The Superfood that Fueled Alexander the Great

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Sea buckthorn alexander the great
Sea buckthorn berries. Credit: Public Domain

Sea buckthorn berries have been used in traditional medicine throughout Central Asia and Eastern Europe for centuries.

The small orange-yellow berries are full of vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids that have been shown to aid in hair and nail growth, benefit eye health, and even boost the immune system as well as increase concentration.

Ancient Greek figures in pharmacology, medicine, botany, and nutrition have long known of the healing, beneficial qualities of the sea buckthorn berries.

During his campaigns across the world, Alexander the Great witnessed the benefits of sea buckthorn first hand.

sea buckthorn alexander the great
Mosaic of Alexander the Great in Pompeii, c. 100 BC. Credit: Public domain

Alexander the Great ate sea buckthorn berries

According to ancient sources, the famed Greek leader noticed that his horses loved the berries, and after eating them, they had more strength, shinier hair, recovered more quickly from injury and illness, and seemed to radiate health.

Alexander then incorporated the small fruits into his own diet as well as the diet of his troops to give them strength and vitality.

It’s from Alexander the Great that sea buckthorn berries got their scientific name, Hippophae, which comes from the Ancient Greek words hippos and phaos, meaning “shining horse,” referring to the radiant effect the berries had on his horses.

Benefits of the fruit widely known in antiquity

Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, conducted botanical surveys of plants with restorative, nourishing qualities, as well as medicinal uses, and noted the healing properties of sea buckthorn in the fourth century BC.

Pedanius Dioscorides, ancient Greek father of Pharmacology, also wrote extensively about the benefits of the extraordinary berries during the first century AD.

The healing qualities of sea buckthorn berries are included in his 5-volume pharmacological encycolopedia De Materia Medica, which was considered the authoritative text on herbal medicine for over 1,500 years.

While the vitamin-packed berries were used widely throughout the ancient Greek world, and are still a fundamental part of traditional healing in many cultures, they are no longer commonly used in Greece.

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