Sharing Scotland’s National Treasure – Seabuckthorn

Posted: 24 May 2022, in News

I first heard of Seabuckthorn while on a UN Emergency Logistics mission with the World Food Programme in Pakistan. The devastating floods of 2010 had cut off food supply chains with locals facing food scarcity. Local leaders described the remarkable nutritional profile of Seabuckthorn and how communities could use them to help survive. 

In 2013, after a decade working in complex emergencies, I returned to Scotland to discover these miraculous berries growing wild along our coastline, protected by their needle-like thorns. 

Image Credit: John Devlin

Compared to hazards I had faced before, a few thorns were nothing to worry me and following intensive self-education I worked out the best way to harvest the berries – and some delicious recipes.  I had a new mission: to share Scotland’s national treasure with our population via beautiful, natural zero-waste products and through outreach and research with local universities.

Whilst Seabuckthorn grows wild in Scotland and is considered to be native by European and UK authorities throughout Britain (having been around since the pre glacial period), Nature Scot considers it to be invasive in many coastal areas due to a reversal of sand dune management policy from static to mobile dune systems.  This has sometimes led to Seabuckthorn being treated as a pest with council funds being spent destroying it, rather than protecting its phenomenal properties.  A large education piece and collaboration has been and continues to be key to our efforts.

With increasing fertiliser prices, it is timely to note that Seabuckthorn’s ability to turn nitrogen air pollution into fixed nitrogen, which acts as a fertiliser in the soil.  This quality can improve marginal land and improve its fertility for agriculture. 

Whilst this can make the land too rich for certain rare wild flowers, East Lothian’s Seabuckthorn stands are habitats for rare birds and wild animals, leading to its protection within bounds. It also helps to prevent surface water runoff due to its root system and its wood serves as an important carbon capture vehicle where other trees are unable to grow.

Furthermore, Seabuckthorn is a nutritional powerhouse and we want to use it to improve our nation’s health, rather than see these miraculous plants destroyed.

Seabuckthorn Scotland CIC was founded in 2018 to manage sustainable use of the wild Seabuckthorn stands in Scotland. We support East Lothian Council rangers in maintaining the accessibility of coastal pathways and beach access routes by pruning back the prickly branches.

Image Credit: John Devlin

We aim to use ALL of the material that we take. We have worked with laboratories as well as Heriot Watt University, University of Edinburgh, Bangor University and SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) to study the incredible properties of the Seabuckthorn Plant. The berries make nutritious juices, packed full of vitamin C and flavonoids to support a healthy immune system as well as vitamins A, E and Omegas 3, 6, 7 and 9. The raw juice we sell contains SOD, an enzyme which promotes a healthy heart and cardiovascular system and also promotes healthy gut flora. Pulp and seeds become oils for cosmetics and have a number of skin healing properties whilst the leaves can help protect skin from radiation. The leaves can also be used for teas and kombucha (they also contain leaf wax which is a potential local alternative to beeswax). The bark contains 5HTP – a serotonin precursor and this a natural antidepressant and the wood itself once dried has the same energy as coal which makes it a great potential sustainable fuel source – it has also been made into charcoal by a local producer.

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Kirstie Campbell, Director at Seabuckthorn Scotland CIC