Sea Buckthorn: Superfruit from Northern Vigor Berries
Not to worry! I’ve found a new favourite that combines a tart, slightly tropical flavour with a heaping serving of health-giving vitamins and anti-oxidants. And it’s grown in Saskatchewan.
Sea Buckthorn Berries
Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub that was originally grown in Europe and Asia. It doesn’t mind a cold climate or poor soil, so it’s found at the foot of the Himalaya, in Siberia – and on the Canadian Prairies.
Sea buckthorn has a long and storied history. Ghengis Khan is said to have fed sea buckthorn berries to his army and the leaves to his horses to keep both healthy and strong prior to battle. Tibetan medicinal texts from as early as 600 A.D. refer to the herbal remedies made of sea buckthorn for skin and digestive disorders.
The tradition continues. The Indian Department of Defence recently sponsored a conference on sea buckthorn. They use sea buckthorn in a wide variety of food products – juices, jams, teas and baked goods – to boost the soldiers’ immunity. Clinical trials have shown that the leaves reduce the soldiers’ stress levels and help them to withstand the high altitude and low temperatures in areas such as the Himalaya.
Northern Vigor Berries
Sea buckthorn products are sold at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market by Northern Vigor Berries, a local family business.
“My stepfather is never afraid of a new venture,” says Betty Forbes, President of Northern Vigor. “When he heard about the tremendous nutritional value of sea buckthorn, he was eager to try this new crop.” Along with Betty’s brother, Gregory Bloodoff, they have cared for the crop ever since.
Growing and Harvesting Sea Buckthorn
Sea buckthorn is a tall (6-13 feet), hardy bush. As long as there is good drainage, it grows readily and has an extensive root system that fixes nitrogen. It sends out suckers, which could be a problem, but Betty Forbes says that they can be transplanted, thereby avoiding the cost of purchasing additional bushes.
The biggest challenge comes when farmers want to harvest the fruit. The berries are tightly packed around the branches and are surrounded by thorns. “The long thorns are very dangerous,” Betty says. “We have to wear protective clothing and even the toughest gloves will only last a few days.”
The branches are cut and put into reefer trucks operating at minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. “They have to be kept really cold because of the high oil content (e.g. omegas 3, 6 and 7) in the berries,” Betty explains. The fruit is then taken to a central cleaning facility where it is cleaned and packaged.
Northern Vigor sells a number of different products. You can purchase frozen berries, frozen or freeze-dried berry purée, tea, fruit leather, or gelato. I’ve been enjoying the berries in my breakfast cereal. The tiny seed adds a little crunch, and Betty says it’s very nutritious. My sister in law is planning to make an apple-berry crisp.
My next purchase will be a tub of the Outrageous Orange Gelato. It tastes really rich, but it is made with skim milk and is 45% pure fruit.
Local restaurants are using sea buckthorn in a variety of different ways. Calories serves the berries in a martini. Truffles and the Saskatoon Club serve a sea buckthorn sauce on duck or scallops; while Museo Coffee adds the berries to scones and spinach salad. The Willows and The Purple Grape in Regina use the fruit in a vinaigrette.
Northern Vigor Berries products are currently only available at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, but they will soon be available at SaskMade Marketplace in Saskatoon and at Dad’s Organic Market in both Saskatoon and Regina.