Sea Buckthorn, or Hippophae rhamnoides, is a wonder in the landscape I call home. This is a plant that grows with profuse creativity. It thrives in poor soils while fixing Nitrogen, has taste bursting berries full of antioxidants and bioflavonoids, and is extremely cold hardy to zone 3. This shrub has so much potential for our health, our landscapes, and food security as a whole.
Seaberries are considered adaptogens. Adaptogens are a group of plants or mushrooms that help the body to better adapt to stressors that occur in the mental and physical realms. They’re also known to enhance overall vitality of the body and immune system.
Back in the 1970’s, the Soviet Union experimented with giving dosages of adaptogenic herbs for Olympic Russian athletes, military workers, and astronauts. They found that plants like Sea Buckthorn augmented them with more exuberance and energy. They were able to work out longer and harder, and push their bodies to new extremes.
In the Environment
This same adaptogenic quality possessed by Sea Buckthorn is paralleled in the landscape. They have an incredible ability to grow in many adverse conditions. In soils that many plants would suffer in, Sea Buckthorn thrives.
Desertification, high levels of salinity and drought. Sea berries are an epicenter of solutions to these harsh conditions. This shrub doesn’t just tolerate nutrient poor soils. It gifts the soil by fixing Nitrogen, one of the most important nutrients for plant growth.
It is considered a soil stabilizer and provides great sanctity to wildlife. It has very little insect pressure, and disease issues. In addition to that, deer pressure is a non issue because they are unable to browse on their fruits because of their thorns.
Their aggressive root systems are determined and tenacious. They are able to live a full life regardless of the conditions and this speaks of their power and potential. As harsher weather patterns emerge on plant life and ecosystems, Sea Buckthorn will undoubtedly prosper.
Growing Sea Buckthorn
Plant them in full sun in virtually any soil type excluding wet soil that doesn’t drain. And even in this case you can create a mound above the wet soil and plant on top of the mound. These plants will get quite large, up to 20 ft. They are great planted as a living wall, a wind break, or to enclose a space.
Sea Buckthorn is dioecious meaning the male and the female reproductive organs are on separate plants. Plant 1 male for every 5 females to ensure cross pollination and lots of fruit!
When they are very young, rabbits love to chew on their new growth. Protect them by encircling the plant with chicken wire, or hardware cloth for the first couple years of their growth to protect them from wildlife.
Cooking, Nutrition, and Culinary/Herbal Uses
The flavour of a Seaberry is very uplifting. It tastes of citrus, tangerines, and beautiful berries all at once. I feel the sun in them. The pulp of the berries themselves contain high levels of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. These high levels of fatty acids are very uncommon to find in any fruit, which is a testament to their unique nutritional content.
Their high levels of antioxidants, including phenolic compounds and flavonoids, may protect human cells from oxidative damage that can lead to cancerous cells. It has also been recognized for its potential in lowering cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar. A lot of research says that further studies are necessary, but so far many promising medicinal benefits have been recognized.
The berries are so tasty in an oxymel, which is a beverage consisting of honey, vinegar, and the juice of the berries. I learned this from the book The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk. This recipe provides you with a shelf stable way of preserving the berries that has the added nutritional powerhouses honey and vinegar mixed in.
The leaves are also used in tea, as they have many medicinal benefits. They are known to have anti-inflammatory qualities that may help with a number of diseases associated with inflammation, and can boost the immune system. The nutrient dense leaves should be harvested, from the male shrub only, during late June and mid July, so as not to interfere with the fruit set on the female shrub.
I made a tasty sangria this summer with white wine, Basil leaves I mashed up in a mortar and pestle, Calendula flowers, and Sea berries. The berries freeze well and can be added to smoothies, jellies, and any compote you dream of making.
Giving Back; How to Propagate
Propagating Sea Buckthorn is one of the best ways to give back to these beautiful plants. Growing them can perpetuate their gifts throughout your world. The best way to propagate Seaberry is with seeds. They are relatively inexpensive and you can produce a lot of plants. The seeds can be stored for 3 years before losing viability. The great thing is that these plants produce a lot of berries and a lot of seeds.
Sea Buckthorn seeds have to undergo a period of cold which is called stratification in order to germinate. You basically store the seeds in a plastic bag full of moist sand and put them in the veggie crisper for 30-60 days. Sow in a potting mix with half sand in pots and place in as sunny of a spot as you have. Ligtly cover the seeds with the soil.
Ensure the soil stays moist as mist every day. They will germinate within a few weeks. Continue growing them indoors and then harden them off by placing them outside during the day for a week, and then taking them indoors at night before finally planting them out into the landscape. Make sure that the temperatures are above freezing while you harden them off as they are just little babies.
Propagate through Softwood Cuttings
There have been a lot of efforts to propagate Sea Buckthorn with hardwood cuttings, which can be really difficult because they often do not root. However, you can have much more success with taking softwood cuttings in late summer time which is the new growth of the plant. You essentially prune off stems of new growth from the current year about a foot long and drop them in a bucket full of water in a shady area.
Change the water every single day, or you can add in a bubbler to aerate the water continuously. A really interesting method is to take softwood cuttings of Willow, Salix species and to root those in the same water while rooting the Sea berries.
I discovered this technique through this great YouTube channel called Edible Acres. Lots of great info presented with detail. Willow roots very easily and helps other species around it to root as well. For approximately two weeks, allow the cuttings to root in the shade within the bucket.
After they’ve rooted, remove all of the leaves except for a 3-4 on the top of the cutting. Add them into a garden bed that has been cut with a lot of sand. I would recommend sand, although perlite is a good option because it is often mined and extracted from areas which causes a lot of environmental disturbance.
It is much more sustainable to hit up a nearby sandy beach or area with lots of sand. The point is to add the cuttings into a garden bed that will drain really quickly. This is so that the cuttings get enough moisture without rotting.
Add a shade cloth over the garden bed to block out the intense heat of the sun. When it comes to softwood cuttings, it is better to place them into the shade until they are well rooted. You’ll want to water them every day and try to find the sweet spot between not completely saturating them and keeping them consistently moist. It is a fine balance.
It is even better if you can use a mist setting on your garden hose, as the finer particles of water will be much more gentle on the cuttings. This can also be done with trays of potting soil mixed with lots of sand in the same way.
Sea Buckthorn is a really great plant to have in your life and growing it will create a lot of beautiful opportunities in the piece of land you call home. This plant really adapts to the big picture of things, and you can rest knowing that it knows how to care for itself and the land you plant it in. It isn’t a plant you have to worry about at all. This bright, sun filled, fruiting shrub is a powerful ally in health, our home gardens, and food systems of the future.
- Falk, B. (2013) The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Chelsea Green Publishing. Vermont
- Jacke, D and Toensmeier E. (2005). Edible Forest Gardens Volumes 1 and 2. Chelsea Green Publishing.
- Winston, D and Maimes S. (2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief