The Hawthorne, sometimes known as the may bush, is a small flowering shrubby hardwood tree of the Rosaceae family found in North America and Europe. In Europe, it’s often kept trimmed into hedgerows. It has smooth, ash grey bark and thorny branches with small shiny 3-lobed leaves that are dark green on their surfaces, but appear blueish grey on their undersides. It blossoms late spring with small dense clusters of white flowers that mature in the fall into red, crab-apple like “false” fruits, or haws, that have two seeds and pulpy yellow flesh. The bush is fly-pollinated, and bees are often repelled by the odor of the flowers.
Flowers and fruit
Hawthorne is one of the best cardiac hypotensive tonic herbs, also functioning as a vasodilator, sedative, and anti-spasmodic, normalizing blood pressure by regulating the heartbeat. Over time, hawthorne tends to lower blood pressure, but in general Hawthorne seems to act as a gentle regulator, stimulating or depressing the circulatory system, depending on the body’s need. Hawthorne is useful for strengthening the heart muscle when weakened by age and arteriosclerosis, and reducing inflammation of the heart muscle in myocarditis. It’s sedative, calming actions make it especially useful for regulating nervous heart problems and palpitations, tension and insomnia brought out in high stress careers and situations. Confirmed by Japanese and German research, Hawthorne makes an excellent toner for the arterial walls, strengthening and thickening the tissue while improving the pumping of the heart.The presence of the chemical constituent coumarin, an anti-coagulant, in the blossoms gives them kind of a decayed odor. The sour qualities of the fruit lends a digestive quality, helping with stagnant digestion. In Chinese medicine, the berries are used as a cardiac tonic and also to control appetite, aid digestion, and treat stomach and ovarian cancer. The green, unripe fruits are used to treat diarrhea, and the mature fruits are roasted and charred to treat chronic dysentery like symptoms.
Some folklore suggests that the magic hedge that grows overnight in the popular fairytale Sleeping Beauty might be the hawthorne. Some Native Americans used the berries as a heart tonic and to treat rheumatism. In Europe, it was used as a diuretic and to treat kidney stones, but at the end of the 19th century, Irish physicians began to recognize and use the herb as a cardiac tonic. It was also used for magical purposes to ward off dark witchcraft, and was thought that bringing branches into the home would bring ominous death. During the middle ages however, it was considered a symbol of hope and was used as a panacea herb.
Flavor Profile and Energetics
Sour, slightly warm to heating, sweet, can stimulate and aggravate Kapha and Pitta if used in excess, decreases Vata.
2 tablespoons of the flowers per cup of water, infused for 10-15 minutes, twice a day, or a decoction of the berries, 2 teaspoons per cup of water. Some recipes call for an infusion of the berries, same proportions of berries to water, but steeped for twenty minutes. As a tincture, 2-4ml three times a day. Try mulling wine with cinnamon, hawthorn, and cardamom as a cardiac aperitif. Sweeten with honey if desired.
Can be combined with mistletoe, lime blossom (tilden), and yarrow for high blood pressure and to tone the circulatory system. It can also can be combined with night blooming cereus or cardamom and cinnamon as a cardiac tonic. For poor memory, hawthorne can be combined with ginkgo.
Individuals with colitis or ulcers should take in moderation or consult an herbalist before use.
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