It is funny how things stick in your memory? I was sitting in one of the many lectures at college and this time it was about cardio vascular disease and how herbs can positively affect symptoms and disease processes within the heart, the venous and arterial systems, such as arteriosclerosis, high cholesterol and high or low blood pressure. The main herb that stood out from all those discussed was Crategeus monogyna or Crataegus oxyacantha. In other words Hawthorn. The lecturer introduced Hawthorn as the “Arteries of Great Britain” and its true when you look from an airplane window, or some other elevated position you see fields divided by hedgerows of beautiful Hawthorn. At this time of year full of fresh green leaves and tightly closed pink and white flowers waiting to spring to life.
In the Middle Ages this herb was known as a symbol of hope. Just when we think that spring is not coming the Hawthorn flowers burst into life. Historically it was used for kidney and bladder stones as well as being a diuretic. Today, herbalists use it for circulatory and cardiac problems, particularly angina and coronary artery heart disease. Improving heart function, it is a valuable remedy for both high and low blood pressure, is a cardiotonic and dilates blood vessels, is a relaxant as well as an antioxidant. Hawthorn, like most herbs works in tune with the body and therefore takes time for physiological changes to occur.
It makes sense that when consulting the “Doctrine of Signatures” by Paracelsus (1500’s) that based on his observation, all plants including the shape, colour, smell and the environment in which they grow reflect what they are able to do in the body. As mentioned, Hawthorn works not only on the physical heart and circulation, but also on the emotional heart. The hawthorn hedge forms the “Arteries of Britain” carrying and supporting life within it by housing and feeding small animals, birds and insects. The red berries show affinity to the blood, the thorns to the heart - when pricked it hurts! In this way Hawthorn addresses emotional heartache.
What is the function of arteries in your body? Arteries are responsible for transporting blood away from the heart around the body into the network of capillaries and arterioles. Each organ has a major artery which supplies it with blood carrying oxygen and nutrients, and then back via a major vein to the heart, with the exception of the stomach and small intestines where blood is transported to the liver and digested food molecules are processed. Once pumped back to the heart, blood is re-oxygenated and the whole process repeats.
Herbalists use the leaves, flowers and berries for different treatments depending on what heart and circulatory issues the client is presenting with. Either a tincture of flowering tops or berries or a decoction of flowering tops is beneficial for circulatory disorders – regulating blood pressure and preventing build up of arteriosclerosis, as well as lowering harmful cholesterol and strengthening the heart muscle whilst regulating heart rhythm. For most people, if you want to work on your blood pressure, circulation and cholesterol build-up naturally, this is the herb for you! Unless you have specialized knowledge it is advisable to do this with a qualified herbalist.
Hawthorn cannot do it all! As most cardiac diseases are associated with being overweight or even obese, a diet high in refined sugars, saturated fats (fried foods, processed foods and pre-packaged snacks, combined with lack of movement and exercise, means we have to address lifestyle as well?
What better time of the year to eat more fruit and vegetables and with longer days to go out to enjoy the great outdoors and the “Arteries of Britain.”
McIntyre (2010). Anne. London: Gaia division Octopus Publishing Group, 123
Chevalier, Andrew (2000). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed. New York, USA: DK Publishing Inc..90.