Photo by Getty Images/Elena Moskalenko
Many people are likely familiar with sea buckthorn berry (Hippophae rhamnoides) and seed oils as ingredients in body lotions, skin care creams, and lip balms, but they may not know that sea buckthorn is a useful and highly versatile culinary plant as well. The young leaves can be used fresh or dried in hot or iced tisanes. The berries can be pureed, juiced, dried, or used fresh in both savory and sweet dishes. The seeds are often powdered and used as a high-protein additive to food — especially smoothies and baked goods. Sea buckthorn berries have a unique citrusy flavor that’s slightly tart due to the presence of a small amount of oxalic acid (also found in rhubarb, sorrel, and spinach).
Sea buckthorn berries and seed oil are often considered a superfood due to their multiple health benefits. Studies have shown that consumption of the berries, chockful of vitamins B1, B2, C, and K, as well as folic acid, lycopene, lysine, and beta carotene, can help to reduce inflammation in the body, as well as boost the immune system. Flavonoids found in the leaves and fruit may improve cardiovascular health, strengthening the function of the capillaries and regulating blood pressure. Is your interest piqued? Find some simple, tasty recipes to get you started cooking with sea buckthorn, below.
Grow Your Own Sea Buckthorn Berries!
If you want to grow sea buckthorn in your garden so you have a supply of fresh berries, bear in mind that you’ll need a fair amount of space. The plants reach a height of 13 to 20 feet, with a spread of approximately 15 feet, but they have the propensity to sucker, and will colonize a large area over several decades. (You can control this behavior by removing unwanted suckers when they appear.) Fruit production requires separate male and female plants to be cultivated near each other. (One male acts as a pollinizer for up to seven females). Nurseries label the plants accordingly for ease of purchase.
Sea buckthorn has a thick, bushy growth habit. And, as you may suspect, the branches are covered with fierce spiny thorns. (Some cultivars are not as prickly as others.) Small, cream-colored flowers appear in early spring, and serve as excellent nectar sources for emerging pollinator insects, such as bees. The bright, juicy, round berries appear in August or September. Harvest the berries by hand (be sure to wear gloves). Pick them in the cool hours of the early morning. You may have to compete with birds for the harvest, and any berries that remain on the shrubs during winter will more than likely be consumed by hungry chickadees. A female shrub will reach peak fruit production within four years, and will generally yield anywhere from 6 to 11 pounds of berries per year.
Sea buckthorns are extremely hardy, capable of withstanding negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. Plant them in well-drained, sandy to loamy soil, in full sun. They’ll tolerate both drought and salt-spray when established. They’re slow and difficult to grow from seed; propagating them via softwood or root cuttings is more effective. Fortunately, the shrubs are fairly easy to find in nurseries and garden centers.
Process the berries for storage as soon as possible after picking them. If you can’t get to them right away, place them in the refrigerator. Heat will cause them to rapidly decompose. Use them within two days, if possible. Sea buckthorn berries can be frozen for up to 3 months: just destem them, wash them thoroughly, and pack them into freezer-safe plastic bags. There’s no need to thaw them before using them in recipes. The berries can also be dried at a low temperature in an oven or dehydrator.
Enjoy experimenting with this one-of-a-kind fruit in your cooking and baking — it could be good for your health, too!
Find Out More:
- Sea Buckthorn Berry Muffins
- Sea Buckthorn Berry Cashew Power Balls
- Sea Buckthorn Berry, Apple, and Mint Drink
- Quinoa Salad with Sea Buckthorn Berry Dressing
- Sea Buckthorn Berry and Mango Salsa Recipe
Sheryl Normandeau is a Master Gardener and writer from Calgary, Alberta. She grows mostly vegetables, but also plants perennial flowers, and always has a few projects in the works. Read more about her pursuits at Flowery Prose.