nomadique · wild foods

Sea Buckthorned

Hippophae rhamnoides
seaberry, sea buckthorn (seabuckthorn), argousier, siberian pineapple.

seaberry4

I’ve got major respect for the tough plants.  As much as I do love my delicate flowers and trees, sometimes plants need to know how to look after themselves.  I also love plants that are known by several names.  They become elusive, almost conceptual plants that hide in plain sight.  These 2 ideas blend so oddly with sea buckthorn.  A tough, almost indestructible plant, that is highly productive but almost invisible.

Even with its dark green and silvery leaves contrasting so highly with its bright orange berries, it can be hidden in and everyday view.  Yesterday was my first time really getting to know sea buckthorn despite currently having 4 plants in our garden.  Ours are not yet producing berries (3-4 years old) but have staked their claim in toughness history.  2 were seemingly dead for 2 years until one midsummer (2014 growing season), the roots sent up new shoots and grew until lovely, glossy shrubs.

Aside from that experience of resurrection, the only knowledge I had of sea buckthorn was conceptual.  It had orange berries, willow-like leaves, had tremendous thorns, and grew as a living hedge in depleted soils.  Our only chance outside of spending $50 for a bottle of seaberry juice was to find a wildcrafting spot.

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Sturgeon’s the one with the good eyes and spotted these on the 20/10 W in Brossard, just before the Champlain bridge, on the North side.  If you’re interested in grabbing some, be sure to wear good working clothes (as in not fancy) and be prepared to jump a fence.  They are growing on the side of a highway, so be prepared for a semi-stealth mission.

These trees are massive and are probably 10 years old.  There is a hedge of 8-10 trees in that one spot.  There is also a massive forest of burdock so keep that hair tied up and your woolens protected.  They are relatively easy to harvest, you just might have to get a little creative.  As the name suggests, sea buckthorn has some pretty major thorns, so hand, wrist, and eye protection is an added bonus.

But look at those berries!!!!

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These branches are fully loaded and in some places breaking from the weight of the berries on the branches.  Unlike many other fruit bearing plants, there are no umbels and instead grow in small nodes at the base of the leaf stem or on the branch itself.  Harvesting the berries got a be a bit tricky because seaberries are unlike any other fruit.

One way to successfully harvest the berries is by clipping the ends of branches, freezing the entire trimmings, and then snapping off the frozen berries.  This is an easy way to collect the berries, but can compromise the future growth of the tree.  Luckily, sea buckthorn is one of those plants that can do with routine pruning as it tends to grow every which way.

Another way is to considerately bend the berry nodes off the branch.  Trying to pick the berries like a “regular” berry is not as effective as I may have thought.  The berries are very full of juice and any clasping or plucking will cause these dudes to explode in your fingers. Kind of a sticky mess! So instead, I plucked the entire node off and worked with them back at the ranch.

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Instead of plucking the berries like an apple, I decided to go in from behind, pushing the berries off the node.  There seems to be quite a lot of pressure in the plants and can fly off the node, bouncing into the bowl.  Mostly successful, but get ready to get messy!

Like many plants that had remained as a “concept” for so long, I was really looking forward to tasting them.  They sour, but not very sour,  slightly sweet and astringent.  I don’t know how to describe tropical flavours, but I can see why “pineapple” was attached to the Siberian part.  They are a lot like highbush cranberry, which many people know I have described as being a little “vomit-y” due to its high acid content.  However, I can imagine that the juice, fresh or steam distilled would be really delicious.

If you want to preserve the naturally occurring vitamin c content in seaberry, avoid heat recipes such as jellies or soups.  Juicing them raw, freezing the juice or whole berry, or dehydrating them below 40∘C seems to me to be the optimal way of preserving the seaberry.

What do you do with seaberry?  Leave a comment below for a recipe swap!

2 thoughts on “Sea Buckthorned

  1. Hi, i found you on instagram! Or actually, you found me. 😉 I have looked through your awesome site here and I’m just curious to know, where did you learn about wildcrafting? Or even just plants in general. I’ve always been in love with plants and the like and I was wondering if there was a good place or people to learn from.

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    1. Hi Heather! Thanks for stopping by!
      I learned about wildcrafting mostly from living in rural parts of Québec. The most important element of WC is observation and correct plant identification.
      While many books on herbalism cover some information on WC, the most notable texts I can think of at the moment are Tom Brown Jr’s “Field Guide: Wild and Edible Medicinal Plants”, “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast” by Peter del Tredici, and “Edible Wild Plants” by John Kallas, and pretty much anything by Samuel Thayer. I find they take a lot of the stigma out of foraging and the nutritional content of wild foods.
      I have never heard Susun Weed talk, but she does give some amazing lectures/conferences and if I’m not mistaken also has a herbalism “school”. There are other books in my references section that I use often, and some new ones that need to be added 🙂 I am currently studying Herbal Naturopathy at L’Herbothèque to expand my knowledge and experience of plants. Leading up to that, I would pick the brains of naturopaths and long-practicing herbalists for plant whereabouts and their own experiences with certain plants. Do no underestimate the power of local knowledge!
      I don’t know if this answered your question, but I guess it begs furthering posting 🙂

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