Take Heart from Hawthorn
Its many common names include whitethorn, hagthorn, ladies’ meat, quickthorn, maytree, and mayblossom. Its magic and medicine are ancient and memorable. From the earliest records, hawthorn is one of the sacred trees. Hawthorn is the sixth tree of the Ogam cycle, Hath. Hath precedes Quer, the oak, center tree of the cycle of thirteen. Hawthorn is said to guard the hinges and to oversee crafts. A branch of flowering hawthorn placed in studio or workshop is believed to make the craftsperson skilled and successful. Hath shuts what is open and opens what is shut. Her magic, like her medicinal effect, is slow but long lasting.
The day of the fairies’ return is not a calendar date, but, according to Ellen Everet Hopman, author of Tree Medicine, Tree Magic, “the day the hawthorn blooms.” As the fairy gates open this May, open your heart to hawthorn. Let its beauty and strength imbue you with great heart, for hawthorn is the herb of healthy hearts.
Hawthorn (Cratageus) is notable for its long thorns and bright red haws (apple-like berries). The thorns may be used as needles; and hedges of thorny hawthorn grow quickly enough to keep even goats at bay. The tasty crimson haws – called cuckoo’s beads, chucky cheese, and pixie pears – are fermented into wine or baked into little cakes to celebrate the new May.
The leaves, flowers, and ripe berries of Cratageus oxyacantha taste great and are easily consumed in teas, infusions, and tinctures. Consistent, long-term use of hawthorn is especially recommended for ageing hearts, weak hearts, damaged hearts, and those with hypertension, angina, arrhythmia, heart valve disease, or Reynaud’s disease (arterial spasms).
Regular use of hawthorn can:
* Lower blood pressure
* Increase the effectiveness of the heart’s pumping action
* Strengthen the heart muscle
* Slow the heartbeat
* Dilate coronary arteries
* Prevent heart disease, heart attack, and stroke
* Help those healing from heart surgery
* Support the immune system
* Increase longevity
The German Commission E – a scientific body which determines the effectiveness of herbal medicines – recommends tea or tincture of hawthorn for:
* Cardiac insufficiency corresponding to stages I and II of the NYHA
* Feelings of pressure and tightness in the cardiac region
* The ageing heart not yet requiring digitalis
* Mild bradyarrhythmia
* Increasing coronary and myocardial circulation
There are no contraindications and no overdose of hawthorn. It is safe to take with any other medicine, including other heart medicines. (Though it is redundant to take blood pressure medicine after taking hawthorn for three months.)
Hawthorn is a member of the rose family, and thus closely related to rose hips, apples, cherries, apricots, and almonds. Hawthorn tea is typically made by steeping two teaspoonfuls of dried leaves and flowers in a cup of boiling water for twenty minutes. Hawthorn infusion is made by steeping one ounce of dried flowers and leaves or one ounce of dried haws in a quart of boiling water for at least four hours. I make hawthorn tincture by soaking dried hawthorn haws in 100 proof vodka for at least six months, or until it turns quite red.
A dose is a cup of tea, half a cup of infusion, or a dropperful of tincture, taken first thing in the morning and last thing at night. For the first three months of use, a third dose, midday, may be added. Traditional European herbalists always add a big spoon of honey to hawthorn tea or infusion. They believe that sweetness heals the heart.
Hawthorn’s ability to slowly lower blood pressure is well documented, although the mechanism of its action is unclear. Hawthorn does not block calcium channels nor is it a diuretic. In fact, it is highly regarded as a safe way to lower blood pressure when the patient is diabetic or has kidney disease. An injectable preparation of hawthorn was widely used in modern medicine prior to the introduction of blood pressure drugs and heart-valve surgery. It is still available in Germany.
The elder Rodale wrote of his heart and its response to hawthorn in Organic Gardening in the mid-50s. His editorials praising his renewed health and vigor stand as a modern-day testament to an age-old herb.
The leaves, flower buds, flowers, and berries/haws of the hawthorn are all rich in anti-oxidant flavonoids. Flavonoids benefit the heart and blood vessels in many ways. Their powerful anti-inflammatory effects relax the blood vessels. Their anti-microbial actions stop low-level infections like those associated with gum disease from harming the heart. And flavonoids support healthy functioning of the immune system and the liver. No wonder hawthorn is the herb of longevity in stories and tales!
In addition to flavonoids, hawthorn is rich in minerals, and contains a small amount of the active principle oligomeric procyanidine (1-epicatechol). Numerous scientific authors have scratched their heads in amazement that hawthorn can have any helpful effect since it has no harmful effect. Pharmacological studies of it constituents evidence “no objectively assessable results.” There just isn’t enough “active ingredient” to account for its observable actions. But herbalists understand that the magic of hawthorn is in the sum of the parts, not in one active principle.
The nutrients in hawthorn assist its active ingredient so that the heart and circulatory system are slowly and deeply healed on multiple levels. Hawthorn carries its magnesium and calcium directly to the heart muscles, enhancing their ability to contract and increasing available oxygen. This beneficial effect extends into the coronary blood vessels as well. Hawthorn is unique in its ability to strengthen the weak heart and carry the old heart into a healthy future.
Hawthorn works thoroughly, dependably, and slowly. Consistent use of the remedy is required for benefits to accrue. But, once gained, improvement persists. I take hawthorn berry tincture several times a week to keep my 60-plus-year-old heart in great shape.
There’s magic and medicine in the tree of May, hawthorn. Take some home for yourself today.
Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by a clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material in this article is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Contact a reputable healthcare practitioner if you are in need of medical care. Exercise self-empowerment by seeking a second opinion.