Sea Buckthorn and its Super Berries
Updated: May 21
Sea buckthorn, scientifically known as Hippophae rhamnoides, is a deciduous shrub that is native to Europe and Asia. It is renowned for its bright orange berries that grow in clusters and are packed with nutrients. Sea buckthorn has a long history of use in traditional medicine and is increasingly gaining popularity for its health benefits and culinary uses.
Sea Buckthorn Identification
Sea buckthorn is a thorny shrub that typically grows up to 3 metres in height. It has narrow, silver-grey leaves that are lance-shaped and alternate on the stems. The shrub produces small, yellow flowers in the spring, which develop into clusters of orange berries in the late summer or early autumn. The berries are about the size of a pea and have a distinctive tart smell. Sea buckthorn can easily be identified based on its distinctive features.
Here's a guide to help you identify sea buckthorn:
Size and Growth Habit:
Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 10 feet in height. It has a dense and bushy growth habit with multiple branches spreading outward.
The leaves of sea buckthorn are narrow and elongated, measuring around 3 to 8 centimetres (1 to 3 inches) in length. They are alternate, meaning they grow singly along the stems rather than in pairs or clusters. The leaves have a silvery-grey colour and are lance-shaped with a slight curve.
Sea buckthorn is known for its thorny branches. The thorns are sharp and can be quite long, ranging from 1 to 5 centimetres (0.4 to 2 inches) in length. They can be found along the stems and branches.
In the spring, sea buckthorn produces small, inconspicuous flowers. The flowers are yellowish and are arranged in clusters. They are not particularly showy but can be observed closely to identify the shrub.
One of the key features of sea buckthorn is its bright orange berries. The berries are small and round, measuring about 6 to 9 millimetres (0.2 to 0.4 inches) in diameter. They grow in clusters and have a tart smell. When fully ripe, the berries are juicy and soft.
Sea buckthorn is typically found in coastal areas, dunes, and along riverbanks. It can also grow in sandy and rocky soils, as well as dry, nutrient-poor soils. It is adaptable to various environments and can tolerate cold temperatures.
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Does Sea Buckthorn grow in the UK?
Sea buckthorn is distributed in various parts of the United Kingdom. While it is not native to the UK, it has been introduced and naturalised in certain areas. Here is a general overview of sea buckthorn distribution in the UK:
Sea buckthorn is commonly found along the coastlines of the UK, particularly in coastal areas of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England. It thrives in the sandy and rocky soils of coastal dunes and cliffs.
East and Southeast England:
Sea buckthorn can be found in parts of East Anglia and along the southeast coast of England. It is often planted in coastal reclamation and erosion control projects.
Sea buckthorn is known to grow in certain coastal areas of Wales, particularly along the western coast and in Pembrokeshire.
In Scotland, sea buckthorn can be found along the coastlines of the Highlands and some islands, such as Orkney and Shetland. It is more prevalent in the northern parts of Scotland.
Sea buckthorn is distributed along the coastlines of Northern Ireland, including areas such as the Causeway Coast and County Down.
It's important to note that sea buckthorn can also be found in other parts of the UK, such as in gardens, parks, and horticultural plantations. However, its presence may vary, and it is more commonly associated with coastal regions.
Can you eat Sea Buckthorn?
The berries of sea buckthorn are edible, highly nutritious and have been used for culinary purposes for centuries. They are rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. However, it's important to note that sea buckthorn berries are quite tart, and many people find them too sour to eat raw. They are often processed or cooked before consumption to balance their flavour.
Sea buckthorn berries can be used in various culinary applications, including:
Juices and Beverages:
The berries can be pressed to extract their juice, which is commonly consumed on its own or used as a base for drinks, smoothies, cocktails, or teas. The tartness of the berries adds a refreshing tangy flavour to these beverages.
Jams, Jellies, and Sauces:
Sea buckthorn berries can be cooked down with sugar to make delicious jams, jellies, and sauces. The high pectin content in the berries helps to achieve a good gel consistency when making preserves.
Desserts and in Baking:
Sea buckthorn berries can be used in desserts like pies, tarts, and cakes. They can be incorporated into fillings, sauces, or used as a topping. The berries' tangy flavour can provide a unique twist to traditional dessert recipes.
Condiments and Dressings:
Sea buckthorn berries can be processed into condiments and dressings. For example, they can be made into a tangy sea buckthorn ketchup or a zesty salad dressing by combining them with other ingredients like vinegar, oil, and spices.
Ice Cream and Sorbets:
Sea buckthorn berries can be pureed and added to ice cream or sorbet mixtures to create a tangy and refreshing frozen treat.
Before consuming sea buckthorn berries, ensure that they are fully ripe and have been properly washed. The thorns on the shrub can be sharp, so be cautious when harvesting the berries.
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What do Sea Buckthorn Berries Taste like?
Sea buckthorn berries have a distinct and unique taste. They are known for their tartness and acidity, with a tangy and zesty flavour profile. The taste can be described as a combination of citrusy notes, similar to a blend of orange and lemon, with hints of sweetness. The tartness is often the dominant characteristic, giving the berries a refreshing and slightly astringent quality. Some people also detect a subtle earthy undertone in the flavour. The taste of sea buckthorn berries can vary slightly depending on the ripeness of the berries and the specific variety of sea buckthorn.
Sea Buckthorn Health Benefits
One of the most notable qualities of sea buckthorn is its nutritional profile. The berries are rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, antioxidants, essential fatty acids (including omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, and omega-9), and other beneficial compounds. They are also a good source of carotenoids, flavonoids, and minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Due to its exceptional nutritional content, sea buckthorn has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It is believed to possess various health benefits, including boosting the immune system, promoting skin health, aiding digestion, and reducing inflammation. Its high antioxidant content is thought to help protect against oxidative stress and support overall well-being.
In addition to its medicinal uses, sea buckthorn is increasingly utilised in the culinary world. The berries are commonly processed into juices, jams, jellies, sauces, and desserts. They can also be incorporated into smoothies, teas, and alcoholic beverages. While the berries are tart and somewhat challenging to eat raw, they add a vibrant tanginess and nutritional value to various culinary creations.
Furthermore, sea buckthorn oil is extracted from the berries or seeds and is used in cosmetic and skincare products. It is known for its moisturising, rejuvenating, and anti-aging properties, making it a popular ingredient in creams, serums, and lotions.
Foraging Sea Buckthorn
Foraging sea buckthorn berries can be a rewarding experience, but it's important to exercise caution and follow some guidelines to ensure safe and sustainable foraging. Here are some tips for foraging sea buckthorn:
Learn to identify sea buckthorn correctly. Look for its thorny branches, silver-grey lance-shaped leaves, small yellow flowers, and clusters of orange berries.
Harvest the berries when they are fully ripe, usually in late summer or early autumn. Ripe berries are soft, juicy, and have a bright orange colour.
Look for sea buckthorn shrubs in coastal areas, dunes, riverbanks, or other habitats where they are known to grow.
Seek permission from the landowner or relevant authorities if you're foraging on private land or protected areas.
Respect the environment and only harvest a small portion of the berries, leaving enough for wildlife and other foragers.
Wear protective clothing like gloves and long sleeves to avoid thorn injuries.
Gently pull the berries off the branches or use scissors or pruners to cut the clusters.
Remove any leaves, twigs, or debris from the harvested berries.
Store the berries in a cool, dry place or refrigerate them if you're not using them immediately. Freezing is another option for longer-term storage.
Make swift work of picking wild berries with the best berry pickers.
Sea Buckthorn Recipes
Sea buckthorn has vibrant orange berries and their tangy flavour make it a distinctive and delicious ingredient. These are just a few examples of how you can incorporate sea buckthorn into your recipes. Experiment and get creative with sea buckthorn in various dishes, desserts, and beverages to enjoy its unique tangy flavour and nutritional benefits.
Sea Buckthorn Smoothie
200g sea buckthorn berries
250g Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
250g almond milk (or any preferred milk)
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
Taste and adjust sweetness by adding honey if desired.
Pour into glasses and enjoy a tangy and nutritious sea buckthorn smoothie.
Sea Buckthorn Jam
300g sea buckthorn berries
Juice of 1 lemon
Rinse the sea buckthorn berries and remove any stems or leaves.
In a saucepan, combine the berries, sugar, and lemon juice.
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries burst and the mixture thickens to a jam-like consistency (about 15-20 minutes).
Remove from heat and let it cool.
Transfer the jam into sterilised jars and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Spread the sea buckthorn jam on toast, scones, or use it as a topping for yogurt or desserts.
Sea Buckthorn Salad Dressing
60ml cup sea buckthorn juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together sea buckthorn juice, olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper until well combined.
Adjust the sweetness and seasoning to your taste.
Drizzle the dressing over your favourite salad or use it as a marinade for grilled vegetables or meats.
Sea Buckthorn Cheesecake
200g digestive biscuits (crumbs)
60ml melted butter
650g cream cheese, softened
60g sea buckthorn juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).
In a bowl, mix digestive biscuit crumbs and melted butter until combined.
Press the mixture into the bottom of a springform pan to form the crust.
In a separate bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, sea buckthorn juice, eggs, and vanilla extract until smooth.
Pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust in the pan.
Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the cheesecake is set in the centre.
Allow the cheesecake to cool, then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight before serving.
Sea buckthorn is a remarkable shrub that offers a multitude of benefits. From its vibrant orange berries rich in nutrients and antioxidants to its adaptability in coastal habitats, sea buckthorn has captured the attention of many foragers, culinary enthusiasts, and skincare aficionados. Whether enjoyed in recipes, incorporated into skincare products, or admired for its ecological contributions, sea buckthorn continues to impress with its tangy flavour, medicinal properties, and sustainable presence in nature. Its unique characteristics make it a truly remarkable plant that enriches both our palates and our well-being.
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