Sea Buckthorn

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Growing Sea Buckthorn in South Africa

In recent years Sea Buckthorn started to become more popular for its health benefits, ornamental value and low maintenance. Although this berry originated in parts of Eastern Europe through to South Asian parts to the Himalayas and Mongolia regions, most of the cultivated plants were developed in Russia.

Sea Buckthorn is relatively new to South Africa, but as our market also tends to start focussing more on organic, nutrient loaded, healthier food options and products, the market for this highly valued berry is increasingly growing. Due to its many medicinal properties and nutrients, especially the very scarce Omega 7, there is a large growing demand for products made from the berries such as juices, oils, jams, lotions, liquors, powders, cosmetic and anti-aging products.

As Sea Buckthorn berries are also being known as one of the world’s super fruits, it is becoming a very attractive addition to other fruit crops.

Apart from the healthy fruit, the shrub also adapt in most soils and climates, is salt tolerant and also fixes nitrogen in the soil. It can therefore successfully be used for soil conservation or rehabilitation purposes.


Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) belongs to the family Elaeagnaceae. Members of this family have root nodules which house nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which is why Sea buckthorns can thrive in poor soils. Sea Buckthorn is also called, Sandthorn, Sea Berry or Sallowthorn.

The shrubs reach 2–4 metres tall. The common sea buckthorn has dense and stiff branches and are very thorny. The leaves are a distinct pale silvery-green, lanceolate, 3–8 cm long and less than 7 mm broad. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The male produces brownish flowers which produce wind-distributed pollen. The female plants produce orange berries 6–9 mm in diameter, soft, juicy, and rich in oils. The roots distribute rapidly and extensively, providing a nonleguminous nitrogen fixation role in surrounding soils. In central Europe and Asia, it also occurs as a sub-alpine shrub above the tree line in mountains and other sunny areas such as river banks where it has been used to stabilize erosion. They are tolerant of salt in the air and soil, but demand full sunlight for good growth and do not tolerate shady conditions near larger trees. They typically grow in dry, sandy areas. The plants are extremely cold hardy and naturally found at high altitudes between 2500m and 3700m above sea level.

Nutrient Composition

The berries of this plant have many beneficial properties. They are exceptionally high in vitamin C (15 times that of oranges), but also in vitamins E, K and B group, carotenoids, oils, biotin and folic acids. The oils are saturated, mono- and polyunsaturated oils, as well as tocopherols and carotenoids. Few other vegetable oils contain a similar quantity of these fatty acids. The oil from the berries has healing, anti-inflammatory and bacteriostatic properties. The berries also contain a unique combination of calcium, iron, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese.

The seeds and leaves are also particularly rich in quercetin, a flavonoid linked to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Interestingly, sea buckthorn oil may also be one of the only plant foods known to provide all four omega fatty acids — omega-3, omega-6, omega-7 and omega-9.

Sea Buckthorn uses:

Sea buckthorn extracts have been used in the treatment of a wide range of medicinal conditions including cancer, heart disease and burns. For the last few decades it has been subject of an enormous amount of research initially in Russia, but also in Sweden, Finland, Germany, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Canada.


Apart from the healthy fruit, the plant has many uses such as landscaping properties where it can be used as a deciduous shrub. It can also be used to form a wind break or a hedge.


Primary Uses:


  • Fresh eating
  • The berries processed for pulps, juices, preserves, oils and medicinal products.
  • It is also used as a flavouring component to beer, wine, liquors and cordials.
  • The leaves are used for teas

Secondary Uses:

  • Nitrogen-fixing plant (puts nitrogen back into the soil) – inoculated with actinorhizal bacteria (Frankia).
  • Windbreak (especially in coastal areas)
  • Hedge/living fence
  • Soil conservation. It can be used as a pioneer plant on previous industrial sites and can be used to counter soil erosion.
  • Fall and winter food source for wildlife
  • General insect nectar plant (Spring)
  • Soaps, lotions, and other cosmetics
  • Dye from the berries and sap
  • A number of traditional medicinal uses
  • The berries persist during cold weather, making it an important winter food for birds.

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Site selection and preparation:

The shrubs will grow to be about 3m tall at maturity, with a spread of about 1.5m. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more.


This shrub should only be grown in full sunlight. It can tolerate a little drought, but it is a moisture sensitive plant which can’t be grown in water logged soils. It is especially sensitive to excessive moisture during spring when it is flowering and making small new fruit. If planted in arid or semi-arid conditions, water must be supplied for establishment. It prefers well drained sandy to loamy soils and is able to handle environmental salt. In heavier soils it is advisable to form raised beds (ridges) in order for excessive water to run off. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments.

Plant Spacing and planting

Plant sea buckthorn plants 1.5m apart in the rows and 2.2m to 2.5m between the rows.

Soil pH Levels:

It prefers a soil ph level of 6.0 to 7.0 but tolerates a wide variety of soil ph levels from 5.5 to 8.5


Pollination is done by wind.

It is a dioecious plant which means that it requires male and female plants to produce fruit. It requires at least 1 male plant per 5 to 10 female plants for pollination. Only the female plants produce berries.

Interesting Facts:

Products of the sea-buckthorn were included in the diet of Soviet astronauts.


Sea Buckthorn plants require irrigation from bloom through harvest to ensure good berry quality. Avoid overwatering as raspberries are very susceptible to root rot caused by heavy wet soils.


Overhead irrigation can be used but it may encourage diseases. Direct application of water to the root system by means of drip or trickle systems is a better practice.


The amount of water needed per plant or plantation would depend on the soil type, rainfall and climate conditions. Compared to other fruit crops, Sea Buckthorn plants do not need much water. Care must be taken to keep the soil moist, but not overwatered especially on lower soils.


Younger, newly established plants require the most care to make sure that their roots do not dry out or get waterlogged. During the summer months, when the mature plant is growing and fruiting, about 20-30mm of water is needed per week. This amount is dramatically lowered during the winter season when the plants are in their dormant phase.


Results from a soil analysis are the most accurate guide to fertilizer and lime requirements. It is important to determine soil fertility and pH levels before planting, so that necessary lime and fertilizer can be applied to the soil.


Sea buckthorn, just like any other crop, requires adequate soil nutrients for a high yield of good quality fruits. Sea buckthorn responds well to phosphorus fertilizer, especially in soils low in phosphorus. Fertilizer recommendations should be based on the results of soil analysis.


Fertilization greatly depends on many factors such as soil fertility, soil structure, composition and climate so it is advisable to have the soil tested before starting with a production system. Adding organic matter to soils will improve the soil’s fertility, help reduce soil compaction of clay soil, improves aeration and assist with the moisture holding capacity.

Organic materials such as compost and/or well-aged manures can be worked into the soil in late winter before planting.


In one experiment plants were provided with 7 grams of nitrogen with a 5-3-4 organic fertilizer which yielded an average yield of 2.7kg fruit per plant after the second year of planting

Suggested rates: In sandy soil rates: 50 kg/ha nitrogen, 35kg/ha P, 45 kg/ha K

Manure or compost supplies plant food over a period of time. Cow and poultry manures are commonly used. Maximum application rates of dairy manure should be about 45 tonnes/ha and poultry manure should be applied at no more than 20 tonnes/ha on cropped land.

Pruning & Trellising

The purpose of pruning sea buckthorn is to train branches, promote growth and facilitate harvesting. Moderate pruning will increase the yield and fruiting life of the plants. The crown should be pruned to remove overlapping branches and long branches should be cut to encourage development of lateral shoots. Mature fruiting plants should be pruned to allow more light penetration. Pruning is also recommended to eliminate thorns on the mature wood to facilitate harvesting.

Pests and diseases

At present time, sea buckthorn has relatively few pests and diseases. In tea production where the leaves are harvested, the most damaging of insects is the green aphid (Capithophorus hippophae), which can be controlled with an insecticide soaps and by inducing predatorily insects such as ladybugs that feed on the pests.  Some fruit eating bird species might also be a problem. Devices such as electronic bird alarms can be placed as a deterrent which makes different sounds which mimic natural predators of most fruit eating birds. Bird net can also be used.


The most serious diseases in sea buckthorn is verticillium wilt, scab, damping-off and fusarium wilt.

Many authors, both in research and field production, note no significant disease under normal field conditions. Weeds can be problematic.  Mulching with plastic and removing it after two-three years as the plants sucker into a hedgerow. Weed control within rows is usually not needed after 3-4 years.


Plant life span: 50 years+

Years to start fruiting: 2-3 years

Years to mature plants: 4-5 years


Commercial growing – yields

Yields of as high as 7kg per mature plant has been reported.

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