There is growing interest in the UK for the plant, whose berries are used in food and drink products, as well as natural cosmetics and pharmaceutical products in Asian countries and a growing list of other countries.
In 2009, David’s farm business (David is pictured above), JW & FD Eagle, joined the Incrops Enterprise hub, based at the University of East Anglia, on a study trip to the International Sea Buckthorn Conference in Belokurika in Siberia which was hosted by the Lisavenko Research institute for Horticulture for Siberia.
The Lisavenko Institute has been working with sea buckthorn since the 1930s and today has more than 200 varieties under evaluation, with more than 40 released for commercial use.
Following the visit, a collaborative agreement was formed with Lisavenko and since then plants have been imported annually for trials in East Anglia. There are now more than 5000 plants in the ground at Devereux Farm in north east Essex, representing 30 varieties from Germany, Finland, Latvia and Siberia.
Sea buckthorn is a perennial plant that grows wild on the coasts of the UK. It is distributed across Europe, northern and central Asia and is capable of living in extreme climates found more than 3 miles up in the Himalaya, on the steppes of Mongolia and Siberia, and even in arctic areas of Scandinavia.
David and Matt have been to annual international conferences in Siberia, India, Germany, Tibet and Finland to broaden their knowledge of the crop.
David has 5000 plants on about 8.5 acres at his 600 acre arable farm, which runs down to the sea walls next to the Hamford Water national nature reserve.
“Our sea walls are currently in good condition but the future may not be so certain. Developing a high value crop that requires a modest area diversifies but maintains the farm’s core agricultural business in an era when the risks of climate change are still difficult to evaluate,” he explained.
“The other factor that makes developing this new crop easier is that availability of specialist expertise in Europe where sea buckthorn has been grown for several decades.
“The reason for growing sea buckthorn is that the berry is used in a wide variety of product – food, drink, natural cosmetics, and nutraceutical products. It is a new ingredient with a unique taste that is high in vitamins; omega 3,6,7,9 fatty acids; and a complex of polyphenols that provides the health benefits that have been associated with sea buckthorn for centuries.”
There was rising demand for the crop in Europe, he said.
“This presents an enterprise with growth potential whereas our arable income is limited by area and market forces,” he said.
In 2012 the British group sponsored a meta-analysis carried out by the Medical Research Council in Cambridge into studies that show whether sea buckthorn offers benefit for cardio vascular disease,” he said.
“Both of us and members of our families have been taking sea buckthorn daily for since working with sea buckthorn in the form of oil capsules and juice as we notice it keeps winter ailments under control and generally helps to keep us fit and working.”
There are six species and 12 sub-species, meaning the plant is diverse in appearance and character, ranging from a dwarf shrub to an 18m tree. The berries that it produces range in colour but are typically orange and has around 190 different phytochemicals that are believed by some to offer health benefits.
Sea buckthorn is currently being grown commercially in over 30 countries with an established growers’ network across eastern and northern Europe. Berries are used in food and drink products, as well as natural cosmetics and pharmaceutical products in Asian countries.