Sea buckthorn (Hippophae L.) - The vulnerable wonder plant of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir (India)
Author: Sheikh M. Sultan
ICAR-NBPGR Regional Station Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) - 190007
Sea buckthorn (Hippophae L.) also known as sandthorn or sea berry belonging to the family Elaeagnaceae, is a spiny deciduous shrub or small tree with silvery oblong leaves native to Eurasia and widely spread across China, Russia, Finland, Central Asia, Pakistan and India and has been introduced to western Europe and North America.Hippophae rhamnoides L. is the most widespread species of sea buckthorns.During last two decades it has attracted the attention of numerous researchers in India and in other parts of the world.Many products derived from the sea buckthorn fruits are now being commercialized.
The name “sea buckthorn” is from its habit of growing near the sea and from the possession of many spines or thorns that are reminiscent of some buckthorn (Rhamnus) species.In United Kingdom, this winter hardy and vigorous plant grows densely in coastal areas and on roadsides at some places.In fact, in Europe it is widespread in low altitude areas while in Asian countries it is usually found above 3000 meters.The genus name Hippophae in Latin means “shining horse” coined after it was noted that feeding leaves of this plant to horses improved their health and made their hair shiny.
In India the plant is found growing at some places in north western Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir.In the state of Jammu & Kashmir, it is found growing wild in cold desert Ladakh province both in Leh and Kargil districts alongside rivers and in wastelands in Leh, Nubra, Zanskar, Suru valley and Changthang valley between an altitude of 2600-4000 meters.Many call it “the wonder plant of Ladakh” now commercially known as “Leh Berry”.Local people call it “Tsermang”, “Sastalulu”, “Cherker” or “sTar-bu”.
The plants typically grow 2-4 meters tall.There are both male and female plants.Flowers are very small greenish or yellowish in color borne in the months of June to September.The fruits are small oval or round berries which are reddish or yellowish in color and are persistent sometimes remaining on the bushes all the winter until eaten by birds.The fruits have a sharp sour taste and a unique aroma reminiscent of pineapple.Seeds are small blackish or brownish in color.Besides Hippophae rhamnoides subsp. turkestanica Rousi, other species called Tibetan sea buckthorn ( Hippophae tibetana) has also been found to grow at higher altitudes in some places of Ladakh.It is a smaller and less thorny plant with variable oblong leaves.
The berries of this plant are a rich source of vitamins especially vitamin C and E, carotenoids, polyphenols and essential amino-acids.Many products derived from sea buckthorn are now commercialized.China, Russia, and Mongolia are the largest producers of sea buckthorn commodities.In both Europe and Asia, the main product is oil for medical and cosmetic purposes.The range of other items include: juice, jellies, liquors, candies, vitamin C tablets, ice cream, tea, biscuits, food colorants, cosmetics, shampoos, and medicines.In India, first ever multi-vitamin herbal beverage and herbal tea from sea buckthorn has been developed and commercialized by the Defense Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR), (DRDO), Leh Ladakh.Whole plant including its fruits, leaves and seeds are thought to have anti-ageing, memory restoration and energy boosting properties.In China, the oils and other fruit extracts of this plant having well reported medicinal properties (Zeb 2004, 2006; Wang 2006) have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.In China and Russia, oil from its pulp and seeds is used clinically in hospitals while oil obtained from the young branches and leaves and has been incorporated into an ointment for treating a wide variety of skin damage, including burns, bedsores, eczema, and radiation injury.In Ladakh, 2-3 spoonful of its fruit juice is taken mixed with equal quantity of boiled cold water to improve digestion (Ballabh and Chaurasia, 2009), as aphrodisiac and in lung diseases (Pant and Pant, 2011).The fruits of Hippophae salicifolia D. Don. are used to cure cold, cough and lung complaints by Ladakhis (Phani Kumar et al., 2009).
Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) plants photographed by the author in September, 2015 in Suru Valley, Kargil (Ladakh). Note plants with orange colored berries on left and with yellow colored berries on right.
Besides medicinal and nutrient value, sea buckthorn plant is an excellent fuel and fodder and in fact is used for these purposes in Ladakh. In Nepal it has been introduced as a source of firewood to help prevent other native trees from being cut and burnt.Its wide adaptation, fast growth, resistance to pests, tolerance to drought, soil salinity and low temperatures to the level of -45οF coupled with strong nitrogen-fixing properties make it a good choice for marginal areas where it can also have a beneficial effect on wildlife.Wild animals and birds use it as a food and shelter.Nitrogen fixing bacteria Frankia belonging to the Actinomycetes lives in strong relationship with sea buckthorn thus, the plant can be used to reclaim and restore the fertility of wastelands.Heavy plantations of this plant on slopes and marginal fragile soils can act as windbreaks thus help preven soil erosion.Sand dunes frequently occur in Ladakh and encroach upon and destroy fertile lands.Plantations of sea buckthorn have been used as a barrier to prevent advancement of sand dunes.In northern China it is helping to control desertification, conserve land and water resources, and integrate economic exploitation with ecological rehabilitation.Contarary to these beneficial qualities, sea buckthorn has been reported to be an invasive plant at some places, for example, in British Isles, its invasiveness adversely affects flora and fauna of the region.However, in Ladakh it is a vulnerable underutilized fruit plant needing protection from being over harvested for fuel and fodder.The wild sea buckthorn in Ladakh constitutes a highly valuable resource and possible source of superior genotypes which can be exploited as prized fruit plant.One has to remember that this wonder plant needs a lot of improvement and development in this region.Breeding work on sea buckthorn is being conducted in the countries like China, Russia, Canada etc. and some verities have been released.However, lot more needs to be done for genetic improvement and large scale exploitation of this wonderful fruit crop which Small et al. (2002) regard as "an ancient crop with modern virtues".
Ballabh, B. and O. P. Chaurasia (2009) Medicinal plants of cold desert Ladakh used in the treatment of stomach disorders. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge 8(2): 185-190.
Pant, S. and V. S. Pant (2011). Status and Conservation Management Strategies for Threatened Plants of Jammu and Kashmir. Journal of Phytology 3(7): 50-56
Phani Kumar, G., S. Gupta, P. Murugan and S. B. Singh (2009) Ethnobotanical Studies of Nubra Valley - A Cold Arid Zone of Himalaya. Ethnobotanical Leaflets 13: 752-65.
Small, E., P.M. Catling and T.S.C. Li (2002). Blossoming Treasures of Biodiversity: 5. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) - an ancient crop with modern virtues. Biodiversity (2): 25-27.
Wang, Z.Y., X. L. Luo and C. P. He (2006). Management of burn wounds with Hippophae rhamnoides oil. Nan Fang Yi Ke Da Xue Xue Bao 26: 124 - 125.
Zeb, A. (2004). Important therapeutic uses of sea buckthorn (Hippophae): a review. J Biol Sci. 4: 687-693.
Zeb, A. (2006). Anti-carcinogenic potential of lipids from Hippophae: - evidence from the recent literature. Asian Pacific J Cancer Prev. 7: 32 -35.
About Author / Additional Info:
I am a Sr. Scientist working at NBPGR (National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources) Regional Station Srinagar.My interest is management of PGR (Plant Genetic Resources).