Published in the May 2014 edition of ‘The Bay’ Magazine
Look out for hawthorn this month, also known as mayflower, this common hedgerow shrub will be adorned with delicate white/pink blossoms.
The old country name for Hawthorn is “Bara Caws” or “Bread and Cheese”, denoting its edible young leaves, though having tried them, I can’t say they taste like either!
Hawthorn is native to the United Kingdom and Europe and can be very long lived; the oldest specimens on record have reached over 700 years. The tree provides food and shelter for a wide range of wildlife and when cooked the berries and flowers can be made into jellies, wines and sauces.
There is much folklore and legend surrounding the hawthorn, in France it is referred to as l’epine noble (the noble thorn) because it was supposedly used for Christ’s crown of thorns and the phrase “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out” warns not to shed any (clothes) before the may flowers are in full bloom.
The use of Crataegus as a medicine dates back thousands of years. Today medical herbal research validates its use as a heart remedy, important clinical effects include:
- Dilates the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood and oxygen. This results in a stronger and more efficient heart beat.
- Helps to stabilise an irregular heartbeat.
- Has mild sedative activity, useful when heart disease is combined with nervousness and anxiety.
- The high flavonoid content makes it a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, with the ability to maintain cell wall integrity. This combined with its lipid lowering action makes hawthorn useful for atherosclerosis.
Combining two or more herbs in a formula takes advantage of the synergistic effect of plant medicines – the orchestra of medicinal compounds in each herb support and potentiate the effects of one another, the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts.
In an analysis that combined the results of 10 controlled trials involving 855 patients, Crataegus extract was found to be significantly better than placebo for improving exercise tolerance, decreasing shortness of breath and fatigue, and enhancing the physiologic function of an ailing heart in mild to moderate chronic heart failure.(1)
Evidence indicates that Crataegus has the unusual property of both strengthening the heart and stabilizing it against arrhythmias.(2)
1. Pittler M, Guo R, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;CD005312
2. Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians’ Guide to Herbal Medicine . 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1998:91-94.
The Heart of the Matter
At the Herbal Clinic we find that disease is multi-faceted. Very often physical symptoms will present as a result of underlying mental and emotional disturbances. By acknowledging and tackling psychological disharmony alongside the prescription of herbal medications, disease can be resolved.
The persistent responses of excessive anger or fear can particularly affect the heart. Research has shown that chronic anger is associated with elevated blood pressure and higher levels of coronary artery disease and heart attack. High levels of anxiety can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ stress response, stimulating the release of neurochemicals which, over time, damage the cardiovascular system.
The good news? Love, affection and affectionate touch can significantly lower blood pressure and so can laughter. Meditation and focussed balancing disciplines such as yoga and tai chi have a beneficial influence on the heart, as does owning a pet – the calming effect of stroking our feline friends or walking and caring for a canine companion has a protective effect on the heart.
The heart is located on the left iris in the position of 3 o’clock. Markings and lesions over this area can be an indication of disease.
Making a Medicinal Tea
An infusion is one of the simplest herbal preparations, akin to making a pot of tea. Infusions can be used for herbs with medicinal properties which are soluble in water; these include many flowers and leaves. Always ensure that the preparation is kept covered whilst infusing as this will keep the active ingredients from evaporating.
Place 1-2 teaspoons of fresh hawthorn leaves and blossoms per cup, into a teapot. Pour on boiling water and cover. Allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes then strain and drink, adding a little honey if desired.
PLEASE NOTE: If you have pains in the chest, heart disease or are taking heart medication it is essential that you consult a qualified practitioner, do not self medicate.
The Herbal Clinic in Swansea provides natural healthcare with the use of organic herbs, acupuncture and iridology.