Hawthorn: Herb of the Heart

Crataegus laevigata and related species
Rosaceae Family

By Steph Zabel
Herbal Education and Consultations
Somerville, Cambridge & Boston, MA

Hawthorn tea is one of my favorite and most comforting beverages it is mellow and gentle, and seems especially fitting for the transitional time of early fall. If you are lucky enough to live near one of these beautiful trees, be sure to keep an eye out for the red-hued berries that resemble tiny apples. Currently these berries, or “haws”, are ripening and will soon be ready for harvest.

Hawthorn has been prized by herbalists for centuries and is in fact one of the oldest continually used plants in Western herbal medicine.

It is renowned as an important cardiac tonic, imparting a strengthening and protective effect on the heart. When used over time hawthorn strengthens the myocardium muscle, and improves overall cardiac tone and function.

In traditional herbal medicine it was used for a variety of cardiac issues ranging from heart palpitations to abnormal blood pressure to congestive heart failure (commonly called dropsy in the past). It is also believed to reduce the likelihood of a heart attack by decreasing plaque formation in the arteries.

Herbalists use hawthorn to improve blood flow to the heart and to increase overall circulation throughout the body.  Additionally, its high antioxidant content naturally protects the heart from any oxidative damage.

Beyond its action on the physical heart hawthorn also has a special affinity for the emotional heart. It can be used to bring comfort during times of loss, grief and heart-break. Hawthorn soothes a saddened heart and provides gentle support during stress and overwhelm. It is one of the best herbs I know of for a tender or troubled heart.

Hawthorn can be used in many different forms. A simple decoction of the dried berries yields a delicious, mellow tea that is soothing to drink (see recipe below).  Or, an infusion of the dried leaves and flowers can be made just as you would brew any leaf tea. You can also use the liquid tincture by the dropper-full or the solid extract of hawthorn in paste form.  

With its balancing, strengthening and protective action on the heart, hawthorn is a lovely addition for any home apothecary cabinet. Its gentle action makes it safe for long-term use and its taste makes it palatable to all tea drinkers.

Hawthorn Decoction (a simmered tea)
Add 1 Tblsp. of dried hawthorn berries to 1 pint of water and bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Turn down the heat to a simmer, cover, and let gently bubble away for 15 to 20 minutes to yield a medicinal tea. Strain and drink.

Autumn Berry Tea
2 tsp. hawthorn berries
2 tsp. elderberries
2 tsp. rosehips
1 tsp. schisandra berries

Mix all the herbs together and add to 1 quart of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower heat to a gentle simmer. Let simmer covered for 20 minutes, then strain and drink. This makes a slightly tart berry tea that is full of antioxidants and vitamins, wonderful for supporting immunity during the fall season. Consider adding 1 tsp. of cinnamon chips and/or ginger root for a spicier, warming brew.

Steph Zabel, herbalist and educator works in Somerville, Cambridge & Boston, MA.  She teaches herb classes, is available for individual consults and runs the wildly popular annual event known as HERBSTALK.  This event draws herbalists and others from all over New England for 2 days of workshops, education and an herbal marketplace. Her contact info and HERBSTALK info can be found at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com.

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