Sunday, March 8, 2015
HAWTHORN: Cratageus Douglasii, Cratageus Oxyacantha, Cratageus Monogyna, Cratageus Pinnatifidia
Also known as: May Bush, Haw, Thorn Apple Tree, Quick-set, White Thorn, Black Hawthorn, River Hawthorn, Midland Hawthorn, etc.
Parts Used: flowers, berries, leaves
Meridians/Organs affected: heart, kidneys, skeletal, blood, spleen, stomach, liver, circulatory
Properties: antispasmodic, tonic, sedative, digestive, cardiac tonic, emmenogogue, anti-diarrheic, diuretic, astringent, bitter, anti-hypertensive, nutritive
Hawthorn is a member of the Rose family. It is a deciduous tree that can get up to 30 feet tall and is densely branched. It has ovately shaped leaves that are lobed in a variety of ways which make identifying the variety of hawthorn more complex. The leaves can get up to 2 inches long. The flowers appear in late spring (April to June) and are white to pinkish in color, have 5 petals and several stamens. These are followed by bright red or black berries depending on the variety in late summer of early fall. The berries have seeds much like rose hips (one or two seeds is the wild hawthorn variety, if there are more than that it has been hybridized or crossed with another type). The thorns on this tree are long and sometimes slightly curved in nature. If you have ever been gauged by this plant you never forget it. There are over 200 species of this tree (although cross pollination would put it more like 800) that are found from Alaska to New Mexico and across the eastern states of North America. Hawthorn can also readily be found throughout Europe and Asia now too. It is often grown as an ornamental as it produces a thick hedge which also provides a happy home to many birds and other small wild life. It can be found readily growing in open meadows and fields but will grow in many types of places.
This plant has quite a history. The Mayflower was actually named for hawthorn as it was also once called the 'May blossom'. Going 'a-maying' was a common pagan ritual practiced anciently where a 'May Queen' was chosen in the spring as part of a fertility ritual. She was then killed in the fall after the harvest season (no prom competition for THAT spot I bet). During this time of 'a-maying', branches of hawthorn were cut and used to decorate doorways to ward off evil spirits said to be active during those festivities. Bringing hawthorn into the house was bad luck and thought to bring doom on the inhabitants (illness or certain death). This may be due to the smell that comes from hawthorn. Unlike most flowering shrubs that have lovely scents or even no scent, hawthorn smells like rotten flesh or a decaying corpse (mmmm....just makes you want to eat something doesn't it...). In ancient records it was said that the scent reminded one of the smell in London in the mid 1600's when it was hit by plague and over a sixth of the city succumbed to death in one year.
Cratageus comes from the Greek word 'kratos' which refers to the hardness of the wood. The term is appropriate as many a walking stick has been made from its branches. It is also interesting to note that the Chinese have used it to soften hard substances during cooking (such as old chickens perhaps). The Celts believed that hawthorn was a place that fairies lived and some think the burning bush Moses spoke to was in fact a hawthorn. Christ's crown of thorns was said to have been made from hawthorn and fishermen often used it for fish hooks and awls.
Medicinally hawthorn has been used for a variety of things. The Chinese have used the berries and flowers for digestive complaints for millenia. It wasn't until more recently they adopted the western use of the herb for cardiac issues. In fact it is well accepted as an effective cardiac tonic throughout the world by holistic practitioners. There have been many studies throughout history that verify its use for hypertension, hypotension, angina, arteriosclerosis, palpitations, arrythmias, etc. It has also been used for insomnia, kidney diseases, diarrhea and dysentery (for which the inner bark of the tree was used). There are many accounts of hawthorn being used for cardiac complaints. Perhaps the earliest ones began with Dr. Green in Victorian era Ireland. He has amazing results treating people with a mysterious tincture that he refused to divulge to anyone. In 1894 after he died, his daughter let it be known that he had been treating people with a hawthorn berry tincture. A Dr. MC Jennings gave an account in 1917 of a 73 year old man who had a pulse rate of 158 and severe edema in his lower extremities. He gave the gentleman a glass of water with 15 drops of hawthorn and within 15 minutes the pulse rate had dropped by 30 points. In another 25 minutes the pulse rate was 110 and was much stronger. He gave him another glass of water with 10 more drops of hawthorn and in one hour the man was able to lie down on a bed without pain, something he hadn't been able to do in a few weeks.
Hawthorn is a vasodilator that unlike modern pharmaceuticals is safe for long term use. In fact, many use it as a preventative for cardiac and circulatory ailments. Hawthorn can lower blood pressure or heighten it depending on what the body needs. It can help dissolve deposits and plaque assisting with any number of conditions related to the heart and circulatory system.
Hawthorn is rich in B vitamins, vitamin C and bioflavonoids which help to strengthen the blood vessels and the heart muscle. In China, a decoction of the berries is used for gallbladder issues and irritable bowel. The dried berries have also been used for infants with indigestion. The Native American Indians used it for rheumatism and as a digestive aid. In some cultures it is consumed to help the body to digest meat. Perhaps the most astonishing account I came across in my research of this plant had to do with MS (mulitple sclerosis). Alma Hogan Snell, author of 'A Taste of Heritage, Crow Indian Recipes and Herbal Medicines' gives an account of a man who approached her while she was visiting DC. He explained his son had been diagnosed with MS. He was a musician and was no longer able to play his music and lost his livelihood which left him devastated. She told the man to give his son hawthorn because she knew it strengthened muscles. The next month when she returned to DC the man approached her once again. He told her his son was back to playing music and back to work. His son continues to take hawthorn to this day and won't be without it. The Crow indians refer to this herb as 'Beelee Chi Sha Yeah'. Hawthorn also acts as a sedative to calm the body and help with anxiety, mood swings, hyperactive children or those with ADHD.
Hawthorn is high in pectin and has been used for centuries in jams, jellies, syrups, etc. It was used to make berry spread and pemmican and in soup with deer fat. The berries and flowers have been used to make wine, juice, teas and other cold beverages. Too much hawthorn can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting. People who are on heart medications should consult their physician before using it. It is also advised that pregnant women shouldn't take it as it can stimulate the uterus.
Hawthorn works well when combined with yarrow for thrombosis or clotting, as a general tonic for the heart and circulatory system when used with ginger and garlic, improves the peripheral blood flow in the limbs when combined with linden (lime blossoms) and increases the overall circulation when taken with horseradish.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links below for your perusal. Use them wisely. Stay healthy and strong!