I am relieved to have been able to make a start on the gathering of Hawthorn blossom today. I use a lot of Hawthorn in my clinic so during the brief period that it is in flower I need to pick a significant amount. I have to find suitable places where the blossom is abundant and the lower branches are accessible. Once I have found a suitable source I can’t strip it bare. I pick sparingly, leaving enough to develop into berries, taking a little from each tree. Luckily I have got to know my local patch pretty well and I have some favourite spots, but things change and I am always on the look out for new sources.
Once picked, I dry the blossoms in the dehydrator. They are used to make capsules and sometimes herb teas. Later in the year I gather the berries too, and I use them to make a beautiful blood red tincture. Hawthorn has been used by herbalists to support the heart and circulation for hundreds of years.
Imagine the triumphalism that would accompany the discovery of a drug which treats congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and associated conditions such as hypertension and angina, completely safely and without side effects. Imagine the television advertising, the press launches and the awards. The company responsible for the development of this wonder drug would be proud to point out that it was able to dilate the coronary arteries, improving cardiac circulation and was even able to offer a protective effect against artheroma in the entire cardiovascular system.
It is ironic that all of these wonderful properties exist in Hawthorn, yet in this country at least, it remains under used, sidelined and even ridiculed by allopathic healthcare professionals. Not all countries are so dismissive of Hawthorn though. In 1994 it was officially recognised as a heart remedy by the German Federal Ministry of Health.
The active ingredients responsible for Hawthorn’s amazing and life prolonging action seem to be oligomeric procyanidins (helpfully known as OPCs) as well as flavonoids and amines. Actually research has shown that Hawthorn works best as a whole plant extract. To try and separate out one active ingredient (and patent it) just doesn’t work. It seems that the active ingredient of Hawthorn is Hawthorn itself.
As well as supporting the heart on a physical level, Hawthorn can be used in cases of emotional heart damage. I learnt this from herbalist David Winston. He points out that Hawthorn can be used to treat what he describes as ‘stagnant depression’. This is a particular type of depression linked to a specific incident in the past. The sufferer finds it almost impossible to let go of the incident or the associated feelings of depression. The term stagnant depression covers a wide spectrum of conditions where the problem seems to be ‘held’ in the body. Sometimes there may be a post traumatic stress disorder pattern with flash backs, other times the pattern is more akin to what we all understand as a ‘broken heart’.
As well as the more conventional use of Hawthorn to treat physical heart conditions I have used it extensively in cases where there is emotional heart damage. I have seen amazing results. Patients who have been unable to grieve the loss of a loved one have come back for a follow up telling me how they had been able to face going through all the personal possessions of the deceased and had been able to let go of all but the most precious memorabilia. Others have come back with very clear insights into their own emotional blockages and have found a way to move on in their lives. Impressive stuff, wonderful stuff, and all from a common hedgerow tree.
Perhaps we hold these life traumas in our heart muscle or even our ‘heart channel’ and somehow the Hawthorn helps this to be released. I can’t offer you double blind placebo controlled trials to back this up. You will just have to believe me. If you don’t you can still marvel at the wonder of Hawthorn as a physical cardiovascular tonic. Fifty percent of the story is better than none of it at all.
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