Hawthorn: an Herb Worthy of Consideration
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Ms. T, a lady who works in my office swears by hawthorn for anything to do with your heart and circulation. As with many things this inspired me to look into the history and use of hawthorn berry – was it a herb worth adding to my arsenal, and what individuals would benefit the most from it.
Hawthorn is a tall-growing shrub that bears white flowers, red berries and large vicious thorns – those of which are rumored to have been used to weave the crown of thorns that Christ wore at the crucifixion. (Natural-Medicinal-Herbs.com/herbs/hawthorn.htm, 2015) – (webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/hawthorn-uses-and-risks, 2015) The plant gained widespread popularity in European and American herbal medicine only toward the end of the 19th century. Hawthorn preparations remain popular in Europe and have gained some acceptance in the US.
Studies have shown that the herb restores blood pressure to normal, not only lowering high blood pressure but also raising blood pressure that is low. According to WebMD – a very conservative information site – “In one study that combined the results of earlier studies on people with heart failure, hawthorn extract was linked to fewer symptoms of heart failure. People taking hawthorn had less fatigue and shortness of breath.
Another study indicated, people with type 2 diabetes who took hawthorn extract for four months had a drop in diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number in a blood pressure reading.” NOTE hawthorn can interact with many types of blood pressure medications, make sure you consult with a knowledgeable herbalist and it is in your best interest to let your integrative cardiologist or doctor know you are using hawthorn.
Most of the beneficial actions of Hawthorn are attributable to its flavanols – Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs), although in clinical trials Hawthorn has proven most effective when the whole berries are used, rather than isolated constituents from them. (Hawthorn, 2009) Hawthorn has been used over the centuries prevent and treat arrhythmias, heart attack, hypertension, congestive heart disease, stroke, colitis, diarrhea, and improve oxygen utilization to the heart muscle .
OPC’s are highly beneficial in the prevention and reversal of atherosclerosis (by inhibiting the Histidine Decarboxylase enzyme which catalyzes the excessive conversion of Histidine to Histamine that is usually observed in Atherosclerosis patients and by inhibiting the oxidation of LDL Cholesterol). Additionally OPC’s inhibit some aspects of the Aging Process (by enhancing the body’s renewal of Collagen and inhibiting excessive Cross-Linking).
There is also research on how OPC’s help in the healing and prevention of “gastric ulcers by inhibiting the excessive production of histamine within the gastric mucosa by the histidine decarboxylase enzyme.” There is more on the benefits to our eyes, brain and skin. OPC’s are found in high levels in “super foods”.
Geek Info: “The term Proanthocyanidins is derived as follows pro = before, anthocyanins = red, referring to their colorless property and their ability to be transformed into (red) Anthocyanins.” (General Health Benefits of OPC Pycnogenol Super Anti Oxidant … (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.allergydiets.com/opcgeneraloverview.html_br)
So it would seem one of the major nutrient components of hawthorn, also found in many other foods – is a vital nutrient for the heart and circulatory system. Once again modern science is shining a light on what historical herbalists knew from observation and oral tradition. Hawthorn improves the structural integrity of collagen, and lowers serum cholesterol. Traditional herbalists report the protective effects of hawthorn berries, flowers and leaves are achieved after long term use. It usually takes one to two months before the effects of hawthorn become noticeable, it can be safely used for long periods of time without the risk of toxicity or side effects.
Can’t say that about most modern medications….
Hawthorn fruit can be eaten as food. The fruits are also canned and processed into jam, candy, and drinks. According to Monica Shaw in the UK, Haws (the berry) “should be picked late in the season (October and November are ideal), when they are as ripe as possible. Although hawthorn berries come off the tree easily, they often bring with them lots of stems which should be removed before cooking – a slightly time-consuming process. On their own, haw berries aren’t anything exciting – they’re mostly pip and taste a bit like a dry, under-ripe apple. They really need to be cooked to get anything useful out of them.”(Shaw)
To Your Good Health and Information –