Where does sea buckthorn grow?

Sea Buckthorn Plant – Information On Planting Sea Buckthorn Trees

Sea Buckthorn plant (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a rare species of fruit. It is in the family Elaeagnaceae and is native to Europe and Asia. The plant is used for soil and wildlife conservation but also produces some tasty, tart (but citrusy) berries high in nutrient value. Also called Seaberry plants, Buckthorn has many species, but they all bear common characteristics. Read on for more Sea Buckthorn information so you can decide if this plant is right for you.

Sea Buckthorn Information

It is always fascinating to go to the farmer’s market and check out new and unique cultivars of fruit that can be found there. Seaberries are occasionally found whole but more often crushed into a jam. They are unusual fruits introduced to the United States in 1923.

Sea Buckthorn is hardy to USDA zone 3 and has remarkable drought and saline tolerance. Growing Sea Buckthorn is relatively easy and the plant has few pest or disease issues.

The majority of Sea Buckthorn plant’s habitat is in northern Europe, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Canada. It is a soil stabilizer, wildlife food and cover, repairs desert areas and is a source of commercial products.

Plants may grow as shrubs of less than 2 feet in height or trees of nearly 20 feet tall. The branches are thorny with silvery green, lance-shaped leaves. You need a separate plant of the opposite sex to produce flowers. These are yellow to brown and on terminal racemes.

The fruit is an orange drupe, round and 1/3 to ¼ inch long. The plant is a major food source for several moths and butterflies. In addition to food, the plant is also used to make face creams and lotions, nutritional supplements and other cosmetic products. As a food, it is commonly used pies and jams. Seaberry plants also contribute to making an excellent wine and liquor.

Growing Sea Buckthorn

Choose a sunny location for planting Sea Buckthorn trees. In low light conditions, the harvest will be scarce. They offer ornamental interest, as the berries will persist through winter.

Seaberries can form an excellent hedge or barrier. It is also useful as a riparian plant, but ensure the soil is well draining and not boggy.

The plant has an aggressive basal shoot and may sucker, so use caution when planting Sea Buckthorn trees near the home foundation or driveway. The plant is considered invasive in some regions. Check your region and make sure it is not considered an aggressive non-native species before planting.

Prune plants as needed to expose as much terminal area as possible to the sun. Keep the plant evenly moist and feed in spring with a ratio higher in phosphorus than nitrogen.

The only real insect pest is the Japanese beetle. Remove by hand or use an approved organic pesticide.

Try one of these hardy plants in your landscape for a unique new flavor and showy appearance.

Sea Berry Growing Guide

July 27, 2018 OGW Growing GuidesSea berry

It is no secret that we are huge fans of the Sea Berry here at One Green World. The deliciously tangy and nutrient dense juice is what gives our crew the energy we need to get through the busy season as well as the flu season. Its uses are many and its presence in the North American landscape is relatively small, so we decided it was finally time to shine a bit of beta-Carotene drenched light on what is so special and perhaps even magical about this plant and its fruit. Follow along in this Sea Berry Growing Guide to learn a bit of history and gain a better understanding of this wonderful plant.

The Sea Berry, also known as Sea Buckthorn, is native to Europe and Asia where it grows along riverbanks, sea shores, sandy dunes and mountain slopes from sea level all the way up to 12,000 feet. All parts of the plant have a long history of use in China and Russia where it has been wild harvested for centuries and more recently brought into commercial production. It has even made its way into a few myths and legends due to its many nutritious and medicinal qualities. The Latin name for its genus, Hippophae, translates to shiny horse in reference to its use in horse fodder. The leaves have such a high oil content that they were often mixed into horse food to produce a shiny coat on the animals. To this day they are still used in horse feeds and supplements. Some legends speak of farmers letting their old, decrepit horses out to roam the hills, thinking this far more humane than killing them. After a few days grazing on the wild Sea Berry plants that grew naturally on the hillsides, the horses would return to their owners and be mistaken for young, healthy colts with their newly shiny coats and returned vigor. It is also said that the mythic horse Pegasus feasted upon Sea Berries and it was these magical berries that gave him wings to fly. That’s about 4,000 years before energy drink companies were claiming the power of flight through their products, making Sea Berries the original energy drink! Obviously, we believe that Sea Berry juice is far superior to any other “energy” drink on the market today.

Cultivation of the Sea Berry has only come along relatively recently, beginning in Russia in the 1940’s. Scientists first began to research and discover what had long been known as folk medicine traditions. Some of the first commercially harvested Sea Berries in Russia were used in The Great Space Race, as they are believed to be very helpful in protecting humans from radiation. In preparation to leave Earth’s atmosphere, Yuri Gagarin was given an extraordinarily large dose of Sea Berries as well as a Sea Berry skin cream to protect against any potential radiation, thus making the Sea Berry the first cosmic berry!

Sea Berries were almost completely unknown to North American growers until it was introduced to Canada in the 1930’s by Dr. L. Skinner at the Morden Research Station in Manitoba. They were later planted out on the Canadian prairies by the Shelterbelt Center of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration. These hedgerows provided much of the genetic material to early North American Sea Berry researchers. The Canadians continue to plant out large shelterbelts of Sea Berries for stabilizing erodible soils, but the major developments in named fruiting cultivars have come to us from Europe and Asia, specifically in Russia.

And this is where our very own hometown hero Jim Gilbert, the founder of One Green World, enters the Sea Berry scene. Jim, who is fluent in Russian, has taken many trips to Europe and Russia over the years to collect Sea Berry varieties from plant breeders who have selected the finest fruiting cultivars known to the world, and brought them back here to make them available to North American growers. Many farmers around the country have since grown out seedlings of these varieties in attempts to improve upon them but breeding programs in North America are still very much in their infancy.

Growing Sea Berry plants

As of now there are very few large scale Sea Berry productions in North America so Sea Berry products, aside from in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry, are nearly impossible to find. Like so many of the finest fruits, if you want Sea Berries you’ll have to grow your own plants. Thankfully it is one of the easiest plants to grow, is incredibly vigorous, and is pest and disease free!

Seaberry clusterSeaberry close-upSeaberry branch 3Seaberry branch 4
Seaberry branchSeaberry Branch 2Seaberry strainer Seaberry bowl

Site Selection for Sea Berry plants

When selecting your planting site the first thing to consider is that Sea Berries are very shade intolerant. As a pioneer species that is adapted to colonizing disturbed areas it requires full day sunlight to reach maximum productivity. It is possible to grow Sea Berries in half day sun, but anything below six hours of direct sunlight and productivity begins to decline drastically.

Good drainage is essential as well, otherwise plants will die from root rot. They prefer a sandy loam, but even growers with heavy clay soils have successfully grown Sea Berries if they are planted on a slope that drains well. Coastal growers will also benefit from Sea Berry’s tolerance of saline soils. They often grow on coastal dunes and slopes where the ocean spray makes it impossible for larger saline-intolerant species to grow up and shade out the Sea Berries. This adaptation is also especially relevant for urban growers who might receive salt build up in their soils from road salt used in winter road maintenance.

If you can meet these two broad requirements of full sunlight and good drainage then you will likely have no problem growing Sea Berries. As a nitrogen fixing species it can tolerate some of the poorest nutrient deficient soils, and we have thoroughly tested this, planting in gravelly parking strips, post construction backfill, rocky outcropping where nearly no soil has formed, coarse sandy soils, etc. and the Sea Berry plant thrives where most other species wouldn’t stand a chance. Sea Berry plants will actually improve soil conditions over time. It has a broad pH tolerance, from 5.5 to 8.0, although it should be noted that the symbiotic root nodule-dwelling Frankia bacteria that are responsible for the Sea Berry’s ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen prefer a pH of 5.5-7.0. Plants will survive temperatures from -45 degrees Fahrenheit to 105 degrees Fahrenheit but typically set better crops below 90 degrees, and they are relatively drought tolerant.

Although they can tolerate nearly any well-draining soil conditions, there are a few nutrient deficiencies you may run into when growing them at home. Any yellowing of the leaves may indicate a deficiency in nitrogen or potassium. Marginal chlorosis, shortened stem internodes and death of the terminal bud may be due to a phosphorus deficiency and delayed opening of the flowers and leaf buds in spring or small chlorotic leaves may indicate a Zinc deficiency. These deficiencies are rare but worth noting.

The ability of Sea Berries to thrive in poor soil conditions and colonize rapidly might raise a red flag for those concerned with invasive species. It is true that Sea Berry plants will sometimes sucker from the root system so be sure your maintenance plan accounts for this. Mowing the suckers down is sufficient to keep them fully contained, though some may enjoy digging up the suckers and planting them elsewhere. Another strategy is to come in with a sharp spade once a year and cut any runners from around the root base. Sea Berry has not demonstrated the ability to spread rapidly by seed here but it is worth keeping an eye on if Sea Berry plants have no previous history in your area. The plant’s extreme shade intolerance also makes it unlikely to be a problematic species, especially in regard to its ability to invade healthy woodland ecosystems.

Sea Berry Orchard Design

Typically Sea Berry farms are oriented on north-south rows to maximize sunlight penetration to every plant in the orchard. It is important to note that Sea Berries are a dioecious species meaning they produce their male and female flowers on separate plants, so in order to receive fruit you need to have a male plant in the vicinity and larger plantings require the correct proportion of male to female plants. One male plant for every eight female plants is a good ratio. For larger plantings one male planted every fifth plant and repeated every fourth row has proven to be one of the most productive male to female patterns. Flowers are wind pollinated so it is worth noting the direction of your spring winds when laying out your plantings.

Within the rows plants are typically spaced 3 to 5 feet apart with 16-20 feet between each row. Home orchardists can use wider spacing between plants if a more ornamental or spreading form is desired.

Young plantings require irrigation, especially where summer rainfall is low, and in Mediterranean or desert climates the plants may always need irrigation for optimum fruit production.

Pruning your Sea Berry plants

This may be the most confusing aspect of growing Sea Berries for many home orchardists as well as production farmers. Typically the plants are so productive that even a lazy or sloppy pruning job will still give you an abundance of fruit, but proper pruning techniques will give you a more manageable shrub as well as long term productivity and larger crops.

Before getting into the more detailed Sea Berry pruning, know that general fruit tree pruning techniques can be applied to Sea Berry plants as well. Removing dead wood, downward facing branches, overlapping or crowded branches and heading back long, overly thin branches will benefit your Sea Berry plants. The goal is light penetration throughout the entire canopy, just as it would be with any other fruit tree.

The goals for Sea Berry pruning are:

  • Improve branching habit
  • Maintain an optimum number of new and young fruiting branches
  • Remove old, weak & non-productive branches
  • Increase light penetration
  • Maintain an annual bearing habit.

The first thing to do with your young plants, if it hasn’t been done at the nursery already, is to remove the terminal bud as well as any superfluous lower branches. Removing the terminal bud will create a more bush like habit rather than an upright one by sending energy to lateral buds rather than the terminal bud.

Keeping trees at a height of 8-9 feet greatly reduces the shaded interior of the plant and keeps them at a much more manageable height for pruning and harvesting. In general downward facing branches are the least productive, upward facing branches are typically over vigorous and produce mainly vegetative growth and horizontal branches are the most productive and heavily laden with fruit. Plants are pruned in late winter or early spring before buds begin to open.

Eighty percent of berries are born on second year wood, so maximizing the amount of second year wood on a year to year basis is the goal. One of the issues with this is that one of the most common and effective ways of harvesting Sea Berries, especially on a smaller scale, is to cut off the entire fruit-laden branch and freeze it before popping the frozen berries off. This is due to the lack of an abscission layer in the berries making them very difficult for hand picking. So again, you need to be sure that you are maintaining a healthy amount of second year branches each year to maintain a high level of fruit production.

Harvesting Sea Berry fruit

As previously mentioned, the harvest of Sea Berries can be somewhat tricky and may be one of the biggest reasons why there aren’t more large scale Sea Berry farms. The lack of an abscission layer and the small size of the berry, as well as its tendency to “pop” when picked make it very difficult for hand harvesting. Sea Berry plants are also somewhat thorny, hence the other common name sea buckthorn, and this adds to the difficulty of hand harvesting. It takes roughly 1500 labor hours per hectare to properly harvest an orchard! So in that situation the laborers are either being paid very poorly or the product ends up costing a lot, or perhaps a bit of both.

On the small scale the most efficient harvest method we have found is to cut off the entire fruit laden branch and freeze it. Freezing turns the berries from little water balloons that often explode into solid berries that can easily be popped of the branch with a fork or shaken off. Berries can then be stored frozen for the long term and thawed out as needed for juices, jams, sorbets, smoothies, or any of the endless recipes you might incorporate Sea Berries into.

Mechanical harvesting has also been shown to be profitable although it is not very efficient so very large plantings are required to make this economical. A few different tools for hand harvesting have also been created that cut the berries at the stem, though this is also very time consuming.

Though we often focus on the berry, Sea Berry plants are also valued throughout the world for their oil which can be pressed from the seeds, as well as for medicinal components found in all parts of the plant. The easiest of these to harvest is the leaves which can be dried and made into a lovely herbal tea that has many of the same nutritional qualities that the berries. The leaves have a surprisingly pleasant flavor, similar to nettle tea. Harvesting leaves for tea will also give you a use for your male plants besides pollen.

Nutritional and Medicinal Value of Sea Berry plant & fruit

The nutritional qualities and medicinal value of the Sea Berry plant and its fruit have long been valued throughout many parts of the world. To really understand the many properties and components of this amazing plant we could fill an entire book but we will touch on a few of its wonderful qualities here.

The first thing people notice about Sea Berries, especially when making juice out of them, is the incredibly high amount of carotenoids that give the berries their deep orange color. Carotenoids boost the body’s immune system and carotenoids in Sea Berries are especially easy for our bodies to absorb because of the oil content that is present in the fruits.

Sea Berries are also a great source of omega fatty acids, including palmitic fatty acids, palmitoleic (omega 7), oleic (omega 9), linoleic (omega 6), and linolenic (omega 3) fatty acids.

Concentration of vitamin C in Sea Berries is much higher than those found in oranges, strawberries, or kiwis and concentration of vitamin E is higher than those found in wheat, maize, or soybean.

Other vitamins include vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B9, B12, D, and the trace minerals potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, iodine, iron, chromium, selenium, and zinc. A 2010 report by Food Research International stated that Sea Berries contain 18 out of 22 known amino acids!

In the cosmetics industry the oil has long been valued for its use in decreasing wrinkles, as an antimicrobial, antiseptic, and for its ability to regenerate tissue. Many medicine traditions have also used the oil as a pain reliever and for its anti inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Reports show Sea Berrys consumption may improve the bodies abilities to inhibit tumor development and eradicate free radicals. Sea Berry consumption also improves cardiovascular activity and immune system functioning.

For more detailed information on Sea Berry’s nutritional and medicinal components check out some of the amazing articles and websites listed in the resource section below.

Other Resources:

Li & Beveridge. Sea BUckthorn Production and Utilization. NRC Research Press. (2003).

Sabir SM, et al. “Elemental and nutritional analysis of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides ssp. turkestanica) Berries of Pakistani origin.” PubMed.gov (2005)

Bal LM, et al. “Sea buckthorn berries: A potential source of valuable nutrients for nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals.” Food Research International (2010)

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Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) has been getting quite a bit of press lately as the newest superfood, but it’s nothing new. Permaculture enthusiasts have been planting sea berries for years now because they’re a hardy nitrogen-fixing perennial with few pests and high yields of tasty berries. The fact that those tasty berries are also particularly healthy is just a nice bonus.

Also known as sea berry, sand thorn and sha-ji, sea buckthorn is hardy down to zone 3 (-35 F) native to both Europe and Asia. The plants are dioecious, which means that individual bushes are either male or female. Only the female bushes bear fruit, and it’s generally suggested to plant one male sea buckthorn bush for every 6 females to ensure good pollination.

The plants themselves are somewhere between a shrub and a small tree (20 ft tall) in growth form, and very spikey. The spines ensure they’re deer resistant, and they’re often planted densely to form an effective hedge barrier around properties. Since they’re nitrogen-fixing, sea buckthorn can grow on marginal soils. It’s often planted to stabilize eroding banks, especially along roads since it’s a remarkably salt tolerant plant.

While sea buckthorn plants are remarkably tolerant of a variety of conditions, including poor soils and drought. That said, they prefer soil with good drainage and don’t thrive in boggy conditions. They also require full sun to bear good crops of fruit. Trees may limp along in part shade, but they won’t bear in those conditions.

The flowers are small and hardly noticeable, but when the plants become covered in fruit in the fall it’s quite a show.

Propagating Sea Buckthorn from Cuttings

Since only female plants bear fruit, sea buckthorn is often propagated from cuttings to ensure the sex of the resulting plants. Some growers even go as far as propagating female plants from cuttings, and then grafting a single male branch onto each female bush for pollination. This ensures that there’s a male plant available nearby for pollination, but none of the planting space is taken up by an unproductive male plant.

To propagate sea berries from hardwood cuttings, take cuttings 6” from last years growth while the plant is dormant (late fall to early spring). Soak the cuttings in water covering about 2/3 of their length, changing the water every day to prevent stagnation. After about a week, roots should begin to form. Once the roots are about an inch long the cuttings can be planted indoors in pots for about 2 months until the plants are fully rooted and ready to be transplanted outdoors.

While many hardwood cuttings like grapes and elderberries benefit from the addition rooting hormone, studies have shown that it’s completely unnecessary for propagating sea buckthorn cuttings. The study found that small-diameter cuttings from 1-year-old wood (2 to 4 mm in diameter) had a 97% rooting rate without any hormonal treatment.

I’ve also read that since buckthorn suckers readily, especially when cut to the ground, that propagating from root cuttings has a high success rate.

A sprout on one of our sea buckthorn plants.

Growing Sea Buckthorn from Seed

We purchased 10g seed in bulk from Strictly Medicinals Seed, and they suggest a few different planting options.

Either scarify the seed on medium grit sandpaper, then sow in fall or very early spring outdoors. Or, scarify and give 30 to 90 days moist refrigeration and sow indoors in a warm environment. Transplant to successively larger pots until the plants are large enough to be transplanted outdoors.

The seeds are scarified by placing them on a sheet of sandpaper and then sandwiching another sheet of sandpaper on top. Rub the two pieces together to scrape up the outside of the seed coats. This mimics going through a bird’s digestive tract and helps encourage the seeds to sprout.

Scarifying sea buckthorn seed on sandpaper

Other sources I’ve read recommend cold stratification for the full 90 days, followed by soaking in water for 2 days. When planted, the seeds germinate best at the soil surface exposed to light rather than buried. For that reason, some people germinate them in Ziploc bags set in the sun with a bit of potting medium or a paper towel to hold moisture. Once the seeds germinate they’re then moved to pots.

Strictly Medicinal Seeds notes that it’s a “dependable and fun germinator” so we had high hopes for our 10-gram packet with an estimated 1,800 seeds inside. After scarification, I completed 90 days of cold moist stratification on moist paper towels in the refrigerator. After that, I scraped the seeds off the paper towels and onto seedling trays. I completely forgot about the light exposure part and sprinkled 1/8 to 1/4 inch soil over them.

The seeds didn’t care, and though I never counted to determine actual germination rates, we must have 1000 sea buckthorn seedlings at this point…

Uses of Sea Buckthorn

For the most part, my kids eat sea buckthorn right off the plant. I can’t say they particularly enjoy the berries, as they’re absurdly tart. They seem to get a kick out of how sour the berries are, especially since they’re planted near other much sweeter fruits like black raspberries and thimbleberries.

None the less, they’ll pull those bright orange berries right off the plants again and again. Smiling with anticipation before each one goes in their mouths, and then puckering up afterward. Much laughter ensues, and then they do it again.

Humor in the eyes of preschoolers…

I’ve managed to catch the smile on camera, and I’m still trying to get a good shot of the pucker face. There’s too much laughter all around to make it work…

Needless to say, sea buckthorn is not popular for fresh eating.

Since it’s gained “superfood” status sea buckthorn can be found in all manner of products marketed by companies trying to capitalize on the hype. Anything from foods and juices to cosmetics and skincare products.

There are plenty of health claims related to sea buckthorn, but the most reputable seems to be related to skin health and mental function. The seeds contain an oil that’s marketed as “sea buckthorn oil” which is an effective treatment for all manner of skin disorders. That same oil is also purported to be an effective sunblock.

The fruit themselves are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, along with a long list of amino acids and antioxidants. They’re second only to rose hips in total vitamin C content too.

The fruit is quite tart, and it’s often either pressed into a juice that’s sweetened and drunk, or made into a sweetened jam. That said, there are plenty of people that eat them out of hand. Here are a few sea buckthorn recipes to try with your first harvest:

  • Sea Buckthorn Tea with Honey & Cinnamon
  • Sea Buckthorn Chutney
  • Sea Buckthorn Oxymel
  • Sea Buckthorn Cheesecake
  • Sea Buckthorn and Apple Jelly

Sea Buckthorn Living Fence

At this point, we have a number of sexed sea buckthorn plants on our land to use for hardwood propagation. I also have a large envelope of seed ready to be cold stratified before this coming spring.

Our plan? A see buckthorn hedge around our new roughly 1-acre permaculture garden. Right now our permaculture plantings are spread out across about 3-4 acres of land, nothing in high density. Now that we’ve cleared a new zone we’re planning a dense permaculture food forest, hedged against deer by a dense fence of sea buckthorn.

Will it work? I’ll let you know in a few years…

Sea buckthorn is a ‘super food’ and a tree of increasing economic importance due to the health benefits it provides. The seeds contain high levels of antioxidants such as vitamin C and E, and flavonoids, which help to strengthen the immune system and protect you from disease, as well as strengthening your heart. It has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy to relieve cough, aid digestion, invigorate blood circulation and alleviate pain. The juice is used as a sweetener for herbal teas. And the berries are often made into sauces, marmalades, and jellies.

Plant Description:
Sea Buckthorn
Hippophae Rhamnoides
Perennial: Hardy in Zones 3-8
When to Sow: Spring to early Fall
Ease of Germination: Moderate

How to Grow Sea Buckthorn

Canadian viewers can purchase the seeds here: Sea buckthorn seeds.

Sea buckthorn seeds require 90 days stratification at 5°C/40°F to overcome dormancy, or you can soak them in water for 48 hours prior to sowing them. They need some light to germinate so make sure you either surface sow them or lightly cover with soil. I’ve found that soaking the seeds works quite well instead of the hassle of stratifying them.

Sea buckthorn is a perennial shrub. It is hardy in zones 3 to 8. The plant prefers light, sandy soil. Sea buckthorn will grow best in full sun, as it needs a lot of energy to produce a large crop of berries. It cannot tolerate shade at any stage of growth. Prior to sowing, the seeds should be soaked in water for 48 hours and at this time seeds that are floating should be discarded. Surface sow the seeds onto a sterilized garden soil mix. Always keep soil moist but never soggy. It’s very important not to let the soil dry out or the seedlings will die. When the seedlings have a few sets of leaves, transplant them outside in spring after any risk of frost has passed. Spacing: 1 m (3′) between plants, 4 m between rows.

Related Books:
Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd Edition.

The Anticancer Activity of Sea Buckthorn [Elaeagnus rhamnoides (L.) A. Nelson]


Sea buckthorn is a member of the Elaeagnaceae. It is currently cultivated on a production scale, primarily in Russia and China, and in a growing number of varieties around the world (i.e., Finland, Germany, and Estonia).

Both in vitro and human and animal in vivo studies on sea buckthorn have found a range of bioactive chemicals in its leaves, roots, seeds, and berries, known as seaberry, or Siberian pineapple, as well as the oil extracted from them; these compounds exhibit a wide range of anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antioxidant, and anti-atherosclerotic activities (Zeb, 2006; Basu et al., 2007; Kumar et al., 2011; Suryakumar and Gupta, 2011; Xu et al., 2011; Christaki, 2012; Teleszko et al., 2015; Olas, 2016; Ulanowska et al., in press). Several trace elements and vitamins (especially A, C, and E), lipids, carotenoids, amino acids, unsaturated fatty acids, and phenolic compounds that are found in the berries are presented in Table 1 (Olas, 2016; Gradt et al., 2017; Ulanowska et al., in press). Their concentration in the berries depends on the climate, size, maturity of the plant, and the procedure used to process and store the plant material (Fatima et al., 2012; Malinowska and Olas, 2016). Gao et al. (2000) report changes in antioxidant properties, as well as other types of biological activity, in sea buckthorn berries during maturation, which were strongly correlated with the content of total phenolic compounds and ascorbic acid. Moreover, the antioxidant activity of the lipophilic extract increased significantly and corresponded to the increase in total carotenoid content.


Table 1. The chemical composition of individual parts of the sea buckthorn (44; modified).

A wealth of healthy ingredients are found not only in the raw fruits, but also in a variety of preparations such as jams, juices, marmalades, or tinctures. Sea buckthorn berries can be also used to make pies and liquors (Li and Hu, 2015). Hu (2005) reports that sea buckthorn seed can be used to make oil and the leaves can used to make tea. While teas made from the seeds have laxative properties and help weight loss, infusions of the leaves have antidiarrheal properties; in addition, fruit teas strengthen the immune system, and show activity against skin diseases (Frohne, 2010; Sarwa, 2001).

The positive and unique properties of sea buckthorn have been known since at least the VII Century BC (Suryakumar and Gupta, 2011; Li and Hu, 2015). The plant was used not only in natural medicine, but also veterinary medicine as a means of relieving helminthiasis in horses and providing them more mass and a beautiful, shiny coat. Currently, its products are used in many industries, especially the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and food industries, but also as a decorative element, as firewood, or even as a tool for the rehabilitation of degraded areas. According to historical records, sea buckthorn was first used as a drug in China, and in more modern times, the plant was formally listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia in 1977 (The State of Pharmacopoeia Commission of PR China, 1977).

Modern studies have shown that the parts of sea buckthorn can serve as natural remedies for cardiovascular diseases, as well as diseases of the skin, liver, and stomach. The therapeutic potential of its bioactive compounds is demonstrated in Table 2. This review article summarizes the current knowledge concerning the different organs of sea buckthorn, and discusses whether they may represent a “golden mean” for the treatment of cancer. It is important to note that the source information for this paper is derived not only from in vitro models, but also in vivo models.


Table 2. Sea buckthorn bioactive compounds and their therapeutic effects (44; modified).

Anticancer Activity of Sea Buckthorn

A number of phytopharmaceuticals, particularly such phenolic compounds as proanthocyanidins, curcumin, and resveratrol, have been found to offer significant benefits in cancer chemoprevention (Barrett, 1993; Bagchi and Preuss, 2004; Bagchi et al., 2014; Shanmugam et al., 2015; Ko et al., 2017) and radiotherapy (Cetin et al., 2008). It is well-documented that higher dietary intakes of phenolic compounds, especially procyanidins and flavonoids are associated with a lower risk of cancer (Barrett, 1993; Bagchi and Preuss, 2004; Duthie et al., 2006; Zafra-Stone et al., 2007; Cetin et al., 2008; Seeram, 2008; Bagchi et al., 2014; Chen et al., 2014; Wang et al., 2014; Giampieri et al., 2016; Kristo et al., 2016). Sea buckthorn possesses a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities, including anticancer properties. Although the molecular mechanisms underlying them remain unclear, these compounds are known to be present in different organs and their products, especially in the juice and oil (Xu et al., 2011). The antitumor activity of sea buckthorn can be attributed to antioxidant compounds, particularly phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, including kaempferol, quercetin, and isorhamnetin; these protect cells from oxidative damage that can lead to genetic mutation and to cancer (Christaki, 2012).

In Vitro Studies

Various in vitro studies have demonstrated that sea buckthorn has anticancer activity. For example, Zhang et al. (2005) investigated changes in the expression of apoptosis-related genes in the human breast carcinoma cell line Bcap-37 induced by flavonoids from sea buckthorn seed. Their bioinformatics analysis found that the expression of 32 analyzed genes, including CTNNB1, IGFBP4, GADD34, and caspase 3, associated with the apoptosis of Bcap-37 cells, was influenced by flavonoid treatment.

Teng et al. (2006) found that isorhamnetin (3′-methoxy-3,4′5,7-tetra hydroxyl flavone; a flavonoid isolated from sea buckthorn) has cytotoxic effects against human hepatocellular carcinoma cells (BEL-7402), with an IC50 of about 75 μg/ml after 72-h treatment. Li et al. (2015) also found isorhamnetin to have anti-proliferation effects on lung cancer cells in vitro when applied at concentrations ranging from 10 to 320 μg/ml, and in vivo in C57BL/6 mice when administrated orally (50 mg/kg/d) for 7 days. The authors suggest that the mechanism of isorhamnetin action may involve the apoptosis of cells induced by the down-regulation of oncogenes and up-regulation of apoptotic genes. Other observations showed that isorhamnetin suppresses the proliferation of cells from the human colorectal cancer cell lines (HT-29, HCT 116, and SW480), induces cell cycle arrest at the G2/M phase, and suppresses cell proliferation by inhibiting the PI3K-Akt-mTOR pathway. In addition, isorhamnetin reduced the phosphorylation levels of Akt (Ser473), phosph-p70S6 kinase, and phosph-4E-BP1 (t37/46) protein, and enhanced the expression of cyclin B1 protein at concentrations of 20 and 40 μM (Li et al., 2014).

In a study on MDA-MB-231 human breast cancer cells, Wang et al. (2014) noted sea buckthorn procyanidins isolated from the seeds to have inhibitory effects on fatty acid synthase (FAS): a key enzyme for de novo long-chain fatty acid biosynthesis, high levels of which are found in cancer cells. This inhibition was dose-dependent at concentrations ranging from 0 to 0.14 μg/ml. A concentration of 0.087 μg/ml inhibited 50% of FAS activity. Moreover, cell growth was suppressed by treatment with sea buckthorn procyanidins at concentrations between 10 and 60 μg/ml. In addition, the tested procyanidins were found to induce cell apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. The authors suggest that these procyanidins can induce MDA-MB-231 cell apoptosis by inhibiting intracellular FAS activity.

Olsson et al. (2004) compared the effect of 10 different extracts of fruits and berries, including sea buckthorn berries, on the proliferation of HT29 semi-colon cancer cells and MCF-7 breast cancer cells. They observed that sea buckthorn had the highest inhibition effect for the proliferation of HT29 and MCF-7 cells at its two highest administered concentrations (0.25 and 0.5%). The authors suggest that the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation was correlated with concentrations of carotenoids and vitamin C. Moreover, they propose the presence of a synergistic action between carotenoids, vitamin C, and anthocyanins. In addition, McDougall et al. (2008) note that sea buckthorn berry extract possessed slightly antiproliferative effects against cervical and a semi-colon cancer cells grown in vitro.

Boivin et al. (2007) determined the antiproliferative activity of the juices of 13 types of berries, including sea buckthorn, at concentrations of 10–50 μg/ml against five cancer cell lines in vitro: AGS—stomach adenocarcinoma, ACF-7—mammary gland adenocarcinoma, PC-3—prostatic adenocarcinoma, Caco-2—colorectal adenocarcinoma, and MDA-MB-231—mammary gland adenocarcinoma. It was found that sea buckthorn berry juice, like blackberry and black chokeberry juices, had anti-proliferative properties. However, no correlation was found between the anti-proliferative properties of the berry juices and their antioxidant capacity, and the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation by the juices did not involve caspase-dependent apoptosis. Despite this, suppression of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-induced activation of nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFκB) was observed.

Recently, Guo et al. (2017) studied the phytochemical composition of the berries of four different subspecies of sea buckthorn, as well as their antioxidant and antiproliferative properties against HepG2 human liver cancer cells in vitro: H. rhamnoides L. subsp. sinensis (Sinensis), H. rhamnoides L. subsp. yunnanensis (Yunnanensis), H. rhamnoides L. subsp. mongolica (Mongolica), and H. rhamnoides L. subsp. turkestanica (Turkestanica). Of these subspecies, H. rhamnoides L. subsp. sinensis demonstrated the highest total phenolic content and corresponding total antioxidant activity, while the greatest cellular antioxidant and antiproliferative properties were observed in H. rhamnoides L. subsp. yunnanensis. These properties were attributed to the action of phenolic acids and flavonoid aglycones.

Zhamanbaeva et al. (2014) studied the effects of ethanol extract from sea buckthorn leaves on the growth and differentiation of human acute myeloid leukemia cells (KG-1a, HL60, and U937). Although a plant extract was found to inhibit cell growth according to cell strain and extract dose, the study does not identify the chemical content of the tested extract. They used three concentrations of the extract: 25, 50, and 100 μg/ml. The findings suggest that the antiproliferative effect of sea buckthorn extract on acute myeloid leukemia cells was partially determined by activation of the S phase checkpoint, which probably led to deceleration of the cell cycle and induction of apoptosis.

Elsewhere, Zhamanbayeva et al. (2016) studied the antiproliferative and differentiation-enhancing activity of various plant extracts (10–100 μg/ml), including water-ethanol extract from leaves of sea buckthorn: it was found to have a total polyphenol content of approximately 46 mg GA equivalent/g dried extract, total flavonoid content of approximately 23 mg quercetin equivalent/g dried extract. The authors observed that the tested extracts, including sea buckthorn extract, reduced the growth and viability of acute myeloid leukemia cells; in addition, at non-cytotoxic doses, they also potentiated cell differentiation induced by a low concentration of 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, in a manner dependent on cell type. Moreover, the tested extracts strongly inhibited microsomal lipid peroxidation and protected normal erythrocytes against hypo-osmotic shock.

A recent study by Kim et al. (2017) proposes that sea buckthorn leaf extract, containing about 70 mg/g total phenolic compounds and about 460 μg/g catechin, may inhibit the rapid proliferation of rat C6 glioma cells when administered at 0.62, 6.2, and 62 μg/ml, probably by inducing the early events of apoptosis. The authors also suggest that the reduction of C6 glioma cell proliferation and viability following administration of the plant extract was accompanied by a decrease in the production of reactive oxygen species, which are critical for the proliferation of tumor cells. Moreover, sea buckthorn not only upregulated the expression of the pro-apoptotic protein Bcl-2-associated X (Bax), but also promoted its localization in the nucleus.

Various studies report that sea buckthorn oil also possesses anti-tumor properties. This oil can be incorporated in capsules, gelatin, and oral liquids (Yang and Kallio, 2002). Moreover, toxicity studies report no adverse effects in subjects administered with sea buckthorn oil (Upadhyay et al., 2009). Kumar et al. (2011) indicate that sea buckthorn oil plays an important role in cancer therapy, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and that taking sea buckthorn oil may help counteract many side effects or treatment, restore kidney and liver function, increase appetite, and generally keep patients in good health. Wang et al. (1989) observed that seed oil retarded tumor growth by 3–50%. Zhang et al. (Zhang, 1989) demonstrated that injection of seed oil (1.59 g/kg body weight) significantly inhibited the growth rate of transplanted melanoma (B16) and sarcoma (S180) tumors in mice. Wu et al. (1989) attribute the protective effect of sea buckthorn seed oil against cervical cancer to the presence of vitamins A and E. Finally, Sun et al. (2003) note that flavonoids from oil extracted from sea buckthorn seeds exert an inhibitory action on the liver cancer cell line BEL-7402 by inducing apoptosis.

The seeds and berry pulp of sea buckthorn contains various other bioactive compounds, including unsaturated fatty acids and phytosterols. It is known that unsaturated fatty acids have a multidirectional influence on human health, for example, by stimulating the immune system. In addition, phytosterols have anticancer properties (Sajfratova et al., 2010; Dulf, 2012). More details about the composition and beneficial health aspects of sea buckthorn oil are given by Olas (2018). The effect of sea buckthorn on cancer cells in different in vitro models is described in Table 3.


Table 3. The effect of sea buckthorn on cancer cells in in vitro models.

In Vivo Studies

Sea buckthorn has been found to have anticancer properties in both in vitro and in vivo studies on animal models. A study of the chemopreventive action of sea buckthorn fruits by Padmavathi et al. (2005) found them to inhibit dimethylobenzenoantracen-induced skin papillomagenesis in mice. The authors suggest that inhibition of carcinogenesis may be attributed to the concomitant induction of phase II enzymes, i.e., glutathione S-transferase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione reductase in mouse liver. Moreover, the authors also suggest that the anticancer action of sea buckthorn fruits may be based on its enhancement of the DNA-binding activity of interferon regulatory factor-1 (IRF-1), a known antioncogenic transcription factor causing growth suppression and apoptosis.

Nersesyan and Muradyan (2004) report that sea buckthorn juice protects mice against the genotoxic action of cisplatin: a well-known anticancer drug which also is very toxic to normal cells. Sea buckthorn juice (300 ml) prepared ex tempore was given to mice by gavage for periods of 5 or 10 days. 3 h after the last gavage, mice received cisplatin at concentrations of 1.2 or 2.4 mg/kg.

Yasukawa et al. (2009) found 70% ethanol extract of sea buckthorn branches (1 mg of plant extract/mouse) to have antitumor properties in an in vivo two-stage carcinogenesis test with two groups of 15 mice; 7,12-dimethylbenzanthracene as an indicator, and 12-O-tetracecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate as a promotor. Of the three phenolic compounds (catechin, gallocatechin, and epigallocatechin) and the triterpenoid ursolic acid isolated from the extract, epigallocatechin, and ursolic acid were found to be the most active.

Wang et al. (2015) found that not only the phenolic compounds or phenolic extracts/fractions of sea buckthorn have anticancer properties: HRWP-A, a water-soluble homogenous polysaccharide with repeating units of (1 → 4)-β-D-galactopyranosyluronic residues, of which 85.2% are esterified with methyl groups, also demonstrates anticancer and immunostimulating activities in vivo. An antitumor activity assay demonstrated that HRWP-A could significantly inhibit Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC) growth in tumor-bearing mice. In addition, this compound enhanced lymphocyte proliferation, augmented macrophage activities, and promoted natural killer cell activity in tumor-bearing mice. The authors used three different doses of polysaccharide (50, 100, and 200 mg/kg), which were administrated intragastrically each day for 14 days.

Radioprotective Ability of Sea Buckthorn

Due to its high content of biologically-active compounds and antioxidants, sea buckthorn is included in cancer therapy for its radioprotective activity, which has been demonstrated in a number of studies by Goel et al. (2002, 2003a,b, 2004, 2005). Agrawala and Goel (2002) found whole extract of fresh sea buckthorn berries to have protective properties (H. rhamnoides—RH-3; 25–35 mg/kg body wt), particularly for radiation-induced micronuclei in mouse bone marrow. In addition, Goel et al. (2002) found that RH-3 inhibited the Fenton reaction and radiation-mediated production of hydroxyl radicals in vitro.

Kumar et al. (2002) report that RH-3 inhibited DNA strand breaks induced by radiation and tertiary butyl hydroperoxide in a dose-dependent manner, as revealed by Comet assay. They also note a strong compaction of chromatin occurring at concentrations of 100 and 120 pg/ml RH-3 and above, which made the nuclei resistant to radiation, even at a dose of 1,000 Gy. Goel et al. (2003a) report the protection of jejunal crypts by RH-3 against lethal whole body gamma irradiation (10 Gy), and that caspase-3 activity was also significantly lower in mice administered RH-3 before irradiation as compared to irradiated controls. Interestingly, a radioprotective dose of RH-3 (30 mg/kg b.w.) induced significant DNA fragmentation (studied spectrofluorimetrically) in thymocytes in mice in vivo. In addition, sea buckthorn treatment before irradiation was found to enhance radiation-induced apoptosis in vivo (Goel et al., 2004). Goel et al. (2005) suggest also that pre-irradiation treatment of mice with 30 mg/kg sea buckthorn berry extract protects the functional integrity of mitochondria from radiation-induced oxidative stress. These experiments examined the levels of various biomarkers of oxidative stress, including superoxide anion, lipid peroxidation, and protein oxidation. Interestingly, RH-3 was found to have immunostimulatory properties, which may play an important role in its radioprotective efficacy (Prakash et al., 2005).


Although many studies have confirmed the anticancer activity of sea buckthorn, its medicinal and prophylactic doses remain unknown, and no clinical trials have yet been performed: only in vitro or in vivo studies involving experimental animals. It is known that sea buckthorn may participate in the prevention and treatment of cancer; it also accelerates the return to health of patients receiving chemotherapy by significantly improving the performance of the immune system and relieves hematological damage.

The hypothetical mechanism by which sea buckthorn may exert its chemopreventive and therapeutic responses against cancer is presented in Figure 1. The bioactive substances in various parts of sea buckthorn have a range of properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-proliferative activities; they also induce apoptosis and strengthen the immune system; however, the molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Therefore, before sea buckthorn can be considered the “golden mean” for treatment of cancers, it requires further study in a range of high-quality studies.


Figure 1. Hypothetical mechanisms of action by which sea buckthorn may evoke chemopreventive and therapeutic responses against cancer.

Author Contributions

All authors (BO, BS, KU) listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

The reviewer BW and handling Editor declared their shared affiliation.


This work was supported by National Science Centre, Poland 2015/19/B/NZ9/03164.


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Sea Buckthorn

Sea Buckthorn is Transforming the Landscape

  • Exceptional ornamental beauty with attractive silver-green foliage
  • Delicious fruit with high vitamin content
  • Grows well in a variety of locations
  • Great for making homemade jams, jellies and juices

The Sea Buckthorn is a hardy, winner that seems to have it all. Intriguing looks with the convenience of a self-sufficient shrub, the Sea Berry has the bonus of producing an abundance of delicious fruit that’s just what the doctor ordered. Packed with tons of vitamin C, the first thing you notice about the numerous berries flooding your tree is their striking, vivid color. Hanging in clusters like bright-orange grapes, the Sea Berries themselves complement the silvery-green foliage that surrounds them. Standing out in the landscape with distinctive visual beauty, the Sea Berry reaches impressive heights of up to 10 feet. It also has another unusual benefit: Its nitrogen fixing ability improves the soil surrounding it. Just one more reason to add the Sea Buckthorn to your list of ‘must haves’ in your garden or landscape.
By now, most people know about all of the wonderful health properties found in berries. And the Sea Buckthorn is no exception. Chock full of vitamin C, this large berry has 7 times the amount of vitamin C contained in lemons. Not only that, its assortment also includes healthy doses of vitamins A and E. Although you can enjoy berries right off the tree, the best way to prepare them is in homemade jellies and jams. And though you need a male and female variety of Buckthorn to get berries, the process is simple…and the Sea Berry is one of the most widely planted varieties throughout the orchards of Europe.

Make a healthy choice. Get your Sea Berry today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Low light will decrease your harvest, so be sure to choose a location where your Sea Buckthorn will receive full sunlight. They also require well-draining soil so be sure to amend the soil when planting with compost or peat moss to improve drainage if needed. Avoid using manure as it will provide excessive amounts of nitrogen and stunt the root production. They prefer a pH range of 6 to 7.

Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and equal in depth. Remove your Sea Buckthorn from its container and place it inside the hole, keeping the top of the root ball even with the ground. Water the soil immediately after planting which will help to settle the soil and remove any additional air pockets. Apply a layer of mulch around your plant to conserve moisture and help keep grass and weeds from growing.

2. Watering: Keep the soil evenly moist but be sure not to saturate it. Overwatering can cause the leaves to turn yellow and droopy, while under watering will cause them to dry up and turn brown and crisp.

3. Fertilizing: Feed your plants yearly in spring using a well balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

4. Harvesting: When your berries are ready for harvesting in late summer and early fall, they will appear firm and have a uniform color. Since the branches have a thorny structure, they can be shaken to help remove berries. Again, keep in mind you will need a male and female Sea Buckthorn to get harvests.

5. Pruning: Be sure to prune your plants in late winter to remove any criss-crossing or broken branches. You’ll want to be sure your plant has plenty of airflow and exposure to sun as possible between branches.

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Tree & Plant Care

A large, suckering shrub with thorny stems. It grows 8 to 12 feet high and wide, can be grown in tree form, and may reach 20 feet high.
Easily grown in average, moist, well-drained, neutral to alkaline, sandy loams in full sun.
Prune after flowering to maintain shape. Plants can get unruly.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious but difficult to find in nurseries.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of wind, salt, cold temperatures and poor soils.

Native geographic location and habitat

Found growing near seasides in Europe, Northern Asia and China

Bark color and texture

Brown thin stems with silvery scales, Tip of branches have thorny spines

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, narrow, linear, willow-like, silver-green leaves up to 3 inches long. Underside of leaf has a scaly surface.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants). Non-showy, yellow-green, female flowers in small racemes appear on female plants in spring (March-April) before the leaves emerge.
Male flowers bloom in tiny catkins on male plants at the same time. Wind pollinated.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Bright orange, egg-shaped fall fruits on female plants. Fruit persist on the branches through winter and are used to make teas, jams, jellies,

Sea berry, also known as sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), is a hardy perennial shrub with silvery green leaves that produces a highly nutritious berry packed with vitamins and antioxidants. While the sea berry plant has been a bit overlooked here in the U.S. until recently, this resilient bushy plant is an up and comer. It is a tough, undemanding, cold tolerant beauty that offers a sweet treat to boot.

The sea berry bush is native to Russia, Asia, and Europe and has long been known in these locations for the benefits of its growth. The sea berry has been used as a natural resource for thousands of years. It has been planted to prevent soil erosion and also to support economy for its nutritional and medicinal value.

The sea berry plant can be grown in mountainous areas, in semi-desert locations and near the sea. It thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture Hardiness Zones 2 to 9. In the wild, it is often found near coast lines where other large plants cannot survive. The sea berry has the unique ability to tolerate salinity in soil.

Planting sea berry

Planting a sea berry is simple. Plant your sea berry in full sun in the spring. The sea berry is not picky when it comes to soil condition, but it does enjoy well-draining, moist ground. Water regularly to ensure your plant doesn’t dry out. Feed your sea berry bush once a year with an organic mix.

If you would like to enjoy sea berry fruit, plant at least one male and one female plant. One male plant can pollinate up to five female plants. Pollination occurs with wind, so place your plants 3 to 6 feet apart. Your sea berry plants will grow to between 6 and 18 feet tall and will produce fruit by the fifth year at the latest.

While the sea berry bush does not require pruning, it is a plant that allows you a bit of creativity. You can prune the plants into hedges, into bushy shrubs, or even into trees. If you don’t feel like forcing any shape to your sea berry bush, occasionally take the time to trim off unproductive or damaged branches.

Harvesting the clustering berries from this thorny plant is difficult but not impossible. Pick the fruit when it is ripe during the late summer and early fall. Look for full, uniform color and firmness. The berries will most likely be tart and acidic. You may enjoy the flavor, but if not, try sweetening them up with sugar or honey.

The berries are ideal in jelly and juice. After picking and cleaning the berries, process them promptly to maintain freshness. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The berries can also be flash frozen. Spread the berries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, they can be stored if freezer bags in usable portions. The leaves of the sea berry fruit can be dried and used for a tasty tea.

Pests and problems

Not a problem for most, but a possible agitation to some, the sea berry plant attracts a variety of birds for nesting purposes. While the birds enjoy the thorny protection of the sea berry branches, they do not have an affinity for the fruit. Fortunately, you will not have to compete for your harvest.

Sea berry cultivars to consider

‘Russian Orange’ is a less thorny variety and yields large, good quality fruits.

‘Sirola’ is a strong, vigorous grower that is only slightly thorny. The berries of this variety are pleasantly sweet.

‘Hergo’ is a tough variety with high harvest potential.

Want to learn more about the sea berry plant?

Visit these links:


Seaberry – Hippophae rhamnoides L from North Dakota State University

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