The Herbalist ~ Hawthorn, Crataegus spp.
Just by looking out my back window I can tell that fall is here. The birds are singing as they feast on the Hawthorn berries that have turned bright red and are just a few weeks away from being harvested. Each year I love watching that tree, it is a constant reminder of the change of the seasons. In the spring it brings the promise of summer as it burst into life with a plethora of white flowers with beautiful pink stamens. In the winter, I can still hear the birds singing as they eat the fermented berries that were too high for me to reach. It's one of the best comedies around to see a drunken sparrow fall off a Hawthorn branch! All year long this wonderful tree gives us different parts of itself to use for food and nutrition. If you are lucky enough to have one in your yard, make sure you spend time getting to know it. The time spent will be well worth it.
Botanical Name: Crataegus oxyacantha, Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus laevigata
Common Names: Hawthorn, Black Hawthorn, Columbia Hawthorn, Douglas Hawthorn.
Botanical description: The Hawthorn is technically a shrub, but can grow as tall as 30 feet high. If trimmed as a hedge it can be used as a fence, which not too many folks want to mess with because of the thorns. The leaves are small, uniform and from 1- 2 inches long. They are fan-shaped and widest towards the toothed tip. It blooms in May with clusters of small white, red or pink flowers. I believe that only the white flowers are medicinal. In the fall the berries ripen and look like clusters of tiny apples. The stems and branches are armed with short, slightly curved thorns, which are about 1” long.
- Hawthorn is deciduous, loosing its leaves in the winter.
- Habitat: Native species are found along rivers, in moist canyons and in thickets around the edges of natural meadows. They also make a wonderful tree for your yard that will attract many birds.
- Cultivation: Sow the seeds in the spring, summer or fall for germination the following spring. Plant in pots, or outdoor nursery bed. Seedlings are vigorous and grow up to 2 feet in the first year. Give full sun to partial shade and water well.
- Harvest/Part used: In the spring harvest the flowers when they first open while the stamens are still pink. The flowers grow in little clusters harvest the flower clusters with a few of the leaves. These can be dried and made into tea or made into an extract with either the fresh or the dried flower and leaves. Harvest the fruit in the fall, when the berries are bright red and so plump that they look like small apples. These are best made into an extract when they are fresh. If you do keep them after they have been dried, store them in the freezer in a tightly sealed container. The bugs LOVE dried Hawthorn berries.
- Dosage: Capsules: up to nine 500 – 600 mg capsules per day. Tea from berries: Decoct 1 teaspoon of the dried berries in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, steep for an additional ½ hour, drink up to 3, 8 ounce glasses per day. Extract 3 – 5mls, three times per day. Solid extract ¼ teaspoon twice per day.
- Constituents: Flavonoids, Procyanidins, Oligomeric procyanidins, Triterpenid acids, Chlorogenic acid, Vit C.
- Preparation: for tea see above in dosage. See below for recipe for Hawthorn Sauce.
Actions and Therapeutic uses: Hawthorne is one of the most valuable herbal cardiovascular tonics available. Nutritive, heart tonic, mild diuretic, nervine. It has been used in traditional medicine as far back as Dioscorides for stomach ailments and dropsy. The eclectic physicians used hawthorn for the aging or senile heart, i.e., palpitations and intermittent pulse. Currently in the literature it has been used in cases of mild hypertension and as a stabilizing collagen and antioxidant for inflammatory connective tissue disorders. It has been used by many a sweet little old lady as her heart tonic, made by letting the berries sit in Brandy for up to 4 weeks before pressing. I’m not sure if they liked it for their heart or because of the alcohol in it.
Contra-Indications: Hawthorne may potentiate the action of digitalis and other drugs that have cardiovascular effects. Toxicity is low and becomes evident only in large doses. Therefore, it is a relatively harmless heart tonic.
Method: Strip the berries from their stems and wash them. Put into a pan with the vinegar and cook over a gentle heat for 30 minutes. Press the pulp through a sieve and return to the pan with sugar and seasonings. Boil for 10 minutes. Bottle and seal.
References: David Winston: Herbal Therapy & Supplements, John Lust: The Herb Book, Paul Bergner: Materia Medica, Michael Moore: Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Simon Mills, The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine.
Tracy Bosnian NTP, CH
About the Author:
Tracy is a practicing Nutritional Therapist and Western Herbalist in Portland, OR. She has been teaching medicinal herbalism classes since 1995. Her history includes co-teaching Northwest Herbs at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine as well as the Common Roots course in herbal medicine and the co-presenting of the Breitenbush Herbal Conference.
Tracy graduated as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in 2005, is a member of the Nutritional Therapy Association's Board of Directors and assists with the Nutritional Therapist Training Program in Portland OR. She is co-owner of Hula Kitchen selling Coco Yo coconut yogurt and other specialty food and herbal products. Go to www.HulaKitchen.com or email Tracy@HulaKitchen.com for a complete list of products.
To make an appointment for nutritional therapy, go to www.mynutritionaltherapist.com or call 503-236-2220.
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