| Superfruit Seabuckthorn: Tropical Tangy Fruit Sensation Hits the Prairies!
by Betty Forbes
Used for centuries in many parts of the world, the Western Hemisphere is just catching up with the news of this amazingly beautiful tree with all its remarkable health-bearing properties! Depending on where you come from, it goes by many names and spellings: seabuckthorn, sea buckthorn, sea berry, argousier, star-bu, swallowthorn, Siberian pineapple, sanddorn...not to be confused with buckthorn which is characterized as an invasive species with many different characteristics and not related in any way to seabuckthorn.
According to legend, seabuckthorn leaves were the preferred food of Pegasus, Greek mythology’s flying horse. Genghis Khan is said to have fed the berries to his men and the leaves to his horses before they went into battle. Horses would be healthy and have shiny coats. In fact, a botanical translation for part of its Latin name “Hippophae” literally means “shiny horse.” Tibetan medicinal texts from as early as 600 A.D. refer to the herbal remedies made of seabuckthorn for skin and digestive disorders.
Recent applications have been diverse, including drinks for athletes in the Olympics, salves to prevent radiation damage for cosmonauts, shampoos, skin care, and many food items. In Russia, after the disaster in Chernobyl, seabuckthorn oil was used to treat burn victims. In foods, seabuckthorn berry use is limited by imagination only. It has a tropical tangy flavour which chefs love to incorporate in sauces, vinaigrettes, marinades, juices, sorbets, ice cream, fruit snacks, jams, chutneys, cakes, chocolate fillings, cereals, nutritional bars, muffins, crisps, tarts, yogurt, and confections. It makes a zesty wine or liqueur. Check out the new seabuckthorn beers coming on stream by local micro-breweries.
You will often see seabuckthorn called a superfruit because it contains up to 190 bioactive chemicals including vitamins C, E, K, beta carotene, unsaturated fatty acids, essential amino acids, and flavonoids in the berries and seeds. Even the bark has been used in pharmaceuticals. Eat eight small berries and you have the equivalent vitamin C of eating an entire orange! Seabuckthorn has 28 trace elements including magnesium, calcium, and zinc. Inside the seed, you will find an almost perfect ratio of omega 3 and 6 along with vitamin E, which is why you find it in many skin care products, as well as nutraceuticals. The pulp has significant amounts of omega 7. Few plants have this component, which is why you don’t hear of it. Omega 7 has been shown to help the mucous linings of the body. If you think of your digestive system, it is made up entirely of mucous linings. On the market, you will find encapsulated oil from seabuckthorn for dry eyes. In clinical trials, it was found that using the oil was more effective than medication for treating ovary lining issues. Phytosterols, found in both the pulp and seed of the berry, are well-known for their cholesterol lowering activity. Of significance is the amount of β-sitosterol in seabuckthorn.
A tea containing seabuckthorn leaves is used as a source of vitamins, antioxidants, protein building blocks (amino acids), fatty acids, and minerals. A mild flavour, the tea has up to double the amount of antioxidants of green tea and no caffeine. It does wonderfully in an iced tea for children in the summer, just add a little lemon and honey! The Department of Defence in India has committed to using seabuckthorn leaves not only in tea but in baking for their army. In clinical trials, they discovered the leaves reduced the stress levels and recovery time of soldiers working at high altitudes and low temperatures. In Russia, the dried leaves are encapsulated to create “Hiporamin” that has been shown to be antiviral and is used to help patients recover after surgery.
One would need to write a book on the world-wide research that shows the wide range of conditions that have been treated with seabuckthorn. In fact, two Canadians, Dr. Thomas Li and Dr. Thomas Beveridge who wrote Sea Buckthorn: A New Medicinal and Nutritional Botanical, have done just that! They discuss clinical trials using seabuckthorn for preventing and/or treating dermatitis, psoriasis, ulcers, arthritis, inflammation, diarrhea, colitis, and macular degeneration. In India and Tibet, it has been added to prescriptions in pulmonary, gastrointestinal, cardiac, blood, and metabolic disorders. Seabuckthorn has long been used for relieving coughs, expelling phlegm, improving digestion, promoting blood circulation, and relieving abdominal pain. And something we all want to read about is the anti-aging properties of seabuckthorn!
Where does it grow? It may very well be in your backyard! Grown around the world, you will find it by the ocean in Wales, in Siberia, Romania, Germany, at the base of the Himalayas in India, in Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. Historically, on the Prairies, it has been used as a shelterbelt, but after extensive breeding of nine cultivars from around the world, Indian Head and Summerland came up with the first Canadian variety named Indian Summer that became the first seabuckthorn plants used in orchards. In cities like Saskatoon, seabuckthorn has been used as an ornamental in most of its parks and downtown boulevards, and in towns like Kamsack where it is planted in its orchard. Because of its ability to rapidly develop an extensive root system, it has been planted in China to prevent erosion.
What does it look like? You can’t miss it. Typically the berries are bright orange, but there are cultivars with yellow and those with red berries. They are about the size of a large Saskatoon berry. The native plant, buffaloberry, is in the same family but always has red berries only, and is shorter than a seabuckthorn plant and much thornier.
You will rarely have seabuckthorn as a u-pick. Thorns can be an inch and a quarter long, so protective gear is important. Often the branches are cut with berries on them and immediately put into a freezer overnight. At –30ºC degrees, the berries will usually freeze overnight if there is enough air flow. Then the branches can be tapped so that the berries can fall off. But, of course, then comes the job of separating the berries from the debris.
How can you grow your own seabuckthorn? You can grow it from seed, but that is not the ideal way unless you have a lot of land. You don’t know what sex the plant is and you won’t know for three to four years. The males are the pollinators and they can be used for their leaves, and the females bear fruit. When the plants have berries, you know those are the females. Nor do seeds necessarily have the same characteristics as the parent plant. One male plant is required for pollinating every five to eight female plants. Seabuckthorn is easy to grow, but it spreads like raspberries, so your neighbours might not like you! However, if you share some of the berries or leaves with them and they see some health improvements, they will probably forgive you.
2/3 cup pineapple chunks
1/3 ripe banana
1/3 cup diced ripe mango
1/3 cup seabuckthorn berries
1 tablespoon raw honey or agave
1/2 cup coconut water
Blend until smooth.
Planted by Betty Forbes and her family, they manage an organically certified seabuckthorn orchard near the village of Veregin, SK. She markets the berries and leaves to restaurants. Berries and leaves along with value-added products such as vinegar, jams, syrups, fruit leather, gelato, and drinks are sold at specialty stores under the brand name “nvigorate.” Betty can be found at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market on weekends. She organizes Seabuckthorn Days to be held September 15 and 16 this year at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, which will feature guest speakers and a chef cook-off. To contact Betty, call (306) 955-2319, email email@example.com, and visit www.nvigorate.ca.