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!