Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What is Sea Buckthorn?

I was thinking as the pageviews approach 100,000 and there are more and more visitors each day seeking out information on Sea Buckthorn, I would like to take a few minutes to review some key facts about the plant.  But first a very brief bit of background about Foxgreen Farm and the new jiovi.

Tom (me) purchased a good bit of land in central Maine about 14 years ago.  The area is isolated, quiet, and, on a overcast night with a new moon, so dark you cannot see your hand in front of your face with your eyes wide open.  I have found that being in a place so natural for an extended period of time, the world doesn't seem so far away as you might think.  We don't realize how much we give up in order to have so much stuff.  The absence of television, traffic noise, and street lights doesn't limit but expands my perception of what the earth I live on has to offer.  Smells, wind, and sounds, oh the sounds, are normalized the way I believe humans nearly always perceived and were built to interpret.  If everyone had a couple of weeks (or more!) to detox from the modern world, they, like me, would find that there is little need for the weather forecast when the sound, direction, and feel of the wind is dead-on accurate as a predictor.  Mice walking can be heard.  Larger animals can be discovered with a nuanced change noticed by the nose below your eyes. An oh, there is so much more....  Sea buckthorn came into the picture a little over four years ago when I was looking for a hardy plant for the conditions in central Maine.  I obtained some seeds from Lithuania and the rest is chronicled within the posts in this blog.
Tom and Craig's daughter making the snow angles after the snowmobile got stuck.

Craig (the very good friend I mentioned the last post) has been planning on living off the grid, in a cabin, in the woods, for as long as he can remember.  For the last 10 years he has looked for a piece of remote land, researched of grid systems and learned about the pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle.  Craig purchased a large piece of property a little less than a mile away, as the crow flies, from my cabin. We have become soul-mates of sorts and will be engaged  for a long time connecting the wilderness, ourselves, and others in a new pre-oil agroecology.  Sea buckthorn may be a cornerstone, and we promise, as we build this newer way of living, to experiment and explore, share and invite, smile and embrace, and support each other, the land, and we invite you to come along with us.

A Little History and Background about Sea Buckthorn
The common sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), is by far the most widespread of the species in the genus Elaeagnaceae.  It has eight subspecies extending from the Atlantic coasts of Europe to northwestern China.  In western Europe, it is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray from the ocean and the salty soil does not bother it.  There is some concern in western Europe the plant is invasive.  I say no.  There are some control measures but the plant retains the soil and provides habitat for a variety of other species.  In central Asia it is more widespread.  The plant does not tolerate shady conditions and is found in subalpine areas, as well as, above the tree-line.  It is drought tolerant.  There are species which reach as large as 25 feet and others which are small shrubs.   In China the sea buckthorn was used more than 1200 years ago for the production of medicine and documented (recently again here) in Europe in the 1500's for medicine against diseases like fever, purging of angry moods, and stomach pain.  Craig has found, in the first ever research based cookbook on cavemen and vikings, seabuckthorn was mixed with wild apples and may have been served with salted and dried sheep's ribs steamed over birch branches and a barley-lentil pot with blubber.   The book is currently unavailable on Amazon but you can get the author's email on the Danish site Communicating Culture.  
The Taste
The taste of the orange fruits is sourish.  I find the juice needs only a slight bit of sweetening for it to be delicious.  In a smoothie, a banana or other sweet fruit does the trick.  It can be used in a variety of preparations in the kitchen.  Savory, as in sauce for duck or dressing on salads.  Sweet as in jams, and baked goods, chocolate.  Simple drinks with milk or keifer and honey or a favorite berry preserve are very tasty and healthy.
They are also fine in spiced snaps and lot of other libations.  Many of these drinks can be found on the recipe page.
For the Body 
New research supports the historical claims of a calming effect of sea buckthorn and its clinical benefits in mental health therapies.  (Oral Supplementation of Sea Buckthorn- PDF)  Sea buckthorn has over 190 bioactive compounds, I review many of them (In all things in nature, there is something marvelous.)   Seaberry supplementation or external applications (creams, soaps, and lotions) have proven scientific benefits for an array of skin problems like rosacea, eczema etc.  In a nutshell, the anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant qualities rank sea buckthorn near the top of nutraceutical and food medicine lists.
The Plant
Seabuckthorn ( Hippophae rhamnoides ) is a bush or shrub which is extremely hardy and thrives well in infertile soil.   This is possible because it has a coexistence with actinomyces fungi and frankia bacteria.  These fungi and bacteria work together both inside and outside of the root system of the plant binding free nitrogen from the air.  This means the bush can survive in the most desolate of places as long as there is enough of the little water it needs and has tons of sun.  The plant flowers most commonly in April and they are not easily visible. (See Do I have a male or female plant?)  Hippophae rhamnoides needs both male and female flowers in order to make fruit.  These do not occur on the same plant although there are some experiments with grafting male scions onto female plants and visa versa.  As of yet, I have not obtained any results to pass along to you regarding these tests.  In August and September the bush will show a lot of orange to yellow/orange fruit.  the berries are extremely high in vitamin C, A, B, E and P.  They contain an array of Omega oils and dietary fibers.
Sea buckthorn has narrow shining leaves with silver undersides.  With lots of sun and left unchecked, it can form thick thorny thickets which are a paradise for birds as a nesting area.  There are only a few species of birds which will eat the berries as a less favored winter resource.   The plant is also very useful in shelterbelts and for beach and slope soil stabilization.
More for the Body
Different parts of sea buckthorn have been used as traditional medicine as therapies for diseases.  Most of this knowledge is not referenced outside Asia (that, however is changing quickly).  So lets call these next examples "Folk Medicine".  China and other mainland regions of Asia have used sea buckthorn as an herbal remedy for centuries to relieve cough, aid digestion, invigorate blood circulation and alleviate pain.  Bark and leaves may be used to treat diarrhea and dermatological disorders.   Berry oil, taken either orally or applied topically, may be used as a skin softener.  For its hemostatic and anti-inflammatory effects, the berries themselves are added to medications used for pulmonary, gastrointestinal, cardiac, blood and metabolic disorders (in Indian, Chinese and Tibetan medicines).  Sea buckthorn components have potential as an anticarcinogenic
More common daily uses
When the berries are pressed, the resulting sea buckthorn juice separates into three layers.  The top is a thick, orange cream.  The middle is a layer containing a high concentration of saturated and polyunsaturated fats.  The bottom layer is sediment and juice.  Sea buckthorn can be used to make pies, jams, lotions, beer, and liquors.  In Finland, it is used as a nutritional ingredient in baby food.  The high acidity is easily overcome by diluting with water and sweetening to taste.  Sea buckthorn leaves can be made into teas.
A really big thank to Craig for doing the additional research for this post-- Your the best!


  1. Very interesting, informative and well written post, Tom. I see your Sea Buckthorn posts on Facebook frequently and have wondered what exactly they are.

    Your description and feelings of the area of land you bought in central Maine are very similar to my feelings when I stayed with my cousin in Sweden. She lives out in the country, on the outskirts of a village named Mellerud, and it is just about one of the most peaceful places I've ever stayed at. There were no sounds of cars going by. There were no sirens going by nor shots going off in the distance. The only sounds there were was the train going by as it went to or from Stockholm and occasional tractor (either my cousin's or her neighbor's). It was so peaceful you could just sit down, lay your head back, and relax/hear yourself think without issue. I loved it.

    1. Hi Dave- you made my day and Craig's as well with your beautiful comment. We are just starting to add our "story", or incorporate it into the information here. He is an inspiration to me and I believe will make the whole project 2 times wonderful. This summer I hope to have some open houses at the farm for the general public, especially the permaculture group at the University of Maine-(very nice people) I hope you can find the time to visit then or any other time. I am not certain of the weeks I will be up there, but save to say, I will be the majority of the summer. I still have to come home and report to work once in a while :-) . It is wonderful you have had a similar experience in a wonderful place. I wish that for everyone. --Tom

  2. Great site!!! Good luck with your Sea Buckthorn Project. I wish more people knew about this plant

    1. Thanks Doug! It has been a passion for a long time and I know Seabuckthorn will become a very important plant in the United States for many reasons. Not the least of which will be locally produced vitamin C and omega oils which will reduce the environmental impact of traditional sources and their respective processing and transportation requirements. Everyone should visit your blog too at http://www.gaiahealthblog.com/ awesome information!

  3. Nice Post Tom. I would love to come visit your farm sometime when i am up visiting our 10 year old food forest in Greenbush and friends in Passadumkeag. We are creating an intensive agroforestry farm in Belfast and we have collected a couple dozen cultivars of Seaberry and seedlings so far and hope to grow more from varying germplasm sources to increase our genetic diversity. Great stuff Tom!! -Tyler @dynamicfarmme

    1. Hello and Thanks - Visiting would be great. When you are going to be in the area, send a message through one of our Facebook pages. (Farmstand) https://www.facebook.com/liveanewway/ or (Farm) https://www.facebook.com/foxgreenfarm/