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Paromel offers wonder-berry

by Rachel GARBER

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In all the plant kingdom, it's one of the richest in nutrition and vitamins. It's a small orange berry with an enticing citrus tang. It is versatile, it can be used as food, in cosmetics, or in medicines. Ancient Greeks fed its leaves to their horses to help them gain weight and make their coats shine. It comes all the way from Siberia, and Les Jardins de Paromel in Bury now has 21 of these small trees, going on 350. Their orchard is expanding fast.

So what is it? In English, it's called Sea Buckthorn. In French, Argousier. In Greek, Hippophae or shiny horse.

Christiane Chartier waxes eloquent about Sea Buckthorn. She's an aroma therapist and an herbalist. She founded the Herboristerie Paromel in 1996 and grew it over the years, first in Sherbrooke, and then, since 2001, in Bury. It's a small on-line business that sells natural products made of herbs and essential oils, both in Canada and in Europe. Her new focus, Sea Buckthorn, is described in detail on the "Actualité" page of her website, She calls her new project "Les Jardins de Paromel."

"Sea Buckthorn berries have 40 per cent more Vitamin C than an orange," she says, speaking in French. And coming from Siberia, it's a hardy bush. Just like Quebecers, winter is its country.

Chartier's first 21 trees are in the back yard, growing in neat rows. "But if you let them go, they'll spread like bushes," she says. "Some cities use them as ornamental bushes."

The bright berries cluster near the branch-tips, interspersed with small thorns. Chartier and her husband, Michel Deslauriers, harvested the crop mid-October. They cut off the berry-laden twigs, and stored them in the freezer, as is.

"Our harvest was marvelous this year," she said. "We even had to buy another freezer."

Later, the frozen berries will be plucked off the twigs and bagged. Or steamed, or dried.

And that's how you can buy them, ready to use in cooking or baking, as you would use lemons or other citrus fruits.

Sea Buckthorn Squares. Jelly. Jam. Juice. Those are recipes in Chartier's little "Argousier" booklet. There's also a list of some 20 cosmetic products for sale, hand cream, soaps, creams, sprays, lip balm, oils. The most popular is a cream called Rhu-arth, for muscular aches and pains, she says.

A hair serum is listed too. It aids "microcirculation" in the scalp, stabilizes hair loss and helps hair growth, says the booklet. If it works for horses, why not for people?

The fruit, leaves and bark have a long list of health benefits. For example, they have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They support the immune system, combat flu, and lower cholesterol, say the booklet and the website.

"You eat 15 berries on your cereal in the morning, and you have your multi-vitamins for the day," Chartier says.

Chartier's eyes light up. She's describing their plans for the spring. Just beside the small orchard behind their house will be her boutique, where she will sell Sea Buckthorn products. Next to it runs a babbling brook. Across a small bridge is the site where Deslauriers plans to build a traditional outdoor oven. And in the oven Chartier will bake the traditional French flatbread, fougasse.

Traditionally shaped in the form of an oversized pretzel or ear of wheat, one fougasse can be a substantial lunch. Into it often go olives or cheese. But of course, into the fougasse of Les Jardins de Paromel will go the delicious Sea Buckthorn berries.

"For sure, Bury is a bit off the beaten track," Chartier says, "but we'll try to attract tourists here. It's a really beautiful area, the nature is beautiful."

Her career as an entrepreneur began back in the 90s, in Sherbrooke, when she started a small bookstore. It was short-lived, but one of the books in it attracted her attention. It was about essential oils. That led her to start the Herboristerie Paromel, with the help of ProGestion Estrie, a non-profit organization that helps new entrepreneurs.

"It's a small business. But I always wanted to stay small," she says. "Our aim was to earn enough to support the family." Now their children are grown, Deslauriers is retired, and Chartier is branching out into the Sea Buckthorn business.

She first learned of the Sea Buckthorn in 1998, at a conference in France. "A company there had a Sea Buckthorn tree. I found the tree beautiful, and I spoke about it with my husband," Chartier said. "He didn't say much, but when he saw the tree, he fell in love with it too. And we decided to go into that."

To get some of this year's crop of Sea Buckthorn berries, call 819-872-1009 for a rendezvous. Frozen berries cost $12 a kilo.

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