Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Sea Buckthorn Primer

Sea Buckthorn Berries
We have many Sea buckthorn (Hippohae) shrubs growing in the hedgerow that borders our land.  Our current windbreak measures about 600m or nearly 2,000 feet for those who haven't been assimilated by the metric system yet.  Eventually, our goal is to expand our windbreak to over a kilometre in length, and we work on it, bit by bit, one tree at a time.  These photos were taken in the fall, when the berries were ripe for picking, but I thought I'd post them now, lest I let things slide another three years.  At least this way, if you want to get a few plants into the ground, now's the time.

Previous owners had planted these Sea buckthorn shrubs in the hedgerow, so we can't take credit for their avant-gardist planting philosophy.  These shrubs are commonly used to prevent soil erosion and typically do well in sandy soils, but I'm here to tell you they do very well in our clay soil also.

These shrubs are dioecious, meaning there are male and female shrubs.  The male shrubs have copper-coloured flowers, and the female plants produce masses of tart, orange berries that have 15 times more vitamin C than oranges.  The berries are also full of essential fatty acids and can be processed into oil and juice.  My mother made a syrup from the sea buckthorns last year, and she swears it helps against coughs and flu-like symptoms.

Sea Buckthorn flowers on a male plant
As research is done on the benefits of the sea buckthorn's oil, juice and pulp, the sea buckthorn shrub is enjoying increased visibility.  There are orchards popping up in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Quebec.  Juice is available commercially in Europe, and the Belgians created a sea buckthorn beer especially for the Finnish market.  The world's largest commercial producers are Russia and China.  In fact, Russian cosmonauts use sea buckthorn oil for protection from cosmic rays.  If this means I can stop wearing the tin foil dome on my head, well then, sign me up!  (Just kidding.  I want to make sure you're paying attention).

Birds enjoy the sea buckthorn shrubs, and many of them hold a variety of nests.  Predators such as raccoons stay away from the sea buckthorn, because, as the name implies, they are full of thorns as evidenced in the photos above.

It is these thorns that make picking the berries in late fall prohibitive.  It takes lots of patience to pick a few pounds, and commercial growers actually cut the entire branch off and freeze them, so they can shake the seeds of the branches with ease.  I'm not too convinced of the long-term viability of that concept, since you're always pruning back old growth.  I suppose time will tell.  At any rate, we're not interested in any commercial benefits, just happy to give away the odd plant or four to people who'd like to create a hedge, wind-break or prevent soil erosion along their shoreline.  Our shrubs create many suckers which are easily dug up and transplanted.  Every plant we have given away has flourished.

If you're interested in more information, some of the best on-line info I found was on the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture's website.

In the meantime, I've been religiously using sea buckthorn body oil from Weleda, and can't say enough good things about it.  A little bit goes a long way.  And if it can prevent harm from those cosmic rays, all the better.


Robin said...

I've been wanting to get a couple of those plants for a few years now. I've never actually tasted the fruit off of them though and I had no idea you could use them as a hedgerow.

Shim Farm said...

Think of the tartest thing you've ever eaten, then multiply it. It could take a layer of teeth enamel off, it's that sour. I have no clue how my mother choked down her syrup last winter LOL. More power to her!

The shrub itself makes a fabulous hedgerow. All those lovely thorns, I guess it all depends on what you're trying to keep out! I don't trim ours back because they don't really need it, but for a more dense hedge, it can be groomed a bit. I bet they'd do well in your climate, which is much more temperate than ours.

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