A single berry from the sea buckthorn contains more vitamin C than a whole orange, but that's far from the best reason to bring it into your kitchen. Sea buckthorn is easy to find and full of flavor, and it can deliver a vibrant jolt of acidity to your dishes.
Where to Find It
Sea buckthorn simply can't get enough light, and when the sun is out—for example near the coast—it spreads quickly into dense shrubs of prickly thorns and orange berries. An extremely hardy plant, sea buckthorn can live in sandy soil despite strong, salty wind—which is why you'll often find it in dune landscapes where it functions as a windbreak. You can also find sea buckthorns in old gravel pits and on exposed slopes. If the sun is out, sea buckthorn will find a way.
Salt marshes, towns, hedges.
When to Find it
You can pick sea buckthorns from August until October, though the season may end earlier if it's a hot summer.
Berries: August, September, October.
How to Spot It
Sea buckthorn can creep along the ground in a short, bushy thicket, or, if conditions are right, it can grow vertically into a tree five to six meters tall. Its leaves are narrow and silvery. Well into fall, sea buckthorn is lush with berries that vary in color from light yellow to dark orange, and grow so densely that they look like corncobs. Once the berries turn more yellow toward the end of the season, they're close to being overripe.
How to Pick It
You'll be lucky if you find sea buckthorn in the perfect state of ripeness, where the small orange berries can be plucked from the plant without turning to mush in your fingers. One option is to lay a cloth underneath the bush and shake the branches until the berries begin to fall off, while avoiding cuts and scrapes from the sharp thorns. If that doesn't work, try cutting off a branch, putting it in the freezer, and later picking the frozen berries from it. Be careful to only cut short branches, in a quantity that you’ll actually use so the plant doesn't suffer unnecessary damage (and remember to ask for permission to clip from the bush). If you're only going to use the juice, you can also hold a cup under a branch and, wearing gloves, press the berries until the liquid runs down.
On the palate
Sea buckthorn is often called the Nordic lemon because it's very tart without being overly bitter. You'll find notes of passionfruit, mandarin orange, pineapple, and orange in sea buckthorn, as well as a fermented bitterness. Frost will lessen the berries’ flavor, so pick them early in the season, when they tend to dry out the mouth in the same way as a high-acid wine. The ripe berries are soft and fresh with light, crisp seeds and a good deal of umami flavor.
Sea buckthorn has an apple-like aroma similar to cider, especially late in the season. The scent intensifies once the berries have been picked, and it gets even stronger once they're cooked.
The berries are very fragile, so they should be handled carefully. It’s easiest to press the juice out of them or purée them, but the whole berries can also be used in preserves. They have small, crunchy seeds, though, so putting them through a juice extractor is never a bad idea.
You can use sea buckthorns in place of lemon or lemon zest—for example, in fish dishes where you can either use the juice as a marinade or scatter whole, fresh berries over the flesh. Sea buckthorns are a good ingredient to use in spiced schnapps and in jam or marmalade, jelly, juice, and porridge. When you use them in jam or marmalade, you'll need to sweeten the berries thoroughly; use honey or cane sugar if you don’t want to drown out the sea buckthorns’ flavor. The berries are also good in homemade ice cream—together with carrot in a sherbert, for example. They also work well in combination with rosehips. The two plants usually grow together, and sea buckthorn can provide the shot of acidity that the rosehips lack.
If you've frozen sea buckthorns right after gathering, you can keep the branches in the freezer for a year or more and pick the frozen berries when you need them. The fresh branches of will keep for up to ten days if stored away from sunlight in a cool place. If you've pressed the juice out of the berries, freeze it or use it quickly, as it turns vinegary quickly.
Sea buckthorn provide a tartness, so substitute other acidic flavorings such as lemon, grapefruit, or vinegar if necessary. You can also replace them with redcurrants or other sour berries.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
Sea buckthorns can be confused with firethorns, which have very bitter, red berries. While sea buckthorn leaves are oblong with fine hairs underneath, the firethorn's are smooth and broader. Firethorn is not acutely toxic, but it's not suitable for eating either (for anyone other than birds, that is).