-- TIMESTAMPS --
00:00 - Introduction to hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
02:16 - Hawthorn for the heart
04:04 - How to identify hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
06:22 - Working with hawthorn
08:12 - Special considerations: hawthorn side effects
08:45 - Hawthorn tea: best way to make tea with hawthorn flowers and leaf
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Hawthorn flowers and leaves offer so many gifts, especially for nourishing our hearts. In this video I’m sharing the benefits of hawthorn flowers and leaves and how you can best work with this plant to support your cardiovascular system.
Hello! I’m Rosalee de la Forêt, herbalist, teacher, and bestselling herbal author. I'm here to share trusted herbal knowledge so that you can get the best results when using herbs for your health.
Okay let’s dive in!
Several years ago while visiting Ireland I fell in love with hedges.
Lining the roads and fields, these boundaries of stone walls and plants are teeming with life.
Hawthorn shrubs were some of the most prominent plants along the hedges. Sometimes they grow close to the stones, other times they shoot far beyond the original stone fence. I walked along those hedges for miles and miles. I was infatuated with the abundance of hawthorn’s red berries, the gnarly and textured branches, and the many haphazard spines.
I snapped photo after photo, thinking to myself, “What a beautiful world we live in to have such abundant heart medicine growing just outside people’s front doors.”
In European traditions, hawthorn is immersed with mystery and folklore. In the spring its branches are filled with white to pink blossoms that attract countless pollinators. The scent of the flowers has been described as everything from death and decay to divine and erotic.
Depending on the location, hawthorn is often found blooming in late April through May, and has long been associated with Beltane, the cross-quarter holiday between the spring equinox and summer solstice. I live in a northern latitude and zone 4 and this beautiful tree behind me is blooming just past mid May.
Hawthorn is easily my most loved herb for the heart. And while we can classify hawthorn with a handful of medicinal herbal actions, such as astringent, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, diuretic, hypotensive, … a better understanding is simply that hawthorn nourishes and protects the heart. As a result, hawthorn’s virtues benefit a wide variety of heart-related problems.
Oftentimes in western herbalism we focus on the berries, which are ripe in the fall. But the leaves and flowers are also filled with medicinal benefits.
Large long-term and short-term studies have shown that hawthorn offers many benefits for people who already have mild to moderate heart disease. Studies have specifically shown improvement for ankle edema, general cardiac performance, reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, fatigue, pain with increased exertion, and palpitations.
That’s a lot of powerful ways that hawthorn benefits the heart!
Based on these studies1 researchers have concluded what herbalists have long known, that...
How does hawthorn provide so many benefits for the heart? Like most herbs, hawthorn works in many ways, some of which we may never fully understand. Here’s what we do know.
Hawthorn is rich in flavonoids that are known to protect the cardiovascular system.2 Much of the heart disease in the western world is related to chronic inflammation. Regularly enjoying herbs and foods high in these flavonoids can protect the heart from chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.
There are over 280 species of hawthorn trees growing around the world. The most commonly used species are Crataegus monogyna, C. oxyacantha, and C. laevigata. Hawthorns can easily hybridize, making a definitive identification a bit difficult.
But for the herbalist that isn’t much of a problem!
A study published in January of 2020 looked at 15 different species of hawthorn plants growing around the world to determine their levels of flavonoids and triterpenes. The study concluded that all fifteen species had similar amounts of these beneficial nutrients.3
Hawthorns are native to Europe, Asia, North America and parts of Africa. They are widely distributed across the Earth.
Hawthorn can grow as a shrub or a tree reaching 15 to 45 feet tall. The tree behind me is probably 15 feet tall and has been growing here for over forty years.
The bark and branches are brown and the wood is very hard. It was historically prized for making a variety of tools.
The tree has many thorns which are about a 1/2 inch to 1 inch long and are found along the branches.
The leaves grow from 1 to 1 1/2 inches long and are oval and deeply lobed.
The flowers bloom from April to June depending on location. As typical of the rose family, the flowers have five white petals and many stamens. The flowers grow in clusters and are about 1 cm in diameter.
A hawthorn tree in bloom is such a beautiful sight! I love this time of year! I don’t know if you can hear all the birds singing around me, but it’s simply lovely to hear! There’s also so many flowers blooming just off camera.
There are huge lilac bushes that are filled with blooms right now and the scent is blissful! I wish you could be here with me to see and smell it all!
Once hawthorn blooms, it keeps on giving. In late summer to fall the berries (or haws) ripen to a deep red.
The fruits persist well into the winter and are important foraging for wildlife.
Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries can be used as medicine. All three are commonly used as medicine for the heart, and they can be prepared separately or in combination with each other.
This article focuses on the leaves and flowers and later in the year I’ll do a video specifically for the berries.
You can also see my first book, Alchemy of Herbs: How to Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods and Remedies that Heal, for more information about hawthorn as medicine, including some of my favorite recipes.
The leaves and flowers make a nice tea or a nourishing herbal infusion and are noticeably astringent. The leaves and flowers can also be extracted into alcohol.
To forage your own hawthorn leaves and flowers, pick a few flowers and leaves here and there off of a single tree. Your goal is to make it look like you were never there. In other words, don’t strip a branch! I was taught to harvest the flowers with pink stamens as those are the freshest flowers.
When harvesting you’ll quickly learn to mind the thorns! You can’t harvest this plant without a lot of presence and attention.
Another way to harvest the leaves and flowers is to carefully prune the tree with its health in mind, and then harvest the leaves and flowers from the pruned branches. If you are new to pruning look for guides on how to prune fruit trees.
See my second book, Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine, for more information on sustainable and regenerative harvesting.
If you aren’t foraging your own leaves and flowers then I recommend buying those in bulk from a trusted herb supplier.
Hawthorn is a safe and nourishing herb for most people but there are some cautions.
In 2019 a study was published looking at the best practices for how to make hawthorn flower and leaf medicines. The researchers looked at dry vs. fresh hawthorn, the leaves vs. the flowers, and they also compared different extraction methods to see what is the most potent. All of these methods were tested to see which had the highest nutrients. This study was so in depth and fascinating! I wish we had studies like this for all of my favorite plants!
The tea recipe I am sharing with you is based on the findings in that study.
Out of all the extraction methods tested, a simple tea or infusion was found to be the simplest and best way to work with hawthorn medicine. I love that! I love teas because they are simple to make, can be delicious, and are a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the plant world. I also love that this study showed you don’t need to buy expensive supplements in order to get the best benefits with hawthorn!
They also showed that the flowers and leaves have different and complementary nutrients, so working with both is a good idea.
They also tested many different ways of making hawthorn tea. They concluded that the most important practice to increase the extraction of nutrients was to grind the dry plant. They recommend doing this just before you make the tea, otherwise the flowers and leaves can oxidize, which isn’t good.
The researchers really emphasized that grinding the plant material was important. They wrote:
“Clearly, grinding the dry plant is the most important parameter to increase the extraction yields for all of the quantified components.”4
With the results of that study in mind, here’s how I recommend you make your hawthorn flower and leaf tea.
The simple ingredients are:
Measure out 3 grams of hawthorn flower and leaf using a kitchen scale so you get an accurate amount.
Grind the dried leaves and flowers using a spice grinder reserved for herbs. You don’t want to use your coffee grinder because your tea will taste like coffee and vice versa. As previously mentioned you’ll want to grind your hawthorn up just before each cup of tea.
Place the hawthorn herb into a French press or another glass container with a handle and pour spout.
Boil the water. Pour the water into the French press.
Let sit, covered, for 3-10 minutes. The researchers said that it wasn’t necessary to steep for more than 3 minutes, but even steeping to ten minutes is fine.
Strain off the flowers and leaves which can now be composted. If there are a lot of little bits still left in the water you can pour the tea through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag. Some of you might be wondering about tea bags, but the researchers said the bags hinder the extraction process and it’s better to let the herbs freely float in the water.
You can flavor your hawthorn tea with a bit of honey or other sweetener if desired.
This preparation is a potent way to nourish your heart! I also like to add other herbs for flavor. A bit of lemon verbena is a favorite. But any aromatic plants, like mints, will work great.
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Also here are other helpful links like where you can buy hawthorn herb as well as both of my books.
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See you next time.
And if you want to learn more about hawthorn in general, make sure to read my monograph on the hawthorn herb here.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal and co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.