Monday, June 11, 2012

Hawthorn for Heart Health

In Chinese medicine, the season summer corresponds to the Heart. Summer is a great time to focus on heart health.

Widely used in both Western and Asian herbal traditions, hawthorn may well be the supreme herb for the heart.

Hawthorns are big regal trees with white flowers in springtime, red berries later in the season, and formidable thorns all year round.

Western herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar writes, “The hawthorn tree has been planted in or near most herb gardens throughout Europe and has been revered and surrounded by legend for centuries.”

The berries, flowers and leaves of the tree are used medicinally. All three forms of hawthorn, leaves, flowers and berries can be taken in tea form. The berries and flowers work wonderfully in alcohol-based tinctures as well.

Cardiovascular Health

Hawthorn has a strong affinity for the heart. Indeed, it's bright red berries the heart organ, or a chamber of the heart and its valve. Hawthorn is a cardiac tonic with the ability to gently stimulate or depress the heart's activity as needed. Hawthorn strengthens the heart muscle, regulates blood flow and stimulates circulation by dilating arteries and veins and releasing cardiovascular constrictions and blockages. It lowers blood pressure and helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels. An outstanding herb for both preventing and treating heart disease, hawthorn is frequently used to address all cardiovascular conditions, including:
  • high and low blood prssure
  • rapid or arhythmic heartbeat
  • inflammation of the heart muscle
  • angina pectoris
  • arteriosclerosis and valvular heart diseases
  • edema
  • nervous palpitations

Digestive Health

Interestingly, the use of hawthorn to treat the cardiovascular system is a relatively recent development in Chinese herbalism. Traditionally, Chinese herbalists used hawthorn berries primarily to treat digestion. Indeed, hawthorn berries are the preeminent herb used for removing congestion of accumulated food masses due to overeating and poor digestion. In this way, they help detoxify the digestive system, making you feel lighter and more energetic. They stimulate poor appetite, reduce abdominal distention and aid, particularly, in the digestion of meat and greasy foods.

The green fruit is good for diarrhea and the roasted, charred red fruits are good for both diarrhea and chronic dysentery-like disorders.

Postpartum Pain

Because of its ability to promote blood flow, and because it has some affinity with the reproductive system (again, the ripe berry can be seen to resemble the uterus organ), hawthorn is sometimes used to alleviate postpartum pain by helping to dissipate uterine blood clots.

The Heart Spirit

In both West and East, the heart corresponds strongly with emotional, mental and spiritual health. Although it's not usually a first choice in treating mental and emotional problems in Chinese medicine, it can be a useful adjunct in treating insomnia accompanied by overthinking and nervousness. This is because overthinking relates to a weakness in the Spleen system (digestion and assimilation of nutrients), and hawthorn is such a wonderful support for digestive function.

Hawthorn fruit or flowers are more likely to be used by western herbalists to treat emotional issues. Rosemary Gladstar writes, “Hawthorn is a wonderful remedy for “broken hearts” and for depression and anxiety. It is a specific medicine for those who have a difficult time expressing their feelings or who suppress their emotions. Hawthorn helps the heart flower, open, and be healed.”


Great For Elderly and for Children

A healthy heart is essential to a long and productive life, and hawthorn is a wonderful tonic for the elderly. It works particularly well for problems of old age.

Because of it strong concentrations of bioflavonoids, hawthorn is an effective antioxidant. By reducing free radicals in the body, it slows the aging of tissues, fights cancerous cell growth and promotes longevity.

Hawthorn is also a great herb for children. According to Chinese medicine theory, most common pediatric illness in small children stem from weak digestion and from accumulation of poorly digested food in the digestive system (and the phlegm and heat that results from this food accumulation). Hawthorn berries are a wonderful her for breaking down and eliminating food stagnation.

Hawthorn is a key ingredient in some of my favorite pediatric herb formulas used in treating indigestion and colic.

The Chinese even make a candy from the hawthorn berry called "haw flakes," available in packaged form in Chinatown. Adults sometimes eat haw flakes along with a dose of herbal medicine to make the bitter herbs more palatable and digestible. Kids eat them just for fun.

Hawthorn is a gentle herb, completely safe to take in small doses over a long period of time.