Hawthorn- Crataegus

Botanical name: Crataegus oxyacantha
Family: Rosaceae
Parts used: leaves, flowers, berries
Properties: slightly cool/dry, cardiac trophorestorative, relaxing nervine, digestant, astringent, diuretic, antioxidant
Used for: heart related illness, cardiac weakness, stagnant digestion, regulation of blood pressure
Plant preparations: tea, tincture, vinegar, syrup, honey.

There is nothing that pleases me more than using native, abundant plants that are growing all around us and just waiting to restore health and balance to our bodies and minds. And this time of year is such a treat as “berry season” is in full swing.

Today I want to talk about our wonderful Hawthorn. Such a familiar presence in the Irish countryside, almost “common”, and also having a long medicinal history in the Eastern traditions and the American traditions. But what we often pass by is the incredible health food that it bears right throughout the year that if used correctly can be a wonderful annual tonic to support heart health. Yes, our very own Hawthorn is one of the most nourishing heart herbs around.

What parts should I use?

The young leaves harvested in spring and the flowers in early summer are used as medicine, and can be prepared in a strong infusion as a heart and also as a digestive tonic.
Check out my Happy May Day- Heart Healing with Hawthorn post here
However the strongest medicine is said to be in the berries, which are dripping from the trees right now!

What is Hawthorn good for?

Well Hawthorn is what is know as a cardiac trophorestorative. In layman’s terms this means that it restores balance to the heart. It also indicates a herbs that if used for a period of time and then discontinued, the benefits are maintained and lasting. It is a tonic herb that can be taken over long periods of time without concern and is safe with most medications. The one contraindication is for people on blood thinners such as Warfarin or aspirin. In these cases one should consult with their prescribing doctor.

A list of aliments that Hawthorn can support –

• Regulates both high and low blood pressure.
• Regulate cholesterol levels.
• It is rich in antioxidants, reducing oxidative damage to capillary walls.
• It reduces the impact of stress on the heart due to its relaxing nervine properties.
• It has been used to settle people who are restless, irritable and unable to focus.
• It is also a powerful support for emotional heartbreak to ease the burden on the physical and emotional heart.

How do I prepare the Hawthorn?

There are a number of ways to prepare the Hawthorn to use over the winter. Some include infused honey, vinegar, tincture, dried for decoction (strong herbal tea). However, my favorite preparation is Hawthorn Berry Syrup, which will last longer and is delicious as well as so good for you. So this is the recipe I will share today.

So any of you who feel moved to take action, now is the time. The berries are everywhere. Remember basic rules about wildcrafting such as not next to a busy road! The way I see it is we all have a heart and it’s pretty important on all levels so everyone of us could do with getting this into us! And the added benefit of harvesting and preparing a medicine yourself should not be underestimated. This is about empowerment & preventative medicine. So if you have a heart of any description get yourself a bucket and get out there this weekend. What a lovely thing to do for yourself!

Hawthorn Berry Syrup Recipe

• Put your fresh hawthorn berries into a pan and fill with filtered water to the level of 2 inches above the berries. Heat and simmer under 130F for 20-30minutes, stirring.
• Remove the mixture from the heat, cover and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid off and set aside in a clean container.
• Mash the remainder of the berries and cover with filtered water again to the level of 1 inch above berries.
• Heat again and simmer while stirring for approx.. 20 minutes.
• Strain the liquid and press the excess liquid from the berries, ideally with muslin cloth.
• Combine the 2 batches of liquid in a clean pan, heat and simmer to a syrup, approx. ¼ of the original volume.
• Take off the heat and add ¼ volume of vegetable glycerin or honey. Mix well and let cool.
• Finally add ¼ of the volume of good quality brandy. Mix well and bottle. Store in cool dry place for up to 6 months.
• Once a bottle is opened it should be refrigerated. Recommended dosage is ½ tsp. 3 times daily.

Happy May Day – Heart Healing with Hawthorn

May day has always had significance to me. As a child it was an event, on par with St. Patrick’s Day. Where I grew up there was a party organized every Mayday where a portion of May tree was decorated and placed in the middle of the square for a party. One of the local boys and girls where chosen to represent the May King and Queen and dressed up, sitting on their thrones by the tree, while the rest of us kids enjoyed the party.

Sounds like some New Age gathering but it couldn’t have been farther from that. This was in a small housing estate in Dublin in the early 80’s, filled with regular folk who no more knew, nor cared of anything we would now consider “New Age”. The reality was that we ate cheap chocolate and drank red lemonade by the gallon and the King and Queen mostly wore their First Holy Communion outfits!

But what a sense of occasion and tradition. The May Tree, seemed somhow magical and most of us knew it was also considered a Fairy Tree which was very exciting. I knew a little more about this as I spent much time in the countryside as a child in both the North of Ireland and the West of Ireland with grandparents who knew the lore. Many a story I heard of the trees that were built around, planted around and generally not disturbed in any way. This was a given. They were everywhere, these fairy trees and I came to have an awareness of the importance that they seemed to hold, although I did not really know why!

Years later when studying herbal medicine, what a lovely surprise to uncover the healing power of my childhood May Tree.  Hawthorn, or Crataegus one of our most prevalent native medicinal trees is a national treasure! Hawthorn is the archetype of Heart Medicine.  Flowers, leaves, thorns and berries can all be gathered and used but the berries are known for holding their potency.

On a physical level, Hawthorn is packed full of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory flavonoids. It is what is known in herbal terms as a cardio-tonic or trophorestorative herb. This describes the action of the herb, which is to tone the cardiovascular system or a herb that is nourishing and restorative to the tissues of the bodily system but also strengthening to the function of the bodily system.

This is a herb that can be used for long periods of time without a problem and when one ceases use, the benefits remain. It is truly a healer of all heart problems and diseases of the cardiovascular system, such as high blood pressure, angina, and heart disease. It also strengthens the heart beat itself and equalizes the rhythm of the heart.

Hawthorn also has a powerful healing capacity for the emotions of the heart. Heartbreak, heartache, a closed heart or an inability to forgive. We all have had the experience of these things and the physical contraction that happens in the chest. True integral mind-body medicine must acknowledge the impact of both and thus the need for medicine for both. Hawthorn spans both mind and body when it comes to heart healing.

Use a tea of the fresh or dried flowers at this time of year, or dry them for later months. Coming into autumn the abundant red berries are a medicinal chest, and can be prepared as syrup that can be used throughout the year, probably the most efficient way to use the tonic.

Spend time this month of May with a Hawthorn near you. Observe its abundance and beauty with the awareness of the powerful medicine it holds. And harvest the herb, with respect to keep your heart healthy and open to give and receive love.  Happy May Day!