Seabuckthorn

(Hippophae rhamniodes L.)

Family: Elaeagnaceae.

“Hippophae” is classical Latin for “shining horse.” How did it get that name? According to Greek historical texts, a group of soldiers were tasked with releasing old, useless and unhealthy horses into the wild to die. They ran off and came back healthy with shiny coats. They had eaten seabuckthorn.

The use of seabuckthorn is cited in ancient Greek texts—attributed to Theophrastus, the father of botany and Dioskorid, a Roman army doctor considered the father of European pharmacology—Ayurvedic medicine as far back as 5000 BC, and Tibetan medicinal texts, including the “RGyud Bzi” (The Four Books of Pharmacopeia) dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Seabuckthorn was used to treat coughing, digestive problems, skin issues, wounds, burns, and in some cases, cancer.

In legends about the Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan, the nutritional benefits of seabuckthorn are credited as being the source for his army’s and his horses’ strength.

In the 1940s, Russian scientists began researching the biologically active properties of seabuckthorn’s berries, leaves, and bark. Products made from seabuckthorn were eaten by Russian cosmonauts and used as a cream for protection from cosmic radiation. In 1952, two years after China invaded Tibet, Xu Zhonghu, an associate professor of Sichuan Medical College, rediscovered seabuckthorn. In 1977, The Chinese Pharmacopoeia listed seabuckthorn for the first time. Most of the research on seabuckthorn in the 20th century came from the former U.S.S.R. and China.