It lives in the mountains, often unseen and overlooked. It is a secret held by the ancients, once forgotten. It is the stuff of legend, driving men to the skies, the infirmed into victorious battle, the warlord to conquer. It is a mysterious food, a plant that grows in climates not picked upon by the mortal man. It is called sea buckthorn and, while the legends may not always measure up to history (what legend does?), sea buckthorn’s interesting contributions to world mythology suggest a fascination with this super berry that goes back thousands of years.
A Common Thread
Let’s set aside some of the stuff we know is factual. Sea buckthorn has been discovered in centuries-old medicinal texts in Tibet and China (read more about sea buckthorn history). It was used there to treat coughing, digestive problems, skin issues, wounds and burns, even cancer in some cases. Recently, science has come to discover its unbelievable dense nutritional content, a source of Omega-3, Omega-6, Omega-7, Omega-9, Vitamin A, several B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.
The most fascinating thing about sea buckthorn is that it appears in legends from multiple cultures, including ancient Greek mythology, Greek historical legend, and even the bloodstained histories of the mighty Genghis Khan. Apparently sea buckthorn benefits have been known for a very long time.
The Flying Horse
Sea buckthorn’s proper name normally ends in “hippophae,” which means “shiny horse.” Most of the legends of this berry involve, strangely enough, horses… beginning with the most legendary horse of all.
He sprang from the blood of the snake-headed beast Medusa… a horse, a creature, a monster, a god. Pegasus was known as a flying horse, a tool of the lords of Mt. Olumpus. It is said that whenever Pegasus’ feet touched the earth, a spring of water would burst forth. Legend holds that Pegasus’ favorite mountaintop snack was a berry that grows in the high climates Pegasus was accustomed to: sea buckthorn. Legend even suggests that Pegasus’ flying abilities may have been aided by this miracle berry (the research isn’t in on that one yet).
From Dead Horse to War Horse
This part is likely where “shiny horse” came from, and may even explain how sea buckthorn ended up as a cameo in the Pegasus legend.
Some Greek historical texts suggest that sea buckthorn’s benefits were discovered by accident. A group of soldiers were confronted with the difficult task of releasing old, useless, unhealthy horses into the wild to die. The horses ran into the distance, never to be seen again… until they came back, coats bright and shiny as ever. The reason for their health turnaround? They’d fed off a natural patch of sea buckthorn berries and rejuvenated their vitality.
Sea Buckthorn Conquers the World
As Genghis Khan marched his unstoppable armies across Asia, it is said that the warlord had a nutritional trick up his sleeve. It wasn’t some early form of cocaine or steroids, but a simple, bitter berry called sea buckthorn.
From Pegasus to Ancient Greece to Ancient Asia, the legend of sea buckthorn suggests that man has had a longstanding belief in the healing power of this super berry. It’s not known as a legendary berry for nothing.
13 thoughts on “Legends of the Berry – Genghis Khan and the Ancient Greeks Shared a Common Interest in the Sea Buckthorn Miracle Berry”
Can you provide a reference for the origin of the story about the Greek soldiers and the horses that I read on your site?
“Some Greek historical texts suggest that sea buckthorn’s benefits were discovered by accident. A group of soldiers were confronted with the difficult task of releasing old, useless, unhealthy horses into the wild to die. The horses ran into the distance, never to be seen again… until they came back, coats bright and shiny as ever. The reason for their health turnaround? They’d fed off a natural patch of sea buckthorn berries and rejuvenated their vitality.”
While I don’t have the original text stating the ancient Greek Legend, that’s the stuff of legends. Usually they’re passed down through generations much like folklore. In this write-up done by Thomas Li, he mentions the following Greek scholars who likely started the legend.
“Sea buckthorn is mentioned in the writings of ancient Greek scholars such as Theophrastus and Dioscorides. Sea buckthorn was known as a remedy for horses, and leaves and young branches were added to fodder, to induce rapid weight gain and a shiny coat, and in fact, the generic name Hippophae means shining horse (Lu 1992). Sea buckthorn has been used for centuries in both Europe and Asia for food and pharmaceutical purposes (Bailey and Bailey 1978; Li and Schroeder 1996).”
Reference: Li, T.S.C. 2002. Product development of sea buckthorn. p. 393–398. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA
Hope this helps!
Thanks for replying to my question. I would still like to know where the legend of the soldiers originated. It’s not mentioned in the references you cite, nor by Dioscorides or Theophrastus, who don’t discuss sea buckthorn.
I am working with InCrops Enterprise hub based at the University of East Anglia. We planted German and Finnish sea buckthorn in 2009 and 3000 mixed varieties from the Lisavenko Research Institute in Siberia in 2011. These are at Devereux farm. There are three other sites working with the project.
On the basis that Dioscorides and Theophrastus are often quoted I have started to research this subject. I would suggest that the problem starts with the confusion between buckthorn and sea buckthorn. There is then the issue that different translations have taken their own interpretation. My copy of Dioscorides is in latin with some words that are not in the latin dictionary and some that are words used by Frankish crusaders of the 13th century. I am working with an academic on the translation and sea buckthorn turns up in under Hippophaesto herba and Hippophae herba, also refered to as Hippophaestum; hippophyes; hippophanes; hippion and sometimes even Pelecinon. The name also sometimes drops the H. We have yet to fully translate the commentary that goes with the description of the plant and its use but there is no mention of horses.
Theophrastus’ Enquiry into Plants does not mention sea buckthorn. But he did write 227 treatise and it is posible that the refence is in other books – which is my next line of reference.
Dioscorides also makes reference to the Medical works of Paulus Aegineta, who lived at the beginning of the 7th century. By some he is considered a “Father of Medicine”, but Aegineta writes that his books are a compendium of references to previous writers. He particularly favours Oribasius, and his predecessor Galen. Again I am afraid, i can find no reference to sea buckthorn in the Aegineta books.
So far the best success I have is in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder (23-79AD).Book 22 para XIV refers to Hippophaes and the translator referes to it as sea spurge. But it describes sea buckthorn well and here is a reference to horses.
” They must be well suited to the constitution of horses too, and must also have received their name for this and no other reason”.
It is my reckoning that one needs to move back to find the primary source that relates to why the name of Hippo was given to the plant.
Theophrastus was born in 370 BC. Classification was already made by the time he was writing. But he was a student of Aristole, whom had a great interest in plants, and prior to that Plato.
There are many issues – which sea buckthorn are they refering to? Might this be sea buckthorn from the Caucasus ( H. rh. caucasia); or maybe the Alps (H.rh. fluvilatilis). If both the Roman and Greek Empires were founded around 800/700 BC then who started the reference?
If Theophrastsus has written about sea buckthorn it might be relating to his relationship with Alexander the Great whose conquests into India might have gained knowledge of Himalayan sea buckthorn.
Translations of all these works may have moved from Roman/Greek through into Arabic as the islamic thirst for knowledge throughout the European Dark Age probably presevered much of the ancient texts which still read well today.
To add to all this one must not exclude the value of the Tibetan texts. Around 630AD King Songtsen Gampo organised a medical conference, inviting medical practicioners from India,China and Persia. From this we start to see some of the great works which include sea buckthorn.
This whole subject can suck you into a lifetime of getting to know more and more about less and less. But there is reference to horses in Pliny from the First centruy AD and that is a fact. After that the digging needs to go deeper. Unfortunately it probably means that one has to accumulate a library of books along the way which may or may not have the right references to them.
Sorry this has been a longer comment – but the subject is complex. Good luck to all in sea buckthorn.
We appreciate your insightful post. Please feel free to comment and share information anywhere on this site. We’re striving to be the premier sea buckthorn resource and contributors like you help make that a reality! Best of luck with the project! As you stated, Good Luck To All In Sea Buckthorn!
Just to say, I appreciate the work that you are doing. Providing factual information to the reader will build confidence and understanding what sea buckthorn can provide. The challenge then rests with farmers and processors to ensure that the nutrients in the berry and leaf are protected through harvesting and manufacturing to give the consumer what they understand sea buckthorn will bring them.
Thank you David and we really appreciate your level of knowledge and interest in sea buckthorn. As stated before, please feel free to comment and question anywhere on this site. We enjoy discussing sea buckthorn and learning from one another.
I live in New Zealand and would like to order Sea Buckthorn oil in bulk for my horses
We don’t sell sea buckthorn products from this website but you may be able to get bulk oil from one of the companies that are in our sponsored ads.
This is what i found in the original texts as is written in the TLG (Thesaurus Linguae Graecae) translated by me (i don’t know if these txts are translated!) The capital lettering is synonyms used by the specific writers.
Galenus Med and Dioscorides Pedanius Med., De materia medica=1)=HIPPOPHAES=spurge, Euphorbia spinosa, used for carding cloth
Galenus Med2)=KNAPHON=prickly teasel; used by fullers to card or clean cloth.
Dioscorides Pedanius=PELECINOS=axeweed, Securigera Coronilla,.
Oribasius Med., Collectiones medicae=1)KLIMATIS=brushwood, faggots,
2)PICNOKOKON=name of a plant with purgative properties
Oribasius Med., Collectiones medicae =grows in sandy ground by the sea, shrub -belonging to the class of undershrubs, leaves like the olives but longer, narrower, and thinner and between thorns,whitish,angular, fruits like small grapes in small clusters smaller and softer, and thinner whitish reddish, thick root and soft,thith bitter tasting juice
Hope i helped…
I found this myth / legend that said something about buckthorn warding off evil spirits,have you ever heard about that before?
It was to do with Bronze Age farmers.
No we had not heard of that! Sounds cool- you should send us the link, we would love to read about that!
Did that last reference claim the berries use to be white instead of orange? Anyone have any info on that? Thanks! Great thread with some great information!