What Is a Sea Buckthorn?
Confusingly enough, the plant has no actual connection to the sea, it is a deciduous shrub that grows naturally in high altitudes all across Northern Europe, China, and Russia. These plants are known for being incredibly hardy, withstanding extremely low temperatures (up to −43 °C (−45 °F)).
For centuries, the berries of the sea buckthorn plant have been harvested and used in medicine, skincare, and food. Some of the oldest records of using the berries in medicine come from Tibet and Ancient China, but even the Greeks knew of the golden sea buckthorn, with ancient myths describing that the winged horse Pegasus got its ability to fly from the plant.
The berries of the shrub are edible and have a tantalizing sweet aroma, but when consumed fresh, they have an incredibly tart and oily taste, which is why they are rarely consumed fresh. Most often, the berries are pressed to yield sea buckthorn juice, which is then filtered and divided into a fatty layer that’s used in cosmetics and supplements, and a vitamin-rich layer that’s incorporated in foods.
Frozen berries and sea buckthorn puree used in foods are also available, as are teas, syrups, liquors, juices, pies and jams containing the berries. But by far the most popular product made of sea buckthorn is sea buckthorn oil. These foods are valued for their high content of vitamin C and carotenoids, whereas the oil is the only plant-based oil to contain all four healthy omega fats (omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, and omega-9).
Apart from that, sea buckthorn products are packed full of antioxidants, folate and vitamin E. Needless to say, the puree or frozen berries contain all the above-mentioned beneficial nutrients. All these compounds make sea buckthorn a very potent plant that has a wide range of uses and proven health benefits, which we list below:
1. Boosts Your Immune System and Protects from Cancer
All the parts of the plant are extremely high in antioxidants, particularly in vitamin C, which is what allows the plant to survive in such harsh climatic conditions. For centuries, the berries were used to make vitamin and antioxidant-rich foods that can boost your immune system.
Most notably, sea buckthorn is traditionally featured in preserved foods, such as syrups, jams, and juices, that were used to keep up the immunity during the harsh winter months. Research supports sea buckthorn’s capability to help you withstand illness, with test-tube studies stating that it can prevent the growth of certain bacteria and viruses.
Apart from that, the antioxidants the fruits contain are suggested to protect the body from cancer, as they are particularly rich in quercetin and other flavonoids that are known to have these effects.
2. Skin Benefits
Sea buckthorn oil is among the best anti-aging oils to use directly on the skin, as the omega fats, vitamins and antioxidants the oil contains have proven to protect the skin from sun damage, deeply moisturize the skin and promote skin elasticity.
Apart from that, sea buckthorn oil is effective at relieving redness, inflammation and skin irritation, even in patients suffering from dermatitis, razor burns, frostbite, and burns, so keeping a bottle of this oil in your medicine cabinet just in case is a pretty wise idea. Keep in mind, however, that the oil is bright orange in color and you'll need to dilute it with a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil, jojoba oil or marula oil if you want to use it on your face to prevent tinting.
3. Supports Heart Health
Sea buckthorn oil is also available in capsules, which are manufactured as a supplement. These sea buckthorn oil capsules may be useful to those of you suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, and high LDL cholesterol levels.
In one longitudinal study, hypertensive patients were given 0.75 ml of sea buckthorn oil daily for a month, which not only reduced their blood pressure but also lowered the level of bad cholesterol and triglycerides in their blood. A different study also found that 5 grams of sea buckthorn oil supplementation for the duration of a month can decrease blood clot formation.
4. Promotes Liver Health
The healthy oils, vitamin E and carotenoids sea buckthorn contains seem to have a beneficial effect on the liver as well. Namely, supplementation with sea buckthorn extract can protect the liver from damage and improve its metabolic activity.
In one study, patients suffering from cirrhosis were given sea buckthorn extract for 6 months, which significantly improved their liver function. Apart from that, the cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering effect of sea buckthorn oil discussed above can help your liver metabolize nutrients better as well.
5. Reduces Symptoms of Menopause
Sea buckthorn oil supplementation has also been found to improve symptoms of menopause in a study with postmenopausal women who took 3 grams of the oil supplement daily for three months. The study concludes that the oil supplement is effective at relieving certain symptoms of menopause.
6. Digestive Issues
Sea buckthorn oil and foods that contain sea buckthorn is their ability to boost digestion and reduce inflammation in the digestive system. For centuries, the crushed berries were used in Chinese medicine as a remedy for poor digestion and stomachaches.
Studies in animal models found a lower recurrence in stomach ulcers as well. Sea buckthorn is suggested to improve the mucous lining of the stomach, which makes it more resilient to developing ulcers. The healthy fats and antioxidants may also boost metabolism, improving your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food.
6. May Prevent Diabetes
The last scientifically-proven health benefit of sea buckthorn is its ability to help prevent diabetes. There is research suggesting that supplements made of crushed, dried sea buckthorn berry powder may help reduce sugar level spikes.
Namely, a study looking at healthy individuals found that the participants experienced fewer sugar spikes after meals containing sugar when they consumed the sea buckthorn extract, which, as the authors suggest, can have a positive long-term effect and help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Knowing how increasingly common both conditions are, it's definitely worth, at the very least, giving sea buckthorn a try.