Since I’ve done a lot of hawthorn berry harvesting this month, it seemed only right to make it the topic of my next blog.
You can probably guess that hawthorn is one of my favourite herbs and it is for very good reason. If you go back to the old herbal and medical texts of the 15th & 16th centuries, hawthorn features prominently as an herb used to treat ‘dropsie’. Dropsie was the term given to swelling which is associated with heart failure and what we know now, all these years later, is that hawthorn is in fact an amazing heart herb.
As well as being considered as a general heart tonic to maintain cardiovascular health, chemical compounds, called cardiac glycosides, have been isolated that actually strengthen the heart muscle and its blood supply, improving its function and circulation around the body. As well as reducing congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, reducing high blood pressure and stabilising angina, it also supports arteries and is an antioxidant for inflammatory connective tissue disorders. And the benefits don’t just stop at the heart; hawthorn can also be beneficial in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mild anxiety.
Britain has two native species, Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) and Crataegus laevigata (Midland hawthorn), which can be used interchangeably. The flowers, leaves and berries are all used medicinally. The flowers bloom March to June and can be collected to use as a tea or tincture, whilst the berries (also known as haws), come into fruit May to September. The berries can be used as a tea or tincture but also make delicious ketchups and jams making it very easy to include as part of your day. Hawthorn used to be referred to as ‘bread and cheese’. Unfortunately it tastes nothing like either but instead refers to the fact that it was often eaten (despite being quite dense and dry.) Hawthorn is also surrounded by folklore and considered a fairy tree by many, a great excuse to get the kids involved with berry picking.
Hawthorn is hugely abundant in the UK so easy to find when foraging, which is a great way to reconnect with nature and relax. Do remember that the birds enjoy hawthorn berries too, so make sure to leave an ample supply on each tree.
Cautions: Hawthorn should not be used during pregnancy and lactation. It can increase the effects of some heart medication so requires monitoring to make adjustments where necessary.
This information is provided as general guidance and should not be considered a substitution for personalised advice. If you have any specific medical conditions, are taking prescription medication or pregnant, it is always advisable to discuss with a trained medical herbalist before taking any supplements or herbal treatments.