The Irish believed that leaving wreaths created out of the twisted branches of the small Hawthorn tree and bursting with red berries will bring them good luck and prosperity. The freshly woven wreaths are special gifts for the fairies and angels as a way of getting on the good side of these supernatural entities. More than the mythical stories attached to the Hawthorn tree, every part of the plant – its roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits – has been used as an essential ingredient in herbal treatments. Men and women who practice herbalism have brewed a healing tonic from Hawthorn leaves and flowers to strengthen a weak heart and treat high blood pressure.
Wherever the Hawthorn Thrives
Because various species of the plant thrive in cold, temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s only natural that this shrub would have a long rich history with herbalists and physicians in Europe, Asia, and North America. In England, it’s still known as the “May-Bush” because of its widespread use as a heart tonic. A mixture of extracts from the English hawthorn and one-seed hawthorn increases the potency of the herbal supplement.
North American tribes like the Ojibwa and the Pottawatomie have used Hawthorn berries, flowers, and leaves in making tonics to cure stomach ailments, including diarrhea and dysentery. Meanwhile, the Fox and Meskwaki used it as a diuretic to treat problems with the bladder and kidneys. The Cherokee ate the bitter fruits to stimulate appetite and to relieve cramps as well as regulate blood flow. The Chippewa would make a tonic out of the roots and use that to strengthen the health of the female reproductive organs. Lastly, the Kwakiutl Indians chewed the leaves and turned it into a poultice to treat wounds and skin sores.
Meanwhile, Germans call it weifdorn, which literally means “white thorn,” and the French refer to it as l’epine noble or the noble thorn. This interesting name rose out of a religious myth that the Romans fashioned a crown of thorns for Jesus from Hawthorn branches. In the Balkan Peninsula and the Mediterranean region, people harvested the fruits, flowers, and leaves of other Hawthorn species that are native to these places and they have been using them as herbal treatments for a long time.
Widely Used in Eastern Traditional Medicine
In the Orient, the Tang-Ben-Cao, a Chinese herbal manual believed to have been written by Su-Jing and others around 659 AD, was the earliest written record that first mentioned the healing properties of the Chinese hawberry (Crataegus pinnatifida). The Chinese have used different parts of this plant in a wide range of applications. They believed that eating a handful of dried haw berries promotes a healthy digestive system and eating the charred berries can cure diarrhea and dysentery. After drying the berries, they would cook or dip them in sugar and eat them as candied fruits.
In case someone has been poisoned with varnish, a tonic brewed from the plant’s leaves and twigs is an effective antidote. The fresh fruits are also consumed to treat scurvy and they’re used as a mild laxative. The fruits are also recommended for women suffering from postpartum abdominal pains and for people coping with chest pains.
Peasants often picked the red berries and turned them into jam or jelly. Sometimes, they would crush the red juicy fruits and let the resulting mush ferment into sweet wine. Eating fresh Hawthorn fruits or drinking a concentrated fruit juice made from those red berries can help thin a spot of congealed blood, which may develop into a clot.
Hawthorn and Its Use in Modern Medicine
The era of modern medicine mostly flourished during the Renaissance period from the 16th to the 18th century. There was a revival in the pursuit of knowledge, especially in science, medicine, and technology. In the 17th century, a French doctor named Leclerc and an Irish doctor surnamed Green were known to use Hawthorn berries in their treatments of cardiovascular diseases. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, homeopathic and allopathic physicians took advantage of the healing properties of Hawthorn to help regulate blood circulation, and treat patients suffering from angina pectoris, functional heart disease, arrhythmia, and vasoconstriction in the circulatory system.
Although herbal treatments using Hawthorn faded from use in the 1930s, the scientific community never stopped doing research into this plant’s medicinal uses. In 2008, academics from The Cochrane Collaboration reviewed the results of existing research on Hawthorn and found good evidence that using the plant’s extract along with conventional therapy contributed significantly to the positive prognosis of the patients. Two years later, medical researchers identified the health effects of Hawthorn extracts WS 1442 and LI 132 were primarily caused by the large amounts of flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins in the herbal supplements. The most significant proof for Hawthorn’s clinical benefits is when it was used as part of the treatment for chronic congestive heart failure (CHF).
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