By Dr. Orna Izakson
Sea buckthorn, also called seaberry or, in Latin, Hippophae rhamnoides, is a popular nitrogen-fixing shrub in Permaculture circles. Tolerant of all sorts of extreme weather including drought and bitter cold, this east Asian plant is great for stabilizing soil and supporting its neighbors. The female plants produce tart, nutritious, bright-orange berries. Because the plants are either male or female (dioecious), you’ll need at least one boy if you want berries. Its Latin name, “Hippophae,” means “shiny horse,” a reference to the glossy coat horses get from eating the plant.
All the books say growing nitrogen fixers helps neighboring plants thrive, but seeing the effect first hand is a different thing entirely. Does growing beans really help the nearby cucumbers? Hard to say if you don’t have enough garden space to do a good test. Where I’ve really seen the effect is adjacent to my seaberries.
I originally planted three trees along my garden’s south fence, one cherry and two pawpaws (Asimina triloba). My male seaberry went in between the cherry and first pawpaw. The first three in the row have thrived, but the outermost pawpaw died after a couple of years. Now pawpaws are generally not self fertile, and once you’ve eaten a few you’ll always want more. So I’ve replanted a second pawpaw three times now and they never seem to take. Possibly it’s just the spot I’ve still got available for it, but I just haven’t been able to manage keeping a second pawpaw alive. Meanwhile, the original one has been fruiting moderately for several years. The sea buckthorn maybe a big part of the difference.
Although seaberries are technically shrubs, in a garden setting seaberries actually function as trees. In my garden, they’re taller than everything except the ancient apple and my two-story house. I have to prune my boy regularly to keep it from getting into overhead wires. My male also sends up suckers, but these have never become problematic. Sharing with friends every now and again keeps them well in line.
One down side: They are moderately thorny, and the thorns are very strong. There are fewer thorns on older growth, for instance the trunk. But be careful while pruning! A good pair of gloves will make you happy. Promise.
Permaculture charts often list seaberry as having medicinal properties, but what are they?
The story goes that seaberry juice was a staple in cold-war era Russia, when trade embargoes made orange juice unavailable. If that’s true, it’s a bit surprising their side didn’t win. Seaberry berries are high in several important nutrients, including 15 times the Vitamin C of oranges. (You’ll notice that any fruit high in Vitamin C is inevitably compared with oranges, and the oranges are inevitably found wanting. This makes me feel better when I get mopey about not being able to grow citrus.) The berries also rich in stress-busting nutrients, containing high levels of Vitamin E, some of the B vitamins, anti-inflammatory flavonoids and healthy oils.
The seed oil is increasingly popular now in high-end skin-care products, as it moderates inflammation, nourishes and regenerates the skin, and protects against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
This last point is especially important: Our bodies need sun to make Vitamin D, and our bodies need Vitamin D to support our immune systems, fight inflammation and protect against cancer.
In general, seaberry fruit speeds recovery from chemotherapy and radiation used in cancer treatment; helps improve heart function, reduces cholesterol and boosts circulation. The seed oil is traditionally used to treat stomach ulcers, normalizing acid and moderating inflammation.
Seaberry Leaves are touted as antiviral, and have been shown to inhibit Dengue virus in labs. They are significantly anti-inflammatory, with potential application specifically noted in arthritis.
A leaf decoction speeds skin healing after severe burns. It seems to increase enzymes in the skin that support regrowth and helps grow new blood vessels to nourish the new skin.
Another set of studies found the leaf decoction helpful to increase resistance to and recovery from stress. The leaves appear safe in high doses.
Ready to grow?
Check our links to mail-order plants for sources.