Back yard Herbalism: Hawthorn and the Heart

Most of us are aware that Hawthorn’s (Crataegus spp.) primary virtue in modern herbalism is its beneficial effect on the heart. The effect of Hawthorn seems to be gently tonic in nature; protective of the heart in stressful situations, and also gently regulating the function in the most beneficial way for the body. Most of the books I’ve read mention it, and most of them have a different version of how it should be used. So I thought I’d do a little round-up of sorts; I have a friend who is concerned about her heart, and we’ve chatted a bit about trying Hawthorn, so this will be a nice starting place for us to decide how to proceed. Of course I’m sure this list won’t be comprehensive–I don’t own every herb book, for one thing! And I have other things to do besides blog . . .

Michael Moore (the herbalist, not the controversial film maker), in his Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, suggests a combination of leaf/flower/tiny twig tincture and berry tincture, taken a few times daily. Obviously this preparation would take a long time to make–two separate tinctures made in Spring and Fall, respectively, means you’d be waiting over half a year for your medicine. But I LOVE this idea, it feels so holistic to me. Best of all, it means watching the development of the plant, watching for flowers, then watching for fruit; slow medicine, indeed. This is the kind of remedy making that can create a relationship with the tree, my favorite kind of healing process.

above: this blossom just opened today.

James Green, in The Male Herbal, notes that Hawthorn berries extract well in alcohol, and suggests making a wine extract and drinking a glass (or two) daily. You can use any wine, but he recommends red. This sounds intriguing, and I think I’m going to hit my friend’s husband up for some home-brewed red wine as soon as the berries are ripe. (Maybe I’d better put in my request now, so he saves me a bottle . . .) I have a fondness for wine extracts, when I’m looking for very gentle medicine. Or mead extracts, because they’re so delicious, and because I feel like mead is medicine all by itself. I’m not very well informed as to how effective remedies made in low-proof alcohol are; I’m sure it depends on the plant, and what results you’re looking for. Alcohol extracts are so fascinating! I’d better not go any further along this tangent or we’ll be here all day.

Ellen Evert Hopman, in her delightful A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, recommends a tincture of the berries, or a strong tea of the berries or flowers, taken in small doses throughout the day. She also recommends homeopathic Crataegus as a heart tonic.

Susun Weed also recommends a tincture of the berries in New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.

above: Hawthorn berries in winter . . . possibly too late for harvesting, but they’re pretty!

In Herbal Rituals, which I know I talk about constantly, Judith Berger mentions both water extracts and tincture, and suggests making separate extracts in brandy–one of the flowers and leaves when the flowers first open, and one of the berries when they are ripe–and enjoying the brandy as a gently tonic cordial. The thing I love most about Berger’s book is that she talks a lot about the energies of the plants, and in describing the brandy, she discusses the difference in energy between the opening joyfulness of May flowers and the strong protectiveness of the winter berries. This is another idea I love, creating both extracts and interacting with their energies to understand the nature of the plant. Beautiful!

I hesitated to focus on Hawthorne this month because so far, my only personal experience with Hawthorn is on an energetic level. So I’m posting this info, but it’s based on reading and not experience. Books are great, but life is better–I wonder, do any of you have personal experience with Hawthorn you’d like to share? Leave them in the comments, I’ll read them all!

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8 thoughts on “Back yard Herbalism: Hawthorn and the Heart

  1. The berry tincture is nice, for sure, but my favorite way to enjoy hawthorn is the leaf and flower infusion. It’s like WOW! Delicious, full of the bioflavanoids for the heart, and so nervine and soothing for the tender heart emotions that sometimes need soothing in life. I just found they lend themselves SO much better in tea than the berry ever did for me… I’ve not tried the mixed extract of leaf flower and berry, but i also know that some herbalists put a thorn or two from the plant into their extract for an extra protective fierceness in the medicine. Good juju that!

  2. Do you make the infusion with fresh leaf and flower? Hot infusion? I want to try it . . . I love this tree so much but haven’t really tasted it enough! Time to rectify the situation . . .

  3. I love the infusion, – tea – of the flowers and leaf (with a twig, too). I leave it in a ‘thermos’ flask overnight for max extraction. My heart is needing help, and I notice that this home – brewed preparation seems a thousand times more helpful than the fancy capsules I bought. August now; in England, I find I can already harvest berries on some of the early bushes.I Thank the plant spirit for their help and kindness…

  4. Making a tincture is very easy.

    Take a clean glass jar, –
    I use honey or jam-type jars.

    Fill it half-full(ish)with dried berries.Cover the berries with high-quality spirit, eg. brandy. Cap.

    The jar will look to be be about 2/3rds full now.

    Set to steep somewhere. Keep an eye on it.

    The first few days, those dried berries will
    swell as they re-absorb moisture, and you may need to add more spirit to keep ’em covered.

    Just keep them covered, and leave as long as you like.

    After a month or two, the tincture should be usable. You might then decant the fluid.

    It may improve with age + longer steeping, I don’t know.

    It is not a highly – specialized nor regulated process.

    Some folks like to do the berry extraction using a red wine.

    I recall a Scottish doctor writing about the heart patients whom he kept alive into their 90’s, using only the tincture of the hawthorn berry.

    He followed, of course, in the footsteps of many a wise healer; and I recall that it was a Doctor Greene, of Ennis in Ireland whose many famous cures popularised it’s use in more modern times.

    Berry Good Health!

    J

  5. Wow Jack, thanks for that awesome reply. I’ve been away from this blog lately, so I’m glad someone gave jaime answers.

    I’ve made a tincture with fresh ripe berries as well, and in that case I simply filled my jar with berries, then filled it with alcohol. I believe I used brandy as well.

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