Herb of the week: Hawthorn.
Latin: Crataegus-species. The "official" ones, in Europe, are C. laevigata (= C. oxyacantha) and C. monogyna, but I use any and all of them.
Family: Rose family, Rosaceae
Parts used: Flowering twigs, berries.
Taste: The flowering twigs: bitterish, astringent. The berries: sweetish, mealy.
4 humors: The flowering twigs: coldish, dryish. The berries: neutral, moist (I think).
- gives courage (because it's a heart herb? I'm not sure.)
- strengthens blood vessels, including capillaries
- strengthens the heart muscle
- helps the heart muscle get more oxygen and use that oxygen more efficiently
- strengthens the heart beat (= more blood is pumped in each beat)
- slows the heart beat
- it's possible to make juice or jelly from the berries, but up here they're so dry during most autumns that that is utterly impossible.
- I have heard that the leaves can be used as well, but haven't tried them myself.
- If you pick the unripe berries, beware the spines. If the berries are ripe, the spines won't hurt you. (Weird how that works!)
- Don't twist spines off the branches. If you want to play with some of the spines, wait for a branch or a tree to come down in a storm, and pick from that.
- Hawthorn is great for courage.
- A lot of herb books state that hawthorn will start to work on heart troubles after weeks of use only. Nobody told the hawthorn, though, so it'll happily start to work immediately.
- A few people (really not many) will get adverse reactions to the slowed heart beat: they will either get a rapid and irregular heart beat (very alarming, that!) or they'll stay on their sofa because they just can't get up (= they lose their oomph).
- Hawthorn is great for keeping people heart-med free for decades and more, where their peers get bogged down in the med whack-a-mole game.
- (You can give hawthorn to strengthen the heart in high blood pressure; but the key to hypertension is in the diet.)
- A lot of herb books state that you shouldn't use hawthorn together with heart medications. The current consensus among herbalists is that problems of concurrent use are exceedingly rare. So if you do get stronger side effects from your meds when you start to take hawthorn, talk to your doctor. You could talk him/her around to tapering down the meds while tapering up the hawthorn. (But don't (do not!) taper down or stop heart meds on your own!)
Comments on Facebook:
- From Gary M.:
We are blessed with big and juicy Hawthorns here in Colorado, also one of my favorite herb trees!!!
- From Christa M:
I am one of the people where the heart rhythm goes roller coaster after taking it.I also know how beneficial this plant is and wonder if it is dosage related. I tried the flowers only, twigs only and berries only, 20 drops a day, dispersed over the day.
29 November at 14:31
- From Henriette's herbal:
I've given 15 drops 3x / day and got arrhythmias for one elderly person. I don't know if it's dosage-related, but as you can experiment, try just one drop, 1-3 times a day ... all in the name of Herbal Science :-)
29 November at 14:34
- From Peggy Coy V.:
I had abnormal EKG's and could even feel my heart beating irregularly. I started taking some of my hawthorn tincture daily and it immediately became normal! I am a true believer in hawthorn. I don't take it daily, but still use it in teas.
29 November at 16:30
- From Whelky T.:
the leaves, along with the flowers, are definitely worth using. in my experience, they have more of an immediate nervine-like effect of "opening the heart", slowing breathing, etc. i think the real magic of hawthorn is in the flowers especially and i always try to infuse them in a way that captures their volatile components. they have an aromatic lactone(which actually smells a bit like rotting meat) which has the ability to immediately dilate the coronary arteries.
29 November at 18:06
- From Marcia H. C.:
What ratio do you use for the tincture, or do you use the simpler's method? Thanks!
29 November at 18:17
- From Henriette's herbal:
It's the normal 1:2 95 % fresh flowers/leaf or berries. Except that that doesn't quite cover the berries, so it turns out to a bit more alcohol. I've also made an elixir ... from the berries. Mmmm.
29 November at 19:35
- From Michael B.:
I make a double tincture of 50% of the leaves and 50% of the berry. Three droppers full under the tongue 2-3 times per day has been the single most effective heart tonic I've ever seen for hypertension and arrhythmia.
1 December at 14:49
- From Robin Rose Bennett:
regular use of the berry infusion has a marked effect on mood and spirits, lifting them subtly, sustainably...ah lovely hawthorn
29 November at 18:21
- From Henriette Kress:
One reply (elsewhere) stated that the young leaf is great in salads (a handful only), and that a wine from the berries or the flowering twigs is nice.
29 November at 16:52
- From Martin S.:
The part about the wine is true. Previously I made a great wine from the large fruited C. viburnifolia. I have a batch of C. marshalli started now.
29 November at 17:12
- From Patrick W.:
so is the bit about the young leaves - a refreshing snack when you're out and about in springtime, though the season is short
29 November at 20:50
- From Patricia DeM.:
Where I live on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, USA, I have an abundance of C. monogyna and a few douglasii. If the robins don't claim them, I have trail-side snacking on the berries of monogyna all winter. Lots of tea from flower/leaf and tincture from flower/leaf/berry of both species. This year I mixed hawthorn berry and rosehip puree together and froze for winter drinks. Lots of rosehips all winter here as well.
30 November at 16:50
Comments on the herblist:
From Bonnie Rogers:
Date: 2011 11 29 - 15:11:49 +0200
I love hawthorn and use the berries for a variety of things.
- they go in my overnight infusion with nettles and not only do they make everything taste great, they add in the circulation/heart component
- when I make my hawthorn tincture I'm always guided to put a thorn in the jar - what comes to me is that the thorn in my tincture jar infuses the tincture with the magic of the hawthorn tree and puts her protective properties in - protecting the heart whether its from physical issues like hi/low blood pressure or from grief.
- love to mix with rose for anyone going through a grief or sorrow issue
2011 11 29 - 15:30:02 +0200
Tender, springtime hawthorn leaves are a tasty green in salads - just a small handful. I've noticed, after noshing on fresh leaves while picking the flowers, that they have the same calming effect you expect from eating fresh berries or taking tincture.
I seldom find berries that don't harbor a worms, though, so I make tincture or wine.
Wine made from the berries is a form of tincture, I suppose. I have made hawthorn wine from both flowers and berries, separately. The flower wine retains that pungency of the fresh flower, while wine from berries has a round, fruity flavor. Both have that soothing, calming effect. I could make a case for a daily glass of hawthorn wine...
From Sharon H.-R.:
Date: 2011 11 29 - 21:13:32 +0200
I havent gathered any in several years but when I have it's been all parts. Flowers, leaves ,twigs, bark and later fruits.
i have to say that the flowers smell so much like rot to me I almost didn't give my friend the tincture, she opened the jar of tincture and thought it smelled like heaven ... And that is the dual nature of the flowers for ya.
i think that the fruits are astringent flowers less so, bark more so... Where I have gathered hawthorn , the deer like to prune them so i havent had much bother with the thorns.
When I was having some racing heart rates from driving throught town everyday ... i started taking it to get my heart rate to slow down, worked for me, but I find that the astringent qualities needs a bit of offset.
Fruits make decent jelly, much more so than Juneberries that tend to grow near by.
From Marguerite U.-B.:
Date: 2011 11 30 - 04:38:53 +0200
Let me tell you about my personal hawthorn experience:
i just lost a good friend to cancer. and it was the first days of dry warm summer (not hot)
i was stressed, sad and maybe not had enough fluids or not eaten well.
my symptoms: cold sweats, dizziness, butterfly sense in abdomen, room feeling dark (it was a sunny day), hands jittery, heart palpitating. thought it was blood sugar but it wasn't.
dehydrated? maybe. so started drinking switzel (water, salt, apple cider vinegar, lemon, honey).
then in a sitting resting position, checked my pulse - it was 128 or so.
checked my blood pressure - 50/00 ! yes, you're reading it right.
i didn't believe it either. so checked it again, my husband helped this time. 46/00 !
i didn't get up. ;-)
had my husband get hawthorn (flower and berry) extract 1:2. took 1 teaspoon. rested. drank fluids. had him stay close by in case i passed out. i'd then need to go to e.r.
haha but my heart was compensating well.
pulse and blood pressure regulated within 15 to 20 minutes. but i took another 1 teaspoon dose 20 minutes after that. i knew it wasn't that large of a dose so i'd be ok. i so appreciate hawthorn.
this same thing happened again only 3 days later, on the day of my friends funeral. this time i knew i was not dehydrated. hawthorn worked for me again.
Date: 2011 12 01 - 18:59:28 +0200
I've been using hawthorn for years as a cardio-tonic and when asked to address hypertension. I rarely use it as a simple and often combine it with Tilia and Hibiscus. I agree with Sharon - I too find it very astringent ... and yes, I've used it in conjunction with hypertensive meds without complications.
As for collecting it in the wild? We collect leaf and berry ... not much twig (or thorn!) although I was interested to see Henriette point out that when the berry's ripe, the thorns don't bite :) Must remember to observe this during my next wildcrafting spree.
From Cathy S.:
Date: 2011 12 02 - 18:00:47 +0200
At the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon, there is a Hawthorn trail that has more than a dozen different varieties of Hawthorns. I spend a lot of time on this trail observing the differences in the varieties because I'm just overwhelmed by how Hawthorn works to help my heart and spirit.
Some varieties have thorns more than an inch long that seem as strong as metal. These thorns curve just like fish hooks so it's easy to get trapped by them. Other varieties have minimal thorns. Some of the haws are as big as crabapples and taste tart and juicy like them. Other haws are smaller and more mealy.
If anyone is in the Portland area at this time of the year, it's wonderful to go and look at the ground underneath the Hawthorn trees. Try to go some day after there's been a little bit of wind to blow off the berries and blow away some of the leaves. All of the haws are different colors -- some orange, some red, some burgundy -- so the rolling, grassy fields under the trees look like a quilt with patches of different colors.
I use hawthorn more than any other herb for myself. I like how it brings peace, sweetness, and a centered grounded feeling to me. I'm prone to high-normal blood pressure, and I use it to keep things in check. I'm a novice with herbs, but -- from using it so much -- I've been able to see how it works with other herbs -- balancing them or helping them work at their best. My tried and true remedy for anxiety/panic is Hawthorn, Rose, Holy Basil, and Oat (from most to least, in order of quantity). It's changed my life by not just reducing the panic but by increasing my capacity to feel joy and well-being.
Date: 2011 12 04 - 08:09:43 +0200
Are you talking about a tea? Do you use hawthorn berries or leaves/flowers for tea?
I have used the berries (dry) and found that they need a good 20-minutes decoction to fully bring out their powers. One could use them powdered, it seems, but it seems kind of strange for most people to have powder in their tea. It would be great to have a way to do this.
From Christophe B.:
Date: 2011 12 04 - 15:20:25 +0200
Pavel wrote: "One could use them powdered, it seems, but it seems kind of strange for most people to have powder in their tea."
Grinding the dry berries to make tea works pretty well actually. Use the coffee grinder. Pour the water, let it sit a good 15 minutes, stir a couple of times along the way, and let the goo sit at the bottom of your cup, or strain. It makes a very tasty nutritious tea. You can almost feel it go right to your heart (chest and mind).
From Maria Noel Groves:
Date: 2011 12 02 - 19:17:51 +0200
I love hawthorn and am enjoying the posts.
I have seen one case of hawthorn interacting (increasing action of) blood pressure meds, but the client/student wasn't upset about it b/c she was going to ask her doctor to lower the meds as a result. She had started taking the commercial preparation on her own after taking a class of mine and was pleasantly surprised with the action even though I had said in the class and notes it was a possibility.
I have seen a lot of those rare (and generally not serious) situations of herb reactions and interactions through feedback - mostly students (I teach ~1,000 people a year) and customers (back when I worked in a store, again, getting feedback from several thousand over a decade's time). Because they're not usually clients, I can't really delve into it, but I take them at their word and awareness of their bodies. It's all rare and rarely serious, though - I definitely think that herbs do more good than harm!
In regards to chamomile - I am also one of those "sensitive" people and seem to develop "a cold" if I drink a cup of chamomile in spite of not typically having seasonal allergies. But, I find it so useful for others!
From Maggie Pope:
Date: 2011 12 03 - 20:26:55 +0200
I have a patient who can't tolerate Hawthorn as it makes her itch. Every time. Tincture or in a tea.
Date: 2011 12 05 - 05:51:23 +0200
am wondering if hawthorn is safe enough for someone who has a normally low bp and borders on the bradycardic?
From Henriette Kress:
Date: 2011 12 05 - 08:57:26 +0200
"am wondering if hawthorn is safe enough"
Yes - the only caveats that I've found is, if you're sensitive to a lowered pulse, you can't use it.
I'd love to hear if low low doses (1 drop or less a day) would work in somebody who'd get arrhythmia or lethargy on normal doses (15-60 drops or so 1-3 times a day) of hawthorn.
Chinese Hawthorn thread:
From Josh M.:
Date: 2011 11 29 - 19:11:20 +0200
Any thoughts on Chinese hawthorn? I picked up some dried berries from a Chinatown herb shop. Bigger and more flavorful than the American varieties I've tried.
From Jason B.:
Date: 2011 11 29 - 20:38:54 +0200
In eastern medicine it's generally used for food retention patterns. Food retention is often described as having food still in your stomach hours after eating, or feeling very bloated after meals. It could also accompany "buffet syndrome" where people eat too much in one sitting.
I feel that it follows the same description as the western variety. It increases circulation which gets food moving.
Stabbing thorns thread:
From Bonnie Rogers:
Date: 2011 12 02 - 06:20:13 +0200
Henriette, maybe where you live the thorns don't bite when you harvest hawthorn berries, but here in NY you must be aware. When I'm totally focused I can avoid them but the other day I was talking to a friend while we were harvesting and a big thorn jumped out of no the tree and stabbed me :) I think it was a message to pay attention haha.
From Veronica H.:
Date: 2011 12 02 - 17:18:36 +0200
Same here up in Montana. The thorns stay vicious all year long. I wear protective eye glasses when picking.
Hawthorn-heart medicine interaction:
From Bonnie K.:
Date: 2012 01 26 - 20:04:48 +0200
In regards to the beta blocker question..I have seen, as Jim stated as well, that this does cause issues in some with the use of Hawthorn. I attended a lecture sponsored by the AHG that Donald Yance gave at the Mass College of Pharmacology years ago and he stated that Hawthorn has the same effect, only milder, on the blood vessels as a beta blocker and using the two together could cause hypotension in some individuals.
One of the cardiologist that I have worked with in the past was great in that he encouraged the use of Hawthorn ... with the patient being monitored for signs of hypotension (dizziness, dizziness when changing position (orthostatic hypotension), weakness, etc)
He felt the worse case scenario was that the patient could be weaned off the Metropolol and just use Hawthorn for those it had this effect with. I don't mean to imply that one should just wean off the beta blocker without consulting their physician and monitoring their blood pressure ...
One little know fact about beta blockers is that a lot of people with performance anxiety/stage fright sometime take one before they go on stage to perform and it helps .... even the cardiologist I wrote above here admitted to doing that when he had to give a lecture to a group of his peers.
Please add your own experiences etc.