Genghis Khan used it, and so did the cosmonauts, ancient Greeks, and modern Chinese Olympians. Now Mila Maximets wants Manitobans to get on board and start consuming sea buckthorn.
The tart orange berry is more commonly associated with shelterbelts than health foods in this province, but it s the sole ingredient in Solberry, a new product made and marketed by Maximets. The bright-orange puree contains a host of vitamins and minerals.
You can put it on ice cream or in yogurt, mix it with water or whatever you like, said Maximets. There are so many applications.
But Maximets, a Winnipegger who worked in the telecommunications sector, wasn t out to use the berries at first she was after the oil.
When I was growing up in Russia, we would always keep a little vile of the oil around to treat the skin or a burn, she said. The properties are very good for sensitive skin, and for all ages. If you are young with acne, or older with dry skin, you can use this.
Maximets had been importing sea buckthorn oil from Russia to make soap with, but was looking to expand. Then she discovered the plant she was looking for was growing here in Manitoba.
It had been brought to the area around Morden in the early 20th century as landscaping, and is also good for the soil, with a very complex root system, said Maximets.
She contacted the Manitoba Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie to see about oil extraction. The centre suggested making use of the berries as well, and before long Solberry was born. The pure hit store shelves this summer.
Although consumer interest is growing, Maximets said finding producers with enough berries is a challenge, and so is harvesting them.
This year s crop came from Albert Dueck, who is retiring in a few weeks.
Dueck planted 5,000 sea buckthorn bushes on his farm near Winkler in 2000 and began harvesting berries six years later. He estimates the crop has made him about $40,000 since then.
The results have generally been good, he said. It s too bad we didn t start sooner, but it is a lot of work. But if you re in your 30s and you have some spare time on your hands, give it a try.
To harvest the berries, branches must be cut off the bush, frozen, separated, then refrozen. True to its name, the berries are also protected by thorns, which grow up to five centimetres long.
But the nutritional benefits of sea buckthorn, or Hippophae rhamnoides, are winning converts and drawing celebrity endorsements.
A 2003 report published by the National Research Council of Canada noted the plant s nutritional and health benefits, while a recent study published in the Journal of Functional Foodsby Yan-Jun Xu of the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Manitoba found the berries also improve cardiovascular health.
The berries contain vitamins C, E, B1, and B2, as well as manganese, calcium, potassium, iron, copper, zinc, chromium, and selenium. They also contain omega-3, omega-6, omega-7 and omega-9 oils; and a variety of carotenoids, phytosterols and polyphenols.
Currently, Maximets is the only person producing this type of product in Manitoba, although others are in the works, and sea buckthorn jam makes occasional appearances at farmers markets.
I wanted to make a made-in- Manitoba product, and this has become my passion, she said. I wanted to gain control of what I eat, and where our food comes from. I would like to see more products made in Manitoba.
The entrepreneur plans to continue developing products with sea buckthorn and hopes to expand operations in the future.
For more information on Solberry and sea buckthorn visit www.solberry.ca.
Mila Maximets, creator of Solberry, dished out some of the sea buckthorn pure at her home in Winnipeg.
Photos: Shannon VanRaes
I wanted to gain control of what I eat, and where our food comes from. I would like to see more products made in Manitoba.