The bushes like full sun and well-drained soil. They will grow in poor soils, but not dry areas. They tolerate sea spray and salinity, so on coastlines they can out-compete many other plants.
Sea Buckthorn bushes have narrow leaves averaging 1 to 3 inches (2 1/2 to 7 1/2 cm) in length. The leaves are silvery, becoming dull green as they get older. A few cultivars are thornless.
Plants are male or female. The gender of the plant is only evident once it has flowered (the male plants have smaller flower buds.) You need a male plant and a female plant for berries to appear on the female bushes.
The small, yellow blossoms appear before the leaves do; male plants rely on the wind to carry the pollen to the female plants.
The bright orange or red Sea Buckthorn berries grow on 2 and 3 year old branches, ripening at the end of August or the start of September. The berries are not easy to pick because the berries are so small, only about 1/5 inch (5 mm) wide, and because they are firmly attached to the branches: they will even cling to the branches the entire winter. There has to date (2006) been no success with mechanical harvesting; it has to be done by hand.
Sea Buckthorn Berries have a very tart taste. They can be used for jams and jellies, or processed into juice or an oil extract. The leaves can be used for tea. The berries are also being used commercially in skin creams and lotions.
The buzz around Sea Blackthorn Berries at the start of the 21st century has centred around their nutritional and medicinal value.
China has large planting programmes for Sea Buckthorn, with two purposes: one is to provide income crops for people, the second is to regenerate deforested areas where attempts to plant other vegetation have failed. The Sea Buckthorn has reduced soil erosion by up to 90% in some areas, and provides shelter and food for wildlife.
Plantings on the Canadian prairies have also been done with an eye to erosion control and wildlife shelter. The berries are not yet thought of in Canada as being a commercial investment, because hand-harvesting depends on cheap labour.
Per 100 g fresh Sea Buckthorn Berries: (average amounts) — 600 mg Vitamin C, up to 180 mg Vitamin E.
Sea Buckthorn is native to high altitude areas in China and Russia. Many of the cultivars were developed in Russia.
The ancient Greeks fed the leaves of Sea Buckthorn to horses to give them a shiny coat. The “hippo” (meaning “horse”) part of their scientific name (“Hippophae ssp.”) comes from this.