Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hippophae rhamnoides - Sea Buckthorn

Hippophae rhamnoides - Sea Buckthorn also known as Sandthorn, Finbar, Seaberry, Sanddorn and Sallow Thorn.  The common name is from its habit of growing near the sea, and from the many spines or thorns that are reminiscent of some buckthorn species.  Its botanical genus name, Hippophae, literally means, "shiny horse", because the ancient Greeks fed it to their prize racehorses to keep them sleek and healthy.  Sea Buckthorn is not related to Buckthorn, they are two completely different plants.

Sea Buckthorn is a small tree with slender, willow-shaped, silvery-green leaves and sharp thorns that grows in Greece and Eastern Europe and eastwards to Russia, Siberia and Central Asia.  Its branches are heavily clustered with soft, juicy bright orange berries that mature in August and September and persist most of the winter.  

The plant is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The brownish male flowers produce wind-distributed pollen.  Plants typically grow 6½-13 feet in height, although some in China have reached 59 feet, and others grow no higher than 20 inches.  It is mainly known in North America as an attractive ornamental shrub.

The berries are round to almost egg-shaped, and up to 3/8 inch long. The fruit is usually orange, but yellow and red fruits also occur. Unlike the majority of fruits that fall away from the maternal plant at maturity, the Sea Buckthorn berries remain on the bushes all winter until eaten by birds. The fruits have a distinctive sourish taste and a unique aroma reminiscent of pineapple.

The plant grows naturally in sandy soil at an altitude of 4,000-14,000 feet in cold climates, though it can be cultivated at lower altitudes and into temperate zones. Recently it has been extensively planted across much of northern China, and in other countries, to prevent soil erosion and to serve as an economic resource for food and medicine products.

The Sea Buckthorn berry is featured in the classical medical texts and herbals of Dioscorides and Theophrastus, and even figures prominently in Tibetan Medicine.  Its traditional medicinal use centers on disorders of the skin and digestive tract; it's able to speed the healing and regeneration of the skin and digestive mucosa in inflammatory and ulcerative conditions.  Russian cosmonauts have used its oil for protection against radiation burns in space.  At the Seoul Olympic Games, the official sports drinks of the Chinese athletes were made from Sea Buckthorn berries.

A high-quality medical oil is produced from the fruit of Sea Buckthorn and used in the treatment of cardiac disorders.  Applied topically or externally, it speeds the healing of burns, cuts, ulcers and slow to heal wounds; restores and regenerates the gums in gingivitis; and also heals canker sores.  Internally, it's taken for various digestive complaints, like reflux esophagitis, acid reflux disease, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and ulcerative colitis. 

Biochemically, Sea Buckthorn is so rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that it could be called a vitamin pill in a berry.  In terms of vitamin C and flavonoid content, Sea Buckthorn is second only to Rose Hips and Acerola cherries.  The berries are also incredibly rich in vitamin A, carotenoids, essential fatty acids, vitamin E and other tocopherolsPhytosterols, along with the above fat soluble nutrients, help lower blood cholesterol, protect the heart, and stimulate the endocrine system.  Other vitamins include B1, B2, K and P.  Sea Buckthorn berries are also rich in minerals, including phosphorus, iron, manganese, boron, calcium and silicon.

Sea Buckthorn berries are an adaptogen, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, antiscorbutic, aperient, astringent tonic, cholagogue, hepatic, immunomodulatory, lipotropic, restorative, virilific and vulnerary.  They help in restoring and improving the eyesight, improving energy, vitality and resistance to stress. 

In respiratory and immune functions it improves resistance to colds and flu; lessens systemic inflammation and ulceration and improves health of the mucous membranes.  It  lowers blood cholesterol and protects the heart, improves digestive health, heals chronic gastric and duodenal ulcers, is a digestive stimulant and gentle aperient laxative in chronic constipation.  It is affective in impotence and premature ejaculation.  It speeds healing of wounds, bruises, ulcers, sores, protects against eczema, psoriasis, skin disorders, beautifies skin, protects against aging, and speeds healing of cuts and burns.

The fresh Sea Buckthorn berries are exceedingly sour and astringent; and so, they are prepared in various ways to make them more palatable.  The berries can be dried and powdered, and either taken by the spoonful and washed down with water, or mixed with honey to make a paste or electuary.  The juice of the fresh berries is usually mixed with sweeter fruit juices to make it more palatable.  The juice is used as a sweetener for herbal teas and makes pleasing sauces, jellies and marmalades.

When the berries are pressed, the resulting sea-buckthorn juice separates into three layers: on top is a thick, orange cream; in the middle, a layer containing Sea-Buckthorn's characteristic high content of saturated and polyunsaturated fats; and the bottom layer is sediment and juice.  Containing fat sources applicable for cosmetic purposes, the upper two layers can be processed for skin creams and liniments, whereas the bottom layer can be used for edible products like syrup.

People were aware of Sea Bucktorn's favorable effect on their health as far back as the Middle Ages when it was used as a blood-staunching healing agent.  In England in the 16th century the plant was used to make jam and also as a remedy against sea-sickness.  The first written documentation of Sea Buckthorn dates as early as the 8th century in a Tibetan book of healing arts called Sibu Yi Dian. Nearly a third of its pages are devoted to the revered holy fruit. 

The Greeks discovered it's healing powers as early as the 12th century when they observed that their sick and aged horses became strong and energetic again after being let loose in areas where the berry grew wild.  Genghis Khan powered his army and their horses on Sea Buckthorn for stamina and recovery from combat.  Legend has it that this berry was the preferred food of Pegasus, the flying horse, by which he became airborne.

Sow seeds in spring in a sunny position in a cold frame.  It usually germinates quickly but 3 months of cold stratification could improve the germination rate.  The seed can also be sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out in late spring into their permanent positions.

Sea Buckthorn will grow in any soil type so long as they are not too dry, but established plants are very drought resistant.  It requires a sunny position.  Male and female plants must be grown if seed is desired. The sexes of plants cannot be distinguished before flowering, but on flowering plants the buds of male plants in winter are conical and conspicuous while female buds are smaller and rounded.

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