Hawthorn: Medicine of hope
Today I pressed a tincture of hawthorn leaf and flower, as I do many times throughout the year. I go through a large amount of it in my practice. It smells wonderful and its welcome aroma always lifts my spirits and brings a smile of recognition to my lips.
In the Middle Ages the shrub was considered a symbol of hope and used for many ailments. In 16th and 18th century writings, British herbalists commended its use to ridding the body of extra fluid by increasing urine volume (diuretic). This effect was and still is achieved by increasing blood delivery to the kidneys. First Nations used a local species, C. douglasii to strengthen the heart and reduce swellings, effects also likely achieved in part by increasing the volume of urine.
‘ Shen’ is a Chinese word for spirit and the seat of the spirit is believed to be the heart. It is said that, “The heart stores the shen” and shen must be continually nourished to maintain good health. Chinese hawthorn, C. pinnatifida was and still is used to strengthen cardiac output. The Eclectic physician H.W. Felter remarked in 1922 that the characteristic effects of cardiac diseases on the nervous system are mental depression and fear of impending death. This loss of hope has also been remarked upon by cardiologists of today. When health returns to the heart, these negative emotions subside and patient spirits rise.
The flavonoid content of hawthorn is known to be especially nourishing to the heart muscle and the arteries that supply it. Today hawthorn, Crataegus spp. is used to reduce blood pressure and improve symptoms of heart failure – uses that are supported by clinical trials and post-marketing surveillance studies.
Hawthorn is food for an aging heart. It is a fellow resident of our valley that grows in moist open places at low to middle elevations. Fruit, flowers & leaves are all used to make medicine.
Perhaps it could be said that hawthorn medicine restores hope to human hearts.