Plant Feature | Hawthorn | Crataegus spp.

Hawthorn is a notorious cardiac tonic that acts on the heart both physically and energetically. Hawthorn’s bountiful medicine comes in the form of leaves, flowers, and berries. Known to have supportive and protective qualities, its name, Crataegus, is derived from the Greek word kratos, meaning strength. With cardiovascular disease and heart failure on the rise in Canada, let’s make hawthorn a household name! Continue reading to discover how you can support your heart and the health of your loved ones with hawthorn medicine. Plus, check out a recipe for a delicious hawthorn berry syrup.

What is Hawthorn?

Hawthorn is a deciduous, thorny tree belonging to the rose (Rosaceae) family. There are 280 species under the genus Crataegus but C. laevigata and C. monogyna are most commonly used in phytomedicine. Hawthorn produces white or pink, five-petalled flowers in the spring that give way to bright red berries or “haws” in the early fall. The berries are blood red with white mealy flesh and a large stone. With a mildly sweet and sour flavour they are used as both food and medicine. The berries are enjoyed by small birds and animals who nest within the thorny, protective branches of the tree. 

Medicinal Benefits and Uses

As one of the oldest recorded medicinal plants used in Europe, the health benefits of hawthorn have been tried and tested. The herb has long been associated with heart health and research has shown it to be a useful remedy for various cardiovascular related conditions including hypertension, atherosclerosis, angina, and varicose veins. Hawthorn has a restorative and balancing effect on the heart and circulatory system, it modulates heart activity, depending on what is needed for optimal functioning. It is also indicated for stimulating digestion and calming the nerves.

Much has been said about how the physical form of hawthorn relates to its energetic properties. The plant stands tall and offers abundant medicine but also maintains protection and boundaries as its thorns only allow you to get so close. Herbalist Jim McDonald recommends hawthorn as an emotional and spiritual heart tonic. The plant medicine provides a protective emotional space for people recovering from heartbreak, trauma, and emotional vulnerability.

Some herbalists use the leaves, flowers, and berries of hawthorn interchangeably, depending on the season. However, the berries are specifically indicated to support the structure of the heart muscle while the leaves and flowers support the function of the heart, regulating heart beat. It must be noted that if all the flowers are harvested in the spring, there will not be berries in the fall! The leaves and flowers can be enjoyed in a tea, capsule, or tincture. Packed with antioxidants and flavonoids, the berries can be eaten fresh or made into jams and syrups in addition to being prepared in a decoction or tincture.

Hawthorn Berry Syrup

Herbal infused syrups are a delicious and effective way to enjoy plant medicine. Syrups can be taken on their own or added to tea, cocktails, or any food that needs sweetening. Syrups can be made with sugar or honey but honey is often preferred as it is nutrient rich and anti-microbial.

This recipe uses a concentrated hawthorn berry tea that is simply mixed with honey in a 2:1 ratio. If you prefer a sweeter, thicker syrup, you can change the ratio to 1:1. You can easily make a bigger batch of this syrup by adding more berries and adjusting the honey to water ratio.  

You will need:

  • 16 oz glass jar and lid
  • 2 cups fresh / 1.5 cups dried hawthorn berries
  • 1L water
  • 160ml honey (½ cup + 3tbs)

Directions:

  1. Collect fresh berries that look red and plump. Remove any stems and leaves. Put berries and water into a pot with a lid on and bring to a boil.
  2. Once a boil has been reached, down the heat to simmer and move the lid to cover only ½ of the pot.
  3. After 10 minutes, using a potato masher, press the berries in the bottom of the pot. Continue to simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Strain away the berry pulp and measure the tea. You want to have decocted down to about 1 + 1/3 cups. If you have too much tea at this point, return liquid to pot and continue to decoct until desired amount is reached.
  5. Remove pot from heat and allow the tea to cool for a few minutes. Gently stir the honey into the tea and when incorporated, pour syrup into clean glass jar.
  6. Label jar with plant name, ingredients, date and dosage.
  7. Store in fridge and enjoy! It should last 3 months or longer

Dose:

Take up to 3 teaspoons 3 times per day.

Caution:

The seeds of hawthorn berries contain mildly toxic compounds and should not be consumed. If you want to use the pulp left over from the tea, strain out the seeds first. 

References

Hoffman, David. Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. Thorsons, 2002.

“Crataegus oxygantha Monograph.” Handout. Pacific Rim College. Victoria, British Columbia.

Mountain Rose Herbs. “Hawthorn, Plant Walk with Jim McDonald.” Online video clip. Youtube. 20 December 2013. Web. 9 November 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGB9Do-IEv8

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249900/

https://www.ncherbandtea.com/blogs/news/45981761-hawthorn-healer-of-the-heart

Photography and text by Liza Couse