How to Pick Sea Buckthorn berries

Originally published on October 27, 2013 by Monica Wilde

There are so many sea buckthorn berries at this time of the year. They are very high in vitamin C and have an antioxidant (ORAC) profile just below acai berry – except you don’t have to fly it in from the Amazon! Just get out for a walk along the coast and these hardy bushes, with their silver grey foliage, are nestled in the sand dunes and scrub, laden with bright orange sea buckthorn berries.

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Of course the fun starts when you try to pick them! They are so full of juice (with just one seed) that they literally explode as soon as you put any pressure on them. Conventional wisdom says detach the berries with a fork, inserting the times behind the berries and picking them into a bucket. However, there are some thorns, and lots of little branches, and this is a time consuming operations. There are really only two ways to pick sea buckthorn berries…

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The first challenge is getting them off the bush. Seriously, nothing beats using a pair of secateurs. Take the small twigs from further down the stem and you won’t spoil the visual impact for other people. And don’t forget to leave plenty for the birds. You might also find a pair of gloves handy. They are spiky but personally I don’t find that the spikes get in the way much. They are well spaced out and not particularly sharp. The long branch below was picked from the from of the bush, the smaller one from further down the stem. I prefer the smaller ones as they are easier to juice from.

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One quick way to handle the berries once you have picked them and got them home, is to put them in the freezer. The hard, frozen berries are much easier to pick off the twigs as they don’t explode in your hands. This is suitable if you are going to simmer the berries to extract the juice and then strain it in a muslin bag. I don’t have room in the freezer to do this so I squeeze the juice off the twigs without picking the berries.

First wash your hands and get a large saucepan. It’s best to sit outside as until you get the hang of it the juice can go everywhere! Take a twig in your hand, the small ones fit perfectly into the palm of your hand, and with your fingers pointing down into the saucepan, gently squeeze. If your fingers are pointing down, this directs the juice into the pan and not up the walls and in your eye! Quarter turn the twig and apply more pressure, then turn again.

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If you do have some that seem to have some spikes, point it leaf end down toward the saucepan and squeeze the berries while moving your hand slightly in a downward direction. This pushes the spines over and you won’t get spiked and they grow in the direction of the leaves.

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If you’ve ever milked a cow, you will quickly notice the resemblance to milking. Milking the berries like this makes this a very fast way of processing the berries without the painstaking task of picking them off one by one. If you do want a few for decoration, use a fork to spring a few off.

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You’ll notice that in the left over twigs, although the berry skin is still attached, you are hardly wasting any juice. If you’re not sure, then put them in a dish and you’ll see how little is left in the bottom at the end. I find that one small mushroom basket full of twigs with berries, gives me a litre of cold-pressed juice.

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Once they are all squeezed, you are left with cold-pressed sea buckthorn juice, and a few leaves and twig bits. First mash with a potato masher to get any berries that have detached fully pulped. Then, strain through a sieve and then through a muslin bag to remove any debris.

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Finally, here is your lovely juice. One other advantage of doing it this way instead of simmering the berries, is that the heat doesn’t reduce the vitamin levels and, if drunk fresh, you’ll also have the benefits of those health-giving enzymes.

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However, to make it palatable and to preserve it in any quantity, you will need to heat it with sugar to make a syrup. But only after you’ve used some fresh to make marinades, sauces, sorbet, cheesecake, coulis and a whole host of tasty dishes!

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