Readers may recall my enthusiasm several years ago about a fruiting shrub from Eastern Europe, Russia and China: Hippophae rhamnoides, known commonly as sea buckthorn or sea berry.
I was drawn to it because it stays small (10 feet or so depending on the variety), thrives in poor soil and droughty conditions, has edible fruit and provides cover for wildlife. How could this be anything but wonderful?
This year, we are enjoying 24 pints of its home-canned juice, but as is often the case, there is more to the story.
The plants are sexed, and one male can pollinate six to eight females. We planted our 12 plants on a north-south axis with the first male on the north end to catch the prevailing wind and the other in the middle.
When the females fruit, the berries appear, virtually stemless, in tight masses on the previous year’s growth. They are impossible to pick individually. After the fruits mature, be ready to pick quickly, because they begin to ferment.
The berries are high in sugars, having, according to some authorities, seven times more vitamin C than lemons as well as vitamin A and E.
Research on the Internet taught us to cut the fruit-laden 8- to 12-inch branch tips, bag them in large freezer bags and put them in the freezer until we could press them for juice. Some years ago, Brenda Pates and I bought a wooden screw-lid apple press cooperatively. (Lehmans.com is a source for nonelectric fruit presses.) This was perfect for the frozen sea berries.
The fruit is described as having a pleasant acidic flavor. I beg to differ. It is unpleasantly acid and has an unusual aroma. The pressed pulp is foul-smelling and needs an immediate home in the compost.
The concentrated juice is most often diluted with water on a 1:30 ratio and then sweetened with sugar. This is miles from what we wanted; I can drink sugar water without growing trees and pressing fruit.
We made a recipe that we think really works: one 16-ounce container of frozen orange juice added to 32 ounces or 48 (your choice) of water plus either ½ cup or 1 cup of sea berry concentrate. This makes a fine, hearty juice that tastes like a mixture of orange juice and tropical fruits.
The trees resemble Russian olives and are best planted as a windbreak or at the back of the property. Minimum maintenance keeps them tidy and healthy. Wild turkeys and our chickens cleaned up the remaining berries. The trees will sucker moderately. We have moved some and destroyed others.
To have the tasty, healthful juice is as wonderful as having trees that produce it. Sea buckthorn plants are available from the local nurseries this year.
On a different gardening note, several of us are developing a website of information helpful to Black Hills gardeners. The address is http://blackhillsgarden.com.
Cathie Draine is a member of the South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners and the Garden Writers’ Association. She lives and gardens in Black Hawk. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.