This little bottle of Seabuckthorn is the impetus to write a post that meanders from Peachland to the Loess Plateau, to Tibet, and from the 19th century to Mao Tse-Tung. First, more about the virtues of Seabuckthorn (Hippophae).
I've been interested in Seabuckthorn since learning that a company in the city of Peachland, near my hometown in the Okanagan Valley, is promoting the many virtues of this plant. It is great for erosion control, as a windbreak, as food and as fuel. Downside -- apparently the plant is very thorny, but I used to get sliced to ribbons picking blackberries in North Vancouver. It was worth it.
The fruits are among the most nutritious of all berries.... Seabuckthorn oil from the branches and leaves of the plant are used in skin care products and topical medication for burns and eczema. It is also taken internally to aid digestion. The plants have an extensive root system, and is drought tolerant. This makes it ideal for preventing soil erosion. It grows in poor soil on steep slopes and has been introduced in Nepal as a source of harvestable firewood.
China is confronted with grave problems of soil erosion, and the government undertook the planting of The Great Green Wall to help conserve soil, fight climate change and improve the problem of dust blowing into the Beijing area from the desertified areas. A great deal of this soil conservation problem is man-made and is another useful and tragic illustration that top-down decisions are no kinder to the environment than capitalist ones.
The tragedy and folly of the forced collectivization of farms and the man-made famine that ensued in China is pretty well known. But Mao's meddling also included a campaign called "The Dazhai Way" in which farmers were exhorted to create terraced farming plots on steep slopes. The National Geographic quoted a Canadian geographer; "Tens of millions of people forced to work night and day on projects that a child could have seen were a terrible stupidity. Cutting down trees and planting grain on steep slopes—how could that be a good idea?"
The consequences were catastrophic, especially on the Loess Plateau, a large landmass made of loose clay soil. Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine notes: Many northern Chinese areas have become virtually treeless, even though they were once forested. Soil losses have been huge... 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). ..... 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..... 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).
True, history is replete with scary examples of plants introduced into an area to do a good thing. Kudzu was introduced into the state of Georgia from Japan to combat soil erosion (the red clay around here reminds me of the red clay of Georgia). Ask any Georgian about kudzu.
However, Seabuckthorn is more or less native to the area. I've been reading the travel journal of an amazing Victorian lady explorer, Isabella Bird. She trekked through Tibet on a yak. She was nearly drowned fording a stream. Freezing cold, blazing sun -- none of that bothered her. But she refers to the "lacerating thickets of the horrid Hippophae rhamnoides" with detestation. She doesn't mention sampling the berries.
Yes, how does Seabuckthorn juice taste? Meh, I didn't really care for it. It tastes a bit like apricot. And sorry, I've never much liked apricot. But I have a large store of goodwill for a wonder plant like this.