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Hawthorn - Herbal Wisdom Wednesday

cardio herbs cardio tonic cretaegus spp hawthorn

We are coming into the season of the great Hawthorn, Thornapple, Whitethorn, Shan Zha or May tree!  This ancient tree has many varieties the world over and has been used as a cardio tonic and food in many cultures and medicinal modalities for centuries.  While the European varieties can grow quite tall and gnarled....quite like apple trees really, our western varieties like the Black Hawthorn or Klamath Hawthorn tend to look more shrub-like.
There is no doubt our hearts carry the great burden of our stress & worry which can cause negative effects over time. Emotionally, absolutely, but stress hormones can have a dramatic effect on the physical body of our hearts as well.  Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a cardiac tonic that can do so much to protect this most vital organ.

"Hawthorn works slowly, like all herbal tonics. It should be taken for at least 3 months, up to several years or longer, if needed. (If you are on digoxin or any other heart medication, are pregnant or nursing, please check with your health care practitioner before beginning use).

With long-term use, hawthorn can safely help to strengthen and nourish the heart. Here is a summary of the important clinical effects of hawthorn:

  1. It dilates the arteries that supply the heart muscle itself with blood, oxygen, and fuel, providing a better supply of these essential nutrients. This results, with continued use, in a stronger, more efficient heart beat.
  2. It acts as a powerful free-radical scavenger, protecting the heart against the harmful effects of lessened oxygen—a common result of vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis.
  3. It can help steady the heartbeat, if it is irregular and does not lead to dependence.
  4. It has mild sedative activity, which may be useful where mild heart disease is combined with nervousness, hypochondria, etc., in which case it can be combined with lavender or lemon balm.

In this modern age with its times of stress and anxiety, it is reassuring that nature has provided such a gentle yet effective cardiovascular protector as hawthorn." © Christopher Hobbs

In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is called Bei Shan Zha and is used to support the liver, kidney & digestive systems (relieves food stagnation) as well as being a cardio tonic. It's nature is warm and it's flavors are sour & sweet.

Method & Dosage:
Hawthorn works best in combination with the berries, leaf and flowers as a daily tonic used over time (at least 3 months).  As the dried berries are not very water-soluble, tincture appears to be the most favored method with a very general dosage of about 30 drops taken 2-4 times per day. 
The berries (or haws) have been utilized in a culinary sense for hundreds of years.  They make excellent jams, jellies, relishes, cordials (along with the leaf/flower), salads, and more. Just make sure not to eat the seeds!
**Caution: Although Hawthorn is time-tested and is generally considered a safe herb to take, there may be side effects for some people.  Read here for more on contraindications/side effects.**

Hawthorn Oxymel
A delicious vinegar-honey combination you can take by itself or use for a tasty vinaigrette!
1-2 cups Hawthorn berry, leaf & flower
1 - 1 1/2 cups raw honey
2 - 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
In most other oxymels, you could just blend your ingredients and allow them to macerate 1 - 4 weeks before straining.  With Hawthorn (particularly the dried berry) it's best to cook your mixture for about 30 minutes before blending. Using an actual blender with help break up the berries for a more complete mixuture.   When cooking, be mindful that heating vinegar creates a very strong odor, so make sure to ventilate your cooking space appropriately.
Cooking and blending this mixture allows for a shorter maceration time.

Dragon's Breath Relish
Based on a delish recipe by the wonderful Robin Harford

This recipe calls for fresh berries which are gathered in the late summer - early fall here in Humboldt.  

5 1/4 oz (150g) fresh de-seeded Hawthorn berries
7 1/2 oz water or try Hawthorn leaf & flower tea
1 red Thai chili, thin-sliced or minced
1 green Thai chili, thin-sliced or minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 - 1/2 tsp sea salt (or to your own taste)


  • Remove seeds. Remove skin in mortar & pestle or food processor.
  • Strain remainder of berry through sieve/strainer and gather pulp in a wide-top mason jar.
  • Mix in chilis, garlic & salt.
  • Loosely place top on jar and store in a room temp/warm area to ferment slightly for 3 - 5 days.
  • Taste daily until satisfied with flavor.
  • Use in any savory meal or whenever you want a sweet/sour/spicy bite with your meals or snacks!

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