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Hawthorn: The Healthy Heart Herb

When you think of heart health in herbalism, you think of Hawthorn. As a swiss army knife is to your camping trip, so hawthorn is to your heart health. It offers something to cover every need. It is considered to be an adaptogen for circulatory health.

Hawthorn is a tree that is aptly named as it is covered in large thorns. It's one of its most prominent identifiers. Its fruit can sometimes be mistaken for crabapples or pin cherries but their thorns make them distinctive. It also makes it so one should use caution with its thorns when foraging hawthorn. Its leaves are lobed with serrated leaf margins. It grows to a height between 20′-35′ and 20′-25′ wide. Although it is a true tree, it can often be mistaken for a shrub because of its dense crown. In spring it is covered with fragrant flowers that grow in clusters and range from pink to white. They look very similar to apple blossoms. In fact, it is a part of the apple family and both are classified under the genus of the Rosaceae family. Similar to apples and crabapples, there are tons of varieties of hawthorn. Another similarity is that hawthorn fruit tastes a bit like unripe apples. Its fruit is a small, red, berry-like pom called a haw. Haws are edible and used in a variety of recipes.

In herbalism, we use many parts of the hawthorn including the haws, flowers, leaves, and sometimes tips of branches.

Let's look at all of the ways it works to improve heart health.

Hawthorn is rich in flavonoids that are known to protect the cardiovascular system. Chronic inflammation is at fault for most heart diseases in the western world. Herbs such as hawthorn that are high in flavonoids help protect the heart from oxidative stress.

Hawthorn is anti-ischemic.

Ischemia is a restriction in blood supply to any tissues, muscle group, or organ of the body. As an anti-ischemic, hawthorn improves coronary circulation. Hawthorn is considered to be the most noteworthy herb for treating ischemic heart disease. This gains additional importance when you consider that outside of extremes such as open-heart surgery, there is no other therapeutics apart from lifestyle, diet, and exercise.

Hawthorn is positively-inotropic.

This means that it causes the heart to contract. However, it doesn't do this like medicine which forces the immediate contraction of the heart, rather, it does this by energizing the cells in the heart to function better. It helps tone and strengthens the heart muscle.

Hawthorn is useful for angina.

Because it improves coronary function it promotes blood flow to the heart which supplies it with oxygen. A lack of oxygen to the heart muscle is the cause of chest pain in angina.

Hawthorn helps regulate heart rhythm.

It has been used in cases of arrhythmia and tachycardia to regulate heart rhythm.

Hawthorn assists in recovery from degenerative heart disease.

It helps to gradually rebuild the heart in cases of degenerative heart disease.

Hawthorn combats high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.

Hawthorn helps to dilate the arteries and improve blood flow. It's useful for many circulatory conditions.

Hawthorn is a hug for the heart.

Hawthorn is also known to help ease heart troubles of the emotional kind. It is often used to help with grief. I like to think of it as the herb for when you need a hug.

Hawthorn is hypotensive, which means it lowers blood pressure. We want to be cautious in using it in conjunction with blood pressure medications. Avoid using it with bleeding disorders or hypotension. Caution should be used with anticoagulants, CNS depressants such as opiates, benzodiazepines, anti-epileptics, or tricyclic antidepressants. Caution should be taken with oral hypoglycaemics, insulin, or vasodilators. People taking heart medications such as digitalis and beta-blockers should consult with an experienced practitioner before taking hawthorn. Hawthorn should not be used with people who have diastolic congestive heart failure.

Using Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a slow-acting medicine that needs to be taken long-term for results. It should be taken at least three months before a noticeable improvement may be observed.

We gather flowers for use in spring when they are open, typically in May.

Flowers can be carefully dried and stored for a short time for use in teas or tinctures.

Flowers from spring are most often tinctured or made into glycerites.

A basic infusion (tea) is best made of flowers and leaves.

We gather haws in the fall when they are deep red and firm, typically in mid-September through late October.

The haws can be decocted, tinctured, or made into wonderful syrups or glycerites. They can also be made into jams and jellies as they are extremely high in pectin content. They can be fermented into wine, made into cordials, turned into condiments such as haw-ketchup, simply frozen, and so much more.

Hawthorn is a heart helper that deserves our heart's affection. Its many benefits, herbal applications, and delicious ways to enjoy it make it the favorite of many.

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