Hawthorn for OUR HEARTS
Updated: Mar 4
Forgotten ally. Hawthorn tree (Crataegus spp.) is powerful, useful and harmless. Once an elderly man told me that the berries I was picking were poisonous. However, herbal tradition, thousands of years of practice AND extensive modern research tell a different story.
This mighty and proud tree walks with us throughout the year hand in hand. In the spring, young leaves appear from winter sleep, feeding us cocktail of nutrients and those magical phytochemicals, so beneficial for our hearts. Hawthorn has been shown to contain flavonoids, oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs), anthocyanins, triterpenoids, cardiotonic amines and phenylpropanoids (C. Fisher - Materia medica of western herbs).
Salt and pepper they were called in the past - try them! In the summer and early autumn, ripening berries sing a song to passing by humans enjoying the sunshine so that in the gloominess of wintery days, they can be enjoyed in a tea and sing their song once more.
Remember that 100% identification goes a long way - fortunately, hawthorn is very easy to identify.
1. Leaves - I was told they look like dinosaur footprints and although they vary in their shape, I always see a dinosaur footprint in them since.
2. Flowers - colour varies from white to pale pink - see the first picture capturing exceptional situation with flowers with berries at the same time.
3. Thorns - some shrubs are more thorny than others but generally they all have thorns which your fingers will find sooner or later.
4. Red berries in the autumn with 1-2 seeds inside, depending on the hawthorn species (Crataegus monogyna vs. Crataegus laevigata).
5. Taste - the young leaves and flower buds taste quite refreshing, some specimens are a bit bitter and what we call 'astringent' - meaning, they will make your mouth curl :) The berries taste buttery and mildly tangy.
Now, why on earth would you not give it a go if you know that:
1. It is a plentiful plant - there is enough for both people and animals. Always take only what you can reach and leave the rest for the 4 legged and winged friends.
2. It is incredibly safe and no negative interactions with pharmaceuticals have been identified. On the contrary, it has been shown reduce cardiotoxicity caused by anthracycline chemotherapy (Ch. Stapley - The tree dispensary).
3. It is very powerful in its action on the cardiovascular system - if you were the heart, you would need somebody for housekeeping and repairs to keep you ticking. Hawthorn gets the job done without even trying. It helps to clean up your blood vessels (bye bye plaque and atrocious problems stemming from it) and supports the heart in its beating action - it generally makes the heart beat slower if it goes too fast while getting the blood around more effectively - something for those suffering from arrhythmias and palpitations. Also, it has been associated with both structural and functional repair of the heart - great for all folks in the after myocardial infarction club and I would certainly give it a shot as a supportive treatment in cases of myocarditis or pericarditis.
I forgot to tell you what to do with it! Leaves and the flowers can be added to salad, soup, or sandwich (taste best in bud stage). The berries can be eaten raw as well (take out the seed, it is surprisingly big) but I like to dry them and make a decoction from them throughout the winter - boil a small handful in 1 litre water for 20 minutes, leave to stand for another 20 minutes, strain and drink.
There are also plenty of recipes online to make hawthorn fruit leather, hawthorn berry vinegar or hawthorn ketchup - I tried them all and loved them. We herbalists store dried leaves, flowers and berries but as well tinctures and vinegars for our patients who come to see us with their achy hearts.
Oh Hawthorn, the hero who bravely pulls its sword against anxiety, depression and grief. Hawthorn, the true friend, always there and simply the best for the heart job.
Plants feel your presence.