Seabuckthorn (SBT), the thorny bush with luminous orange berries, dubbed the wonder plant has now been elevated to super food status by health enthusiasts around the world. Scientists have also started taking an interest in the regenerating powers of the multi-functional plant originally used as a Tibetan medicine in the eighth century.
Recognizing the growing value of Seabuckthorn in modern medicine, Dr. Ashok Banerji, Amrita School of Biotechnology, initiated a project titled, Isolation and Molecular Characterization of Bioactive Compounds from Seabuckthorn.
The project seeks to identify and explain the underlying bioprocesses of the active compounds in SBT.
During the course of his research, Dr. Banerji isolated and characterized the main flavanoids of SBT: isorhamnetin, quercetin and kaempferol.
In addition, triterpepenes such as ursolic acid and phytosteroids, as well as substantial amounts of gallic acid and ellagic acid, were also isolated.
Dr. Banerji explained the curative properties of isorhamnetin. “Recently it has been reported that isorhamnetin has anticancer and anti-diabetic bioactivities.”
Dr. Banerji conducted a detailed study on the antioxidant properties of Seabuckthorn. “SBT is the best source of vitamin C and has other disease preventing antioxidants like gallic acid.”
In collaboration with Kolkata University, the Amrita School of Biotechnology is also investigating the radio-protective capacity of SBT. “It was interesting to find that gallic acid has tremendous UV-blocking activity, which explains why Seabuckthorn is often used in sunscreens,” commented Banerji.
This radio-protective ability is significant considering the depletion of the ozone layer due to the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Found in aerosol sprays, refrigeration equipment and foam, CFCs are now banned in Europe and America. In India, they are to be phased out by 2012.
Man-made green house gases, these CFCs indirectly increase the risk of skin cancer and directly contribute to global warming and climate change.
In fact, when combating climate change, SBT shows remarkable potential in mitigating some of its harmful consequences like soil erosion and drought which lead to desertification.
“It’s an ideal plant for environmental rehabilitation because it’s a nitrogen fixer that enriches and replenishes soil,” remarked Banerji.
This explains why Seabuckthorn afforestation has been used extensively around the world in countries like China and Canada to restore fragile ecosystems weakened by climate change.
In 2010, India launched its own national Seabuckthorn initiative to combat global warming. The environmental conservation effort aims to cultivate SBT on 1 million hectares of Himalayan land by 2020.
Proving why SBT is more than just a passing trend, scientists like Dr. Banerji continue to provide facts that people can trust and use.
Seabuckthorn, the wonder plant, has yet another name, the humble shrub of the Himalayas. Perhaps this name explains why its regenerative powers have endured through the ages?
January 13, 2011
School of Biotechnology, Amritapuri