The sea buckthorns are deciduous shrubs in the genus Hippophae, family Elaeagnaceae, not to be confused with the buckthorns, genus Rhamnus, family Rhamnaceae (1).
There are six species and 12 subspecies native over a wide area of Europe and Asia (1). The common sea buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides is by far the most widespread of the species in the genus, ranging from the Atlantic coasts to Europe right across to northwestern China (1). In Europe it is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray off the sea prevents other larger plants from out-competing it; they are tolerant of salt in the air and soil, but demand full sunlight for good growth and do not tolerate shady conditions near larger trees (1).
Seabuckthorn is a dioecious species, meaning that the male and female flowers are on seperate trees (3). Pollination normally occurs by wind (3). It is an incredibly thorny shrub, with pale grey bark and long thorns, of up to 5 inches; normally it grows between two and four metres tall, about the same circumference (3). In China the shrub is used for erosion control, as not only has it a high tolerance for arid and wet soil conditions, fluctuations in temperature and a pH range from 5 to 9, it has an extensive root system which can penetrate to 3 metres and propagates by producing suckers from this root system (3). Seabuckthorn has also been used as an effective shelterbelt on the Canadian prairies; plantations also exist in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (3).
Nutritional and Medicinal Values
According to Russian and Chinese scientists, sea buckthorn contains 190 bio-active components; the oil is the best single source known to man for vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, unsaturated fatty acids, 18 essential amino acids, flavonoids and contains 11 out of 14 essential trace minerals, including calcium, iron, manganese, boron and silicon. (2). This history of sea buckthorn and its great medicinal and nutritional value can be traced back many centuries in Europe and Asia, however it has only recently come to the attention of the North Americans (2). The earliest mention of seabuckthorn was in the Tibetan medical classic "rGyud Bzi" in the eight century. Then in ancient Greece, the berries were fed to horses where it was found to improve their health and impart a gloss to their coat; the latter property explains the Latin name: Hippophae Rhamnoides - "bright shining horse" (2).
The berries have proven to be among the most nutritious fruits known (2). Traditionally used to stimulate digestion, sea buckthrn provides nutritional support for the circulatory system over longer use, due to the presence of flavonoids (2). It is also an excellent source of plant based polyunsaturated fatty acids, for maintaining good health and, normal growth and development; it's seed oil naturally provides a 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6; the berry contains more linolenic acid per equal serving size than any other fruit oil; it is also an excellent source of oleic acid, an essential fatty acid known to help reduce blood cholesterol levels (2).
Mark Blumenthal of the American Botanical Council stated:
"If there ever was a herb that could qualify for the next generation of herbal luminaries, I would nominate Seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)."
At last count, seabuckthorn contains over 190 nutritional compounds (3). The fruit, seeds and leaves contain an impressive array of antioxidant compounds (3). The concentrations of vitamin C in the berries reaches 2500mg/100g depending on the species; also a potent source of vitamin E, carotenoids, flavonoids, sterols including beta sitosterol, stanols, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and polar lipids (3). The leaves are an equally rich source of important antioxidants including beta carotene, vitamin E, flavonoids, catechins, elagic acid, ferulic acid, folic acid and significant values of calcium, magnesium and potassium (3). The dried leaves also provide an important source of protein at 24% (3).
In addition to its carotenoid and vitamin E content, the oil from the seabuckthorn berry contains on average 35% of the rare and valuable palmitoleic acid; this rare fatty acid is a component of skin fat and is known to support cell, tissue and wound healing (3). The seed oil is characterised by its high oleic acid content (17%) and its one-to-one ratio of omega 3 (alpha linolenic) and omega 6 (linoleic) at approximately 34% and 31% respectively (3). The relationship of equivalence between the two omegas is critical because they self-check each other in a delicate balance to regulate thousands of metabolic functions through prostaglandin pathways (3).
Until recently, most of the research into the medicinal, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical properties of seabuckthorn has originated in China and Russia where studies have been ongoing since the 1950's (3). Preparations from the fruit, seeds, leaves and bark of seabuckthorn have demonstrated great promise in the treatment of the mucous membranes including ulcers and gastro-intestinal disorders as well as vaginal problems (3)(4). Additional studies have shown that seabuckthorn oils and juice have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system and have a cholesterol lowering activity (3). Certain compounds in the bark and leaves are anti-carcinogenic and anti-tumoregenic (3).
The oils are effective in the treatment of burns, bedsores and such skin conditions as dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, acne, psoriasis and the effets of sun damage (3). The powerful syngeries and antioxidant properties of seabuckthorn fruit, leaves and oils support te immune system, eye health, are anti-senescent, reduce cholesterol, support cardiovascular health, muscle nourishment, strengthens cell walls, regulate endocrine function, regulate blood lipids, and have significant anti-inflammatory activity and pain reduction (3). It is generally accepted in the cosmetic industry that seabuckthorn oils have unique anti-aging properties and stimulate tissue regeneration (3)(4).
The seabuckthorn oil is the most marketable product from the plant; it is traditionally utilised to promote the healing of skin injuries, such as burns, sores, wounds, eczema and help improve conditions of mucous membranes, including ulcers, lesions, erosions (4). Due to the high content of nutrients essential for the metabolism of skin cells, seabuckthorn oil is applied to combat wrinkles, dryness and other symptoms of malnourished or prematurely aging skin (4).