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Sea buckthorn is a hardy, fast growing deciduous tree-like shrub, between 2 to 4m tall, with yellow or orange berries. It has brown or black rough bark and a thick grayish-green crown. Leaves are alternate, narrow, and lanceolate with a silver -grey colour on the under side. It is an ideal plant for soil erosion control, land reclamation, wildlife habitat enhancement, and farm shelterbelt protection, with nodule rooting capability of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere. The natural habitat of sea buckthorn extends widely in China, Mongolia, Russia, and most parts of Northern Europe.
Sea buckthorn was known as a remedy for horses, and leaves and young branches were added to fodder, to induce rapid weight gain and a shiny coat, and in fact, the generic name Hippophae means shining horse.
The sea buckthorn industry has been thriving in Russia since the 1940s when scientists there began investigating the biologically active substances found in the berries, leaves, and bark. The first Russian factory for sea buckthorn product development was located in Bisk. These products were utilized in the diet of Russian cosmonauts and as a cream for protection from cosmic radiation
The Chinese experience with sea buckthorn fruit production is more recent, although traditional uses date back many centuries (Lu 1992). Research and plantation establishment were initiated in the 1980s. Since 1982 over 300,000 ha of sea buckthorn have been planted in China. In addition, 150 processing factories have been established producing over 200 products.
Sea buckthorn grows best in deep, well drained, sandy loam soil with ample organic matter. In arid or semiarid regions, water must be supplied for establishment. Soil acidity and alkalinity, except at extreme levels, are not limiting factors, although it thrives best at pH 6 to 7. Sea buckthorn is sensitive to severe soil moisture deficits, especially in spring when plants are flowering and young fruits are beginning to develop. Sea buckthorn, like other crops, requires adequate soil nutrients for a high yield with better quality berries. It responds well to phosphorus fertilizer. Moderate pruning is required to maximize yield and reduce yearly fluctuations. The crown should be pruned annually to remove overlapping branches, and long branches should be headed to encourage lateral shoot development. Recommended plant spacing for sea buckthorn is 1 m within the row and 3 m between rows. Rows should be oriented in a north-south direction to provide maximum light. The ratio of male to female plants is important for maximizing fruit set. 1 male : 6–8 females ratio is considered adequate.
The leaves, berries and seeds of sea buckthorn have high nutritional values, containing vitamins C, B1, B2, E, F, K, P, provitamin A, sugars and organic acids. An average protein content of 30%, with polyphenol activity, including such rare fatty acids and alkaloids as nervonic and serotonin, reputed to protect the human central nervous system from toxins such as radioactivity: with selenium included with 27 mineral elements.
Pressing sea buckthorn berries yields 60% to 85% juice. The juice is very high in organic acids as reflected in the high levels of titratable acidity, and has a low pH (near 2.7). Quantitatively the most important organic acid is malic acid. Protein levels are fairly high for a fruit juice and this probably explains the fact that sea buckthorn juice is a cloudy or opalescent product. Vitamin C content has been reported as high as 600 mg/100 g of fruit. Vitamin E content is 160 mg/100 g of fruit. Pulp and seeds contain triglyceride oils with important medicinal value.
There are two sources of oil in sea buckthorn fruit: the seed which contains 10%–15% (w/w) oil and the pulpy fruit parts surrounding the seed which contains 29%–48% oil . Both pulp and seed oils from sea buckthorn vary in vitamin E content depending on whether derived from seed oil (64.4 to 92.7 mg/100 g seed), juice oil (216 mg/100 g berry), or from the pulp after juice and seed removal (481 mg/100 g berry). Carotenoids also vary depending upon the source of the oil.