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Posts Tagged ‘Hawthorne’

Dear Readers,

Here’s one from the vault! This article appeared in my very first issue of the Radicle Review in 2008 (printed on paper back then, if you can believe it!). You will see that I have moved ever nearer to my beloved Hawthorne patch in NE Washington, where I am writing to you from now. I’ve finished up the Haw harvest once again this year, and have gallons of cordials and tinctures made from it. I am, as always, smitten with this plant, and I may just drink them all myself if you don’t claim some.

Crategus douglasii (among many other species)
The featured plant in this issue is the Hawthorne tree.  Hawthorne is a native to North America, though there are a few European escapees that have naturalized here, and the ever-popular varieties that are sold in nurseries as ornamentals. Many of these are also medicinal, and I have used the cultivated Hawthorne in the past with success as well as the wild, which I prefer.  I traveled last month to North Eastern Washington in a mad dash to gather ripe Hawthorne berries in order to make my famous Hawthorne Cordial.  Since Hawthorne grows abundantly throughout Washington, I did debate this long journey eastward as an impractical use of my time, seeing as how I could probably obtain them closer to home. However, I am nothing if not impractical, and I am partial to these particular trees that are growing on my friend Phyllis‘ land.  So, familiarity won out, and I made the trek across the North Cascades Highway, gathering wild ginger and pipsissewa from high in the mountains as I went.

Phyllis’ property is at elevation, a large meadow bordered by a beautiful stream to one side and a forested area to the other.  It rained the night before, but the grasshoppers had returned to the eternal chirping that signals the end of summer. One step through the tall grass sends hundreds (seemingly) leaping hither and thither, just to fall in the path of your next step, and so on and so forth.   The Hawthornes grow on the edges of the meadow, on the banks of the stream and edge of the forest. They look like tall shrubs when they are young, only after many years do their trunks require you to acknowledge them as a proper tree. They tend to grow closely together in a clump or thicket, with their thorny branches hanging low, protecting the heart of the tree.  The thorns appear more wicked and bloodthirsty than they actually are, and I am rarely stabbed when I gather the abundant, reddish black berries that hang in clusters off the branches.  Hawthorne doesn‘t wish to harm anyone, it just knows how to protect itself.  This, it turns out, is one of its virtues.
Herbalists know Hawthorne to be a superior heart tonic. Unlike many herbs, which exert equal influence on multiple organ systems, Hawthorne’s effect is direct and focused on the cardiac muscle. The activity of this plant is a mystery to science, as only the whole plant preparations show any physiologic effect (a confounding trait when you are focused on isolating the active constituent and removing it from its crude form- tree form, in this case).  Though it won’t reveal its secrets, the effects are predictable.  Therapeutically, Hawthorne dilates blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood supply to the heart muscle, and reducing spasms and the likeliness of a heart attack.  It is also effective in relieving shortness of breath, tachycardia (rapid pulse), brachycardia (slow pulse), and the general effects of aging on your most important pump. In combination with other herbs it is useful in treating both hypertension and arteriosclerosis, and many other heart related disorders. The berries contain flavonoids that are both anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  Hawthorne nourishes and tones the heart muscle, I like to think of it as heart food. As you can see by the broad range of effects, Hawthorne is an all-purpose heart herb, capable of normalizing function depending on what is needed. It can dampen excessive function or nourish and support deficient function.  And you don‘t even have to tell it what to do, it just knows!  This is but one example of the intelligence of plant medicine. (After having evolved with plants over hundreds of thousands of years, you could say that the plant kingdom has got our number).

Through my many dealings with the plant, I have found Hawthorne to promote openheartedness and soften grief and anger.  I give Hawthorne not only to those who suffer from heart related pathology, but also those that are working on developing courage and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships.  If I may borrow liberally from Chinese Medicine, Hawthorne seems to strengthen what is called the ‘Heart Protector’, and therefore ones ability to allow experiences and emotions to touch the heart without damaging the person.  Our defenses must be intact but permeable so that life can penetrate and change us. As Hawthorne demonstrates with it’s thorns just visible beneath a protrusion of berries, true generosity has limits.  An attempt to ravage the tree would leave you rightly shredded. Indeed, a healthy level of self-protection is what allows us to remain open and giving without fear.

As I gathered berries that day in the meadow, I ran across a disturbingly large pile of fresh bear droppings, studded with partially digested Hawthorne berries!  It seems that humans are not the only creature to make use of this tree’s generosity. I nervously finished picking and packed my things to go, hoping that this particular bear may have been a little less prone to an irrational burst of anger and dismembering after its meal of medicinal berries?  As I did not catch a glimpse of the bear, we can imagine Hawthorne engenders a sense of rational self-protection and equanimity in bears as well.
The effects of this gentle, safe plant are felt (in humans) after a month or so of continuous use, so do not expect a quick fix. However, the benefits are long lasting and it has no recorded side effects.  I suggest those with clinical heart conditions try my Hawthorne Heart Tonic, a blend of the fresh flowering tips and the dried berries.   Those who wish to work on the emotional heart primarily will enjoy a nip of my Hawthorne Cordial each evening.  You will be pleased to know that both are ranked among the most palatable of all of my creations.

TROUBLED? DOWN? TAKE HEART! TAKE HAWTHORNE HEART TONIC!

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