seaberry, sea buckthorn (seabuckthorn), argousier, siberian pineapple.
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.
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!!!!
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.
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!