant for soil erosion control and land reclamation because of its ability to fix nitrogen. It also suckers profusely from that extensive root system and will spread to make a large thorny thicket. Few pests or diseases have been reported.

One male plant has become a thicket

One male plant has become a thicket

Sea buckthorn has been studied for orchard-type cultivation in Canada. Production problems are mostly harvest difficulties because the berries are so firmly attached to the branches and the thorns are sharp. Although it is reported that berries remain on the branches all winter because they are so firmly attached, and are not eaten by birds, this has not proved a problem to our robins, who in my yard, are able to very efficiently strip the branches of all berries long before winter sets in. It does however present enormous difficulties for commercial harvest and the total labor cost estimated for harvesting one sea buckthorn orchard of 8 acres was 58% of the total production costs over 10 years.

Despite this, sea buckthorn juices are hitting the market, and touted as a great way to get a huge load of highly protective factors – from antioxidant phenols, to vitamin A-producing carotenoids, and to a whole new class of healthy oils. Just when we are getting the hang of Omega 3’s and 6’s, along come the 7’s (palmitoleic acid). Both the fruit and the seeds contain oil. The fruit has most of the 7’s and the seeds the 3’s and 6’s. The fruit has high vitamin C content – about 15 times greater than oranges. The fruit also contains high amounts of carotenoids, vitamin E, amino acids, dietary minerals, β-sitosterol and polyphenols, mostly in the form of seven different flavonols.

On the health front there are many claims, though more validation is needed:

 *    It is thought that the Omega 7’s improve gastrointestinal health by enhancing digestive tissue, and contribute to better skin, hair and nails.  Much  of the activity of Omega 7 appears to be anti-inflammatory.

*     Russian animal research in the late 1990s showed significant improvements in all aspects of cardiovascular function in animals given sea buckthorn. This action was attributed to a high concentration of potent antioxidant phenols present throughout the fruit and seeds.

 *     In cosmetics, the oil is making its way into lotions, creams, facial scrubs and other unguents – some with very good success. There is good reason to believe that the oil enhances skin health and renewal.

 *    The oil may help treat atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema), according to a 1999 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. In tests on 49 people with atopic dermatitis, researchers observed significant improvement among those who took supplements containing sea buckthorn pulp oil every day for four months.

 *    The oil may promote wound healing when applied topically. In a 2009 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, scientists discovered that topically applied sea buckthorn seed oil helped speed up the healing of burn wounds in rats.

 *    The fruit may help keep blood sugar in check and protect against type 2 diabetes. In a small 2010 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study’s authors discovered that adding sea buckthorn berries to meals helped prevent a post-meal spike in blood sugar.

Sea buckthorn fruit can be used to make pies, jams, juice, fruit wines and liquors. I have made syrup, but mostly now I just make juice, since that can be made from the raw berries and none of those nutrients are lost though cooking. It is quite a delicious juice, with a flavor that is to me, reminiscent of passion fruit. The leaves also contain nutrients and bioactive substances. These include flavonoids, carotenoids, free and esterified sterols, triterpenols and isoprenols. Numerous products can be made from the dried leaves including teas. I use the leaves for tea, and though they don’t have a lot of flavor, they work very well in combination with lemon verbena leaves.

If you would like to try sea buckthorn plants, contact me through the ChiloquinNews and we can set up a mutually beneficial arrangement. You get plants, and I get some of those suckers removed 🙂

sea berry 5


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