Again, another thanks to Connor for assembling this series:
Here is the last of four entries featuring a plant from the Global Facilitation Unit for Underutilized Species. Another four part series will be posted in the future. Photo courtesy of Paul Bordoni. Thanks again Hannes and Paul for all the information and photographs!
Hippophae rhamnoides, native over a wide area across Europe and Asia, is one of the important natural resources growing from Europe to northwest China. It can grow in low rainfall areas of mountains, sea coast and semi-desert areas. In western and northern Europe, it is largely confined to sea coasts where salt spray from the sea prevents other larger plants from out-competing it due to its tolerance to high levels of salinity. Sea buckthorn is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. It produces small flowers and red to yellow berries the size of a pea.
For centuries, the people of central and southeastern Asia have used sea buckthorn as an agent of traditional medicine to prevent and treat various ailments. Today, the plant is primarily valued for its fruits, which provide vitamin C, vitamin E, and other nutrients, antioxidants, oils rich in essential fatty acids, and other healthful components. The leaves are also used for making a multi-vitamin herbal beverage. The list of products made with sea buckthorn is long and varied and includes jams, juices, medicinal and cosmetic lotions, nutritional supplements, liquors.
Medicinal uses of sea buckthorn are well documented in Asia and Europe. Clinical tests on medicinal uses were first initiated in Russia during the 1950s. The most important pharmacological functions attributed to sea buckthorn oil are: anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, pain relief, and promoting regeneration of tissues. More than ten different drugs have been developed from sea buckthorn in Asia and Europe.
In large areas of northern China and Mongolia sea buckthorn has been developed into a major environmental resource. Many areas in fact, have become virtually treeless, even though they were once forested. Soil losses have been huge, and several previous attempts to grow various trees to hold down the soil have been unsuccessful. Sea buckthorn has turned out to be useful because it withstands severe weather and grows huge root systems in poor soil (and fixes nitrogen in the soil). For many animal and bird species, sea buckthorn is an important source of food or provides shelter.
The planting and maintenance of sea buckthorn is encouraged by local people in northern China and in Mongolia who can earn income from harvesting the fruits and other parts of the plant. In Nepal a partnership involving an international foundation, university research institutions, local community-based organizations, and practitioners of traditional Tibetan medicine, is working with a hospital and international businesses to build a sustainable program for the cultivation and sale of sea buckthorn in domestic and international markets. Local women’s cooperatives have also been trained to harvest and process wild sea buckthorn berries.