Sea Buckthorn and Buckthorn are NOT interchangeable names for one plant. They are two completely different plants — in fact, they’re not even in the same family — and they should not be confused with one another!
Also known as Seabuckthorn, Seaberry or Sandthorn, Sea Buckthorns are deciduous shrubs or small trees (reaching 0.5 – 6 m in height) in the genus Hippophae L., family Elaeagnaceae. There are at least 5 species of Sea Buckthorn, of which the Common Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is by far the most widespread. The Common Sea Buckthorn species can be further broken down into 8 subspecies, which can be found growing in Asia, Europe, and North America.
Sea Buckthorns are wind-pollinated, dioecious plants (meaning there are both male plants and female plants) with narrow silver-gray leaves and long, sharp thorns. The male trees produce pollen in early spring to fertilize the females, which then produce abundant edible, juicy berries in late summer. These berries vary in colour from yellow to orange to red according to the subspecies and are extremely nutritious. The female trees only begin to bear fruit after 3 – 4 years and give maximum yields after 7 – 8 years.
Sea Buckthorn has a long history of medicinal use. The plant’s berries, seeds, bark, and leaves offer numerous therapeutic benefits and have been used for centuries to improve overall health and treat a variety of ailments, particularly skin and digestive diseases.
Buckthorns, on the other hand, are a family of about 100 small shrubs or trees (reaching 1 – 10 m in height) belonging to the genus Rhamnus L., in the family Rhamnaceae. They can be found throughout the temperate and subtropical Northern hemisphere, and in parts of Africa and South America.
There are both deciduous and evergreen species in the Buckthorn family. Most species have simple, egg-shaped or oval leaves (3-15 cm long), thorns, and bear clusters of black, blue or dark purple berries. Though they may look tasty, these berries are not really edible. In fact, the berries of the Common Buckthorn were once used as a purgative—an old herbal remedy which is not recommended due to the toxicity of the berries. According to one naturalist, “Everything is edible…once. Buckthorn berries won’t kill you, but they’ll make you wish you were dead.”
In North America, some non-native Buckthorn species are considered invasive, such as the Common Buckthorn and the Glossy Buckthorn. These plants were brought to North America from Europe in the 1800s for landscaping and began to spread rapidly, out-competing native plants. Today, these plants are classified as “restricted, noxious weeds” in parts of the US and Canada.
So as you can see, there is a big difference between the Sea Buckthorn plant and the Buckthorn plant, and it’s very important to differentiate between the two! You certainly wouldn’t want to confuse them and try eating toxic Buckthorn berries, thinking they’re the same thing as nutritious, vitamin-packed Sea Buckthorn berries!