With rare omega-7, more vitamin C than an orange and an array of nutrients, there are plenty of sea buckthorn benefits for your body. Find out all about the healthy properties this Mediterranean berry offers.June 20, 2022 1:32 pm August 20, 2018 6:18 pm
Feeling tired? Before you reach for a caffeine tablet or an energy drink, take a moment to remember the last time you felt naturally invigorated: standing on a hilltop with the crisp wind on your cheeks and your lungs full of fresh air.
Luckily, there’s a secret that will allow you to feel naturally energized whenever and wherever you choose, and it’s all down to a very special little berry.
While they might be new in our diets, sea buckthorn berries have been revered for their health benefits since ancient times.
So much so, in fact, that sea buckthorn berries even play a role in Greek mythology…
Sea buckthorn in ancient Greece
If we journey back through time to ancient Greece, we find sea buckthorn berries growing on a narrow strip of land between the Aegean sea and the Corinthian gulf. Known as the ithsmus, this strip of land takes its name from the Greek word for ‘narrow’ or ‘neck’.
At the centre of the ithsmus, we find the ancient city of Corinth, which houses the fountain of Periene. Its cool spring water offers refreshment to weary travellers making their way through the sun-drenched city. It was also a favorite watering hole of one of the most iconic mythological figures of all time: Pegasus.
A symbol of dignity and power, Pegasus the white, winged horse is a famous character in Greek mythology. The hero, Bellerophron, discovered Pegasus by the fountain of Periene and tamed him, later riding Pegasus into battle against the fearsome Chimera. Bellerophron and Pegasus’s victory is one of the most beloved stories in Greek mythology.
Pegasus’s favorite nibble
He may have been a mythical beast, but even Pegasus had to stop and refuel occasionally. Legend has it that he would graze on the vegetation around the ithsmus, but he was especially fond of sea buckthorn berries. These bright, tart little fruits must have powered many an arduous flight around ancient Greece and Mount Olympus!
Their inclusion in the Pegasus myth suggests that the ancient Greeks were familiar with the benefits of sea buckthorn. Taking a leaf out of Pegasus’s book, they fed sea buckthorn to their finest racehorses in the hope that they would muster the legendary speed of the winged horse. Some scholars have thus, humorously, christened sea buckthorn ‘the Pegasus plant’.
But now, let’s fast forward to the present day. What is sea buckthorn, and why has there been a resurgence of interest in it?
"Legend has it that Pegasus was especially fond of sea buckthorn berries. These bright, tart little fruits must have powered many an arduous flight around ancient Greece and Mount Olympus."
What is sea buckthorn?
Sea buckthorn berries are small, bright orange or yellow fruits which grow on a shrub. It’s a fairly forgiving plant and grows in many different places around the world, including in the UK. However, the vast majority grows in China, Russia, Mongolia, northern Europe and Canada. Ours is grown in Romania, by independent organic farmers.
It has a tart, surprisingly tropical flavor, tasting almost like a combination of lemon, pineapple and gooseberry. Sea buckthorn is becoming better known in the culinary community, and dishes and cocktails containing sea buckthorn have made it onto many a high-class menu. As a flavor, it pairs particularly well with citrus fruits such as orange.
Sea buckthorn is also known by a couple of alternative names, including seabuck, seaberry, sandberry and hippophae.(2)(3) This latter name comes from ancient times, too. As noted above, the ancient Greeks liked to feed sea buckthorn to their horses, and whilst it might not have converted them into Pegasus himself, it did encourage them to gain weight and develop a shiny coat. Hippophae comes from the latin words ‘hippo’, or horse, and ‘phaos’, to shine.(1)
Sea buckthorn health benefits
The locals in the Himalayan mountains refer to sea buckthorn as the ‘holy fruit’ – and it seems they may be on to something. In fact, sea buckthorn’s impressive nutrient profile and health benefits are likely responsible for the sudden upsurge in interest in this mythical berry.
The leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits of the sea buckthorn plant are all used for their medicinal properties. Sea buckthorn boasts all of the omegas – 3, 6, 9 and the rare omega-7, as well as an array of vitamins, such as vitamins C, E and beta-carotene.
Sea buckthorn berries are an excellent source of omega-7
These little berries boast an impressive collection of omega fatty acids: omegas -3, 6, 9 and rare omega-7.
While some of the omega fatty acid family have become quite well known in the health and wellness world (such as omega-3, which supports our anti-inflammatory function), omega-7 is less famous. However, just like the other omegas, omega-7, also known as palmitoleic acid, is immensely healthy for us.
Omega-7 acids act as signalling molecules which facilitate communication between fat and muscle tissue in our body.(5)(6)
Many studies on omega-7 fatty acids relate to their ability to fight the harmful effects of metabolic syndrome – a worrisome combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – and support cardiovascular health.(5)(7)(8)(9)
While omega-7 is very good for us, it’s quite hard to get hold of, and is rarely found in plants. Thankfully, though, we have sea buckthorn berries; their pulp is the richest plant source of omega-7 in the world.
Sea buckthorn is a source of beta-carotene
The vibrant orange color of these little berries can be attributed to a substance called beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid (pigment) found in plants such as sweet potatoes, carrots and spinach. It is the most common type of pro-vitamin A, which is the type of vitamin A we can source from plant-based foods. Our body must convert beta-carotene into vitamin A before reaping its benefits.(10)(11)
Active vitamin A, or retinoid, plays an important role in healthy vision and immune function, as well as cell and bone tissue growth.(10)(12)
Studies at the National Eye Institute have shown that vitamin A, in combination with vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and copper, reduced the risk of advanced macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of age-related blindness.(13)(14)
One berry boasts more vitamin C than an orange
When we think of a natural source of vitamin C, often oranges comes to mind first. But what if we told you that a single sea buckthorn berry contains eight to sixteen times more vitamin C than an orange? It’s a pretty impressive fact, considering how much smaller a sea buckthorn berry is than an orange!(15)(16)
A 100g serving of sea buckthorn boasts 400 to 800mg of vitamin C. Meanwhile, 100g of orange provides just 53mg.(16)
Vitamin C is important to our immune system and heart health. It helps our body to convert cholesterol into bile acids and, as a result, helps lower our blood cholesterol levels. What’s more, vitamin C increases the absorption of iron, a key component of haemoglobin, and protects our body from the damage caused by free radicals, toxins and pollutants.(17)
Vitamin C also contributes to the formation of collagen. Collagen is a protein which gives many of the tissues in our body structure, like our skin and connective tissues like ligaments and tendons.
Sea buckthorn is often credited with improving the health and resilience of our skin, bones, gums and teeth, and this is, at least in part, down to its incredible vitamin C content.