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Hawthorn gets things moving


Back when I was studying herbal medicine, and specifically the Materia Medica, an important part of the module was to taste each and every plant’s tincture – after all, we were learning to prescribe natural medicinals, so we needed to know how they presented on the tongue, i.e. drying/moist/warming/cold and so on.

It wasn't about the taste, but it just so happened that hawthorn was my favourite taste! I could happily drink it as a liquor shot each day (which is probably kind of the point anyway ;o)

Hawthorn is renowned in western herbal formulas for heart and circulatory conditions, to bring balance to the circulatory system, with the leaves/flowers generally thought of as a cardio tonic and the berries for the heart's emotions. Hawthorn specifically helps the body adapt, strengthening the heart and circulatory system by regulating blood flow and helping reduce cholesterol. Hawthorn’s benefits are manyfold, but ultimately it’s all about motion.

Hawthorn gets things moving. For blood, there’s a test you can try - press the fleshy part of your palm and watch how long it takes for the blood to flow back. If it takes more than a few seconds, it’s considered a clear indication that hawthorn is needed. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) interprets this as stagnation in the blood.

TCM and Ayurvedic herbalists also use hawthorn for the digestive system. In TCM, heat or stagnation in the liver, spleen in humans, and stomach are all helped by hawthorn’s ability to get things moving, to clear food stagnation to move through the digestive system appropriately. Diarrhea and chronic gut bugs are helped with ripe haws as well as gas and abdominal bloating.

Ayurvedic herbalists use hawthorn for food stagnation and circulatory problems such as heart palpitations and heart problems related to aging or slow, sluggish digestion (Vata). It’s often paired with cinnamon or ginger as a heart and digestive tonic.

Science shows that hawthorn opens the blood vessels, clears LDL cholesterol, and strengthens the heart – my husband’s genetically disposed to high LDL cholesterol and he takes hawthorn tincture every day. Hawthorn also has a reputation of being adaptogenic because it normalises blood pressure, improves both sluggish and fast-moving digestive transit (diarrhoea), and generally brings balance to the heart.

Which brings me nicely to hawthorn also being kind to the soul, as hawthorn berries help heal the heart’s emotions as well. My own personal experience with hawthorn was when I lost one of my best friends of 10-years. He’d been my constant loyal buddy, listening to my endless daily chatter and always there for a cuddle, giving me unconditional affection no matter what. His name was Spinkly, and he was a stray black cat who came into my life as a tiny waif of a kitten when he scrambled through a hedge on our rented paddock, meowing his head off for food.

Spinks became our barn mouser that first year, until he followed us home in the depths of winter (we were only 5-minutes away) and discovered the woodburner. He died on my birthday, 10-years later, on a glorious summer Sunday morning, 2014. He called me for his breakfast and I remember laughing to myself, thinking oy you, come up for a birthday cuddle first. He didn’t, so I assumed he’d gone back out. An hour later we heard the yowl.

An hour later we found him, us calling him frantically, him calling us to where he was with his pelvis smashed from a point-blank impact. The vet said he wouldn’t survive the anaesthetic. Numb with grief, we made the call to let him go. He went to sleep in my arms, and husband and I sobbed all day.

Even broken romances hadn’t hurt as much as losing Spinks. The pain was extraordinary - losing him hurt physically, emotionally, psychologically. My heart was utterly broken. I cried for several days before I turned to herbs - I swatted and discovered that hawthorn berry tea might help,. By now Spinks was back home in his little wooden casket n the windowsill so I’d sip my tea next to him, and slowly, the pain began to subside.

Hawthorn helped care for my heart while I grieved, and oh boy did the healing take a long time. I will miss him forever, but I have a big collage of photos in a frame above my desk. My birthday has a different take these days – me and husband take a quiet moment and raise a glass to our little man, then lose ourselves laughing at the happy memories of his comic antics than the pain of losing him.

Every year the welcome show of the May flowers, followed by the shine of the berries in autumn, is a big deal for me. With a tincture permanently on our kitchen windowsill, hawthorn has a big place in our life - and our hearts.