The botanical name of the Hawthorn is Crataegus monogyna and is sometimes known as May or Whitethorn. It is a shrub that can grow up to five feet tall in hedgerows and sunny woodland areas. The shrub is in fact found all over the world in Western Asia, North America and North Africa. It has berries called haws, which are a dark red in colour and are used to flavour jelly and wine and also can be candied as a sweet.
There are some mystical stories surrounding the hawthorn and it was once regarded as a magical connection to fairies. It was commonly used in pagan festivals as a symbol of fertility and there are quite a few superstitions attached to its use. Part of this may be due to the fact that it was likely to have been used for the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross and since that day it is supposedly unlucky to bring into the house before the 1st of May.
It can apparently ward off evil spirits and certainly in medieval times young women thought that it would ward off spots and skin problems using it as a tonic. It does have a certain aroma that either offends or delights and was at some stage considered to either carry the plague or act as an aphrodisiac.
The leaves and flowers are used primarily for medicinal use and for centuries it has traditionally been used for heart problems, although it has also been used to treat sore throats and kidney problems too.
Like most plants, herbs contain nutrients and in this case the Bioflavonoids and Proanthocyanidins in hawthorn are thought to be the probable reason for its medicinal properties.
Bioflavonoids are vital for their ability to increase the strength of the capillaries (blood vessels) and to regulate their permeability and the body’s blood pressure. They also help prevent haemorrhages and ruptures in the capillaries and connective tissues as well as acting as being a powerful antioxidant and preventing the oxidative damage to cholesterol which can lead to atherosclerosis.
Proanthocyanidins are powerful antioxidants, which protect against environmental pollutants and free radicals. The free radical scavenging effects of Proanthocyanidins have been found to be greater than those of Vitamin E and Vitamin C. Proanthocyanidins also stabilise collagen, (which is the base of bone on to which calcium is deposited), critical proteins in connective tissue, blood vessels and muscle and therefore are essential for preventing circulatory disorders.
The use of the herb is also thought to increase blood flow, therefore decreasing blood pressure and providing a better blood supply to major organs. In addition it is said to decrease heart rate, which would lead to less stress on the muscle.
There have been tests carried out on patients with elevated LDL (lousy cholesterol) levels in their total blood cholesterol. After about a month of treatment with hawthorn there was a significant decrease in total levels and levels of the LDL and the equally harmful triglycerides.
It has also be used with patients who were suffering from congestive heart failure who appeared to respond after a number of weeks with lowered blood pressure, heart rates and their stamina levels.
Apart from lowering cholesterol and decreasing blood pressure the herb is used therapeutically for viral conditions. Tests in the laboratory indicate that it might even have some effect on the HIV virus but this has not yet been proven in humans. There is no doubt that the Bioflavonoids in hawthorn will work in the same manner as those in any plant and are a powerful antioxidant. It might be useful for angina sufferers and to help prevent atherosclerosis.
Use of Hawthorn
You will find hawthorn tincture, capsules and teas in health food shops and as with any alternative therapy you should take care when self prescribing. The herb is often used as part of a complex with other similar herbs such as garlic and passion-flower and with Vitamin E. This provides a powerful mix to help with heart and artery problems.
As with a lot of herbal remedies it should not be used if you are pregnant and with its particular action might interact with certain cardiac medicines particular those containing digitalis, beta-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure and drugs used to block potassium. If you are taking any medication then do consult your doctor before taking this herb.
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©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007
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