Return to ITM Online


By Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, OR

Sea Buckthorn on the vine.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is one of the important natural resources of the mountainous regions of China and Russia. The plant grows naturally in sandy soil at an altitude of 1,200-4,500 meters (4,000-14,000 feet) in cold climates, though it can be cultivated at lower altitudes and into temperate zones. Recently it has been extensively planted across much of northern China, and in other countries, to prevent soil erosion and to serve as an economic resource for food and medicine products. For example, Canada has invested in planting sea buckthorn, originally brought over from Siberia in the 1930s, hoping to develop a good agriculture market; Saskatchewan has ideal growing conditions, yielding a high quality product.

Aside from erosion control, the plant is primarily valued for its golden-orange fruits, which provide vitamin C, vitamin E, and other nutrients, flavonoids, oils rich in essential fatty acids, and other healthful components. The leaves are now also being used for making a beverage tea; they additional contain triterpenes. The following constituents are among those that have been found in the fruits:

Constituents of Sea Buckthorn Fruit (per 100 grams fresh berries)
Vitamin C 200-1,500 mg (typical amount: 600 mg)
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Up to 180 mg (equal to about 270 IU)
Folic acid Up to 80 mcg
Carotenoids, including beta carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthine; these contribute the yellow-orange-red colors of the fruit 30-40 mg
Fatty acids (oils); the main unsaturated fatty acids are oleic acid (omega-9), palmitoleic acid (omega-7), palmitic acid and linoleic acid (omega-6), and linolenic acid (omega-3); there are also saturated oils and sterols (mainly β-sitosterol) 6-11% (3-5% in fruit pulp, 8-18% in seed); fatty acid composition and total oil content vary with subspecies
Organic acids other than ascorbic (e.g., quinic acid, malic acid; ingredients similar to those found in cranberries) Quantity not determined; expressed juice has pH of 2.7-3.3
Flavonoids (e.g., mainly isorhamnetin, quercetin glycosides, and kaempferol; these are the same flavonoids as found in Ginkgo biloba. 100-1,000 mg (0.1% to 1.0%)

The flavonoids of sea buckthorn (mainly from fruit pulp; also in the leaves) and the oils of sea buckthorn (primarily in the seeds, but also in the fleshy part of the fruit) are the two items specially extracted for medicinal use. Thus, for example, a flavonoid extract product is commonly produced that contains 80% flavonoids, with 20% of residual oils, vitamin C, and other components. Sometimes the flavonoid extract is combined with an oil extract; for example, a flavonoid-oil capsule (made from flavonoid extract and oil extract blended together in a soft gelatin capsule) is produced for use in treating cardiovascular disease.

In the oil fraction, the unsaturated fatty acids are of greatest interest; extracted oils have less of the flavonoids and almost none of the vitamin C of the fruit. The oil components from several samples have been analyzed as follows:

Main Constituents of Sea Buckthorn Oils from Seed, Fruit Pulp (juice), and Fruit Residue After Removing Juice. Figures are in milligrams per 100 grams or in percent (as indicated for breakdown of fatty acid composition).

Ingredient Seed Oil Pulp Oil Fruit Residue Oil
Vitamin E 207 171 300-600
Vitamin K 110-230 54-59 -
Carotenoids 30-250 300-870 1280-1860
Total acids 11 38 -
Total flavonoids - - 550
Total sterols 1094 721 -
Oil Profile
Unsaturated fatty acids 87% 67% 70%
Saturated fatty acids 13% 33% 30%

The fruit residue, which includes the outer peel, is rich in the colorful carotenoids and vitamin E; the seed has the highest level of the unsaturated fatty acids and sterols.


Sea buckthorn has been shown to have a potent antioxidant activity, mainly attributed to its flavonoids and vitamin C content (1). Both the flavonoids and the oils from sea buckthorn have several potential applications (2). There are five areas of research that have been focal points for their use: as an aid to patients undergoing cancer therapy; a long-term therapy for reduction of cardiovascular risk factors; treatment of gastrointestinal ulcers; internal and topical therapy for a variety of skin disorders; and as a liver protective agent (for chemical toxins) and a remedy for liver cirrhosis.

Cancer therapy: Most of the work done in this area has been with laboratory animals. A group in India headed by HC Goel (at the Department of Radiation Biology, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, in Delhi) has published several reports on the potential of a hippophae extract (an alcohol extract, which would mainly contain the flavonoids) to protect the bone marrow from damage due to radiation; his group also showed that the extract may help faster recovery of bone marrow cells (3). In China, a study was done to demonstrate faster recovery of the hemopoietic system after high dose chemotherapy (with 5-FU) in mice fed the sea buckthorn oil (4). The seed oil has been found to enhance non-specific immunity and to provide anti-tumor effects in preliminary laboratory studies (5, 6).

Cardiovascular diseases: In a double-blind clinical trial conducted in China (7), 128 patients with ischemic heart disease were given total flavonoids of sea buckthorn at 10 mg each time, three times daily, for 6 weeks. The patients had a decrease in cholesterol level and improved cardiac function; also they had less angina than those receiving the control drug. No harmful effect of sea buckthorn flavonoids was noted in renal functions or hepatic functions. The mechanism of action may include reduced stress of cardiac muscle tissue by regulation of inflammatory mediators (8). In a laboratory animal study, the flavonoids of sea buckthorn were shown to reduce the production of pathogenic thromboses (9). Some simple formulas based on sea buckthorn have been developed recently for treating cardiac disorders. For example, there is a liquid preparation of sea buckthorn flavonoids with carthamus (safflower) and licorice, called Ai Xin Bao (from the Shanxi Ai Xin Biological Technology Development Center), which is intended for use in treatment of coronary heart disease and sequelae of heart attack and stroke, through improving blood circulation and restoring cardiac function.

Gastric ulcers: Hippophae is traditionally used in the treatment of gastric ulcers, and laboratory studies confirm the efficacy of the seed oil for this application (10, 11). Its functions may be to normalize output of gastric acid and reduce inflammation by controlling pro-inflammatory mediators.

Liver cirrhosis: A clinical trial demonstrated that sea buckthorn extracts helped normalize liver enzymes, serum bile acids, and immune system markers involved in liver inflammation and degeneration (12). In addition, sea buckthorn oil protects the liver from damaging effects of toxic chemicals, as revealed in laboratory studies (13).

Skin: An ingredient of the oil, palmitoleic acid, is a component of skin. It is considered a valuable topical agent in treating burns and healing wounds. This fatty acid can also nourish the skin when taken orally if adequate quantities of sea buckthorn or its oil are consumed; this is a useful method for treating systemic skin diseases, such as atopic dermatitis (14). The only other major plant source of palmitoleic acid is macadamia nuts; the oil is used to nourish the skin. Sea buckthorn oil is already widely used alone or in various preparations topically applied for burns, scalds, ulcerations, and infections. It is an ingredient in sunblock-hippophae oil has UV-blocking activity as well as emollient properties-and it is an aid in promoting regeneration of tissues (15). The fruit may also be used for benefiting the hair: the name hippophae, means shiny horse, and refers to the good coat developed by horses feeding off the plant.


Sea Buckthorn has been developed into a major resource for China. The main organization overseeing and promoting its utilization is the China Research and Training Centre on Sea Buckthorn, which has given rise to the International Center for Research and Training on Sea buckthorn (ICRTS).

Map of the Loess Plateau of northern China

Many northern Chinese areas have become virtually treeless, even though they were once forested. Soil losses have been huge, and several previous attempts to grow various trees to hold down the soil have been unsuccessful. Sea buckthorn has turned out to be useful because it withstands severe weather and grows huge root systems in poor soil (and fixes nitrogen in the soil). Its planting and maintenance is encouraged by the local people who can earn income from harvesting the fruits (and other parts of the plant). It was noted by ICRTS that in the Loess Plateau of northern China (see map), annual topsoil losses are about 1,600 million tons. Downstream effects include an annual accumulation in the Yellow River of 400 million tons of sediments. Sea buckthorn now covers more than 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) in the Loess Plateau. Of 360 bird species known to live in the region, 51 entirely depend on sea buckthorn as food and 80 are relatively dependent upon sea buckthorn. For many of the other animal species, sea buckthorn is an important source of food or provides shelter. The leaves and tender branches are a rich source of protein (11-22% by weight).

A similar project was successfully developed in Mongolia where former attempts to use astragalus as the economic plant to stabilize the soil failed, while hippophae succeeded. Having confirmed that sea buckthorn was the most competitive species for the purpose of controlling water losses and soil erosion, a total of 67,000 hectares (166,000 acres) of sea buckthorn forest were planted in Jianping County of Liaoning Province. This helped to increase the vegetation cover from 4% in the 1950s to 34% in the 1990s. Run-off was reduced by 90% and soil erosion declined by 70%. Fodder, fuel wood, and berries contribute to local economic development (up to 3 tons of fresh berries can be collected on every acre of sea buckthorn forest). Several wild animal species have found a habitat in the sea buckthorn forest, including pheasant, hare, and fox. Altogether, China now has over 1.5 million hectares of sea buckthorn, 40% of it natural, the rest planted. There are over 200 processing plants for sea buckthorn in China.


Following is a diagram of a processing method that can be used to separate useful components of the berries, yielding the key products of juice, dried fruit nutrients, and oil from the seeds and pulp; residues can be utilized as valuable animal feed. New technologies, involving supercritical carbon dioxide extraction, are now being used in China to efficiently produce the oil products.

Processing method that can be used to separate useful components of sea buckthorn berries.


  1. Rosch D, et al., Structure-antioxidant efficiency relationships of phenolic compounds and their contribution to the antioxidant activity of sea buckthorn juice, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 2004; 51(15): 4233-4239.
  2. Li TSC and Schroeder WR, Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides): A multipurpose plant, Horticultural Technology 1996; 6(4): 370-378.
  3. Agrawala PK and Goel HC, Protective effect of RH-3 with special reference to radiation induced micronuclei in mouse bone marrow, Indian Journal of Experimental Biology 2002 May; 40 (5): 525-530.
  4. Chen Y, et al., Study on the effects of the oil from Hippophae rhamnoides in hematopoiesis, Chinese Herbal Drugs 2003; 26(8): 572-575.
  5. Yu Let et al., Effects of Hippophae rhamnoides juice on immunologic and antitumor functions, 1993 Acta Nutrimenta Sinica 15(3): 280-283.
  6. Zhong Fei, et al., Effects of the total flavonoid of Hippophae rhamnoides on nonspecific immunity in animals, Shanxi Medical Journal 1989; 18(1): 9-10.
  7. Zhang Maoshun, et al., Treatment of ischemic heart diseases with flavonoids of Hippophae rhamnoides, Chinese Journal of Cardiology 1987; 15(2): 97-99.
  8. Xiao Z, et al., The inhibitory effect of total flavonoids of hippophae on the activation of NF-kappa by stretching cultured cardiac myocytes, Sichuan University Medical Journal 2003; 34(2): 283-285.
  9. Cheng J, et al., Inhibitory effects of total flavones of Hippophae rhamnoides on thrombosis in mouse femoral artery and in vitro platelet aggregation, Life Sciences 2003; 72(20): 2263-2271.
  10. Zhou Yuanpeng, et al., Study on the effect of hippophae seed oil against gastric ulcer, 1998 Institute of Medical Plants Resource Development, The Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing.
  11. Xing J, et al., Effects of sea buckthorn seed and pulp oils on experimental models of gastric ulcer in rats, Fitoterapia 2002; 73(7-8): 644-650.
  12. Gao ZL, et al., Effect of sea buckthorn on liver fibrosis: a clinical study, World Journal of Gastroenterology 2003; 9(7): 1615-1617.
  13. Cheng T, et al., Acute toxicity of flesh oil of Hippophae rhamnoides and its protection against experimental hepatic injury, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1990; 15(1): 45-47, 64.
  14. Yang Baoru, et al., Effects of dietary supplementation of sea buckthorn oils on fatty acids in patients with atopic dermatitis, 1999 Proceedings of the International Sea Buckthorn Congress, ICRTS, Beijing.
  15. Ianev E, et al., The effect of an extract of sea buckthorn on the healing of experimental skin wounds in rats, Dermatology 1995; 48(3): 30-33.


There are several sea buckthorn products on the market already. Examples are displayed below.

Russian sea buckthorn oil in Russian packaging
Russian sea buckthorn oil in Russian packaging
Russian sea buckthorn oil in English packaging
Russian sea buckthorn oil in English packaging
Sea buckthorn tincture
Sea buckthorn tincture
Sea buckthorn lip balm
Sea buckthorn lip balm
Rhamno-fitt, an encapsulated buckthorn oil extract
Rhamno-fitt, an encapsulated buckthorn oil extract
Indulona, a topical cream
Indulona, a topical cream
Oral liquid with carthamus flower and licorice
oral liquid with carthamus flower and licorice
Aubrey Organics antioxidant serum
Aubrey Organics antioxidant serum
Aubrey Organics skin care products
Aubrey Organics skin care products