by Fiona Chapman
I don’t know if it is the odd spring we have had, wet and not particularly warm, that means the May or Hawthorne looks as though it is going to be a bumper year.
Some trees are out already and some are just about to flower with a huge number of buds waiting to burst open. It is a tree of spring, and to me a wonderfully ancient and magical tree.
I am sure I have mentioned before that Hawthorne or Crataegus monogyna is specific for the heart.
There has been lots of research into Hawthorne, particularly in Germany, and it is the young leaves and flowers that have such an effect on the cardio system. It is a cardiotonic and increases myocardial contractility – positive inotropic – meaning it increases the force of the muscle contraction in the heart giving it a stronger and more rhythmic beat while at the same time reducing vascular tension and so allowing the blood to move much more freely around the body.
This is obviously extremely good for blood pressure and circulation issues such as Raynaud’s disease and varicose veins.
The flowers, together with the red fruit berries in the autumn, help to reduce cholesterol and have a protective effect on the heart muscle and also helps to prevent inflammation in blood vessels or atherosclerosis. This anti-inflammatory action is also good for gout and arthritis as with the blood moving more freely around the body, it means that toxins can be removed and excreted.
Crataegus is also good for the emotional heart and a flower and top tea can have a calming, soothing and gently soporific effect. The berries are nutritive and full of anti-oxidants and vitamins so help with metabolism and digestion. It is an altogether extremely special tree.
The tops and leaves should be harvested now, just as the flowers open, any older and they start to smell of death – this is to attract the blow flies that will pollinate it.
Young tender flowers and leaves – picked in the dry – can then be left to dry in a north-facing room – ideally well spread out on brown paper – to make a calming herbal tea, or can be added to brandy or vodka to make a tincture. If making a tincture you can then add the berries in the autumn and make yourself an extremely effective heart tonic. Obviously, this should not be taken if you are already on heart medication such as digoxin or beta blockers as it may enhance their effect.
Fiona Chapman is a Naturopathic Herbalist (Pellyfiona@gmail.com)