With the week’s forecast of heavy rains, high winds and extensive flooding, I am seeking the refuge and comforts of home. Now decorated for the holidays, my home boasts the heart and the sparkle of the season. I have set about creating and crafting handmade gifts for many, conjuring my holiday menus, and blanketing my home with the notions of festivity. But underneath all the “Martha Stewart-y” pageantry of the season, I am sure that I am not the first to admit that the holidays sometimes carry the baggage of anxiety, stress and moments of unspeakable melancholy. I can feel the gravity of these moments, past, present and future, weighing heavy on my heart. In order to find the courage to carry my head high and my arms wide open, I am reaching for a powerful plant ally this holiday season. Hawthorn. It is funny how, far before I studied herbal medicine, I was always drawn to these garnet berries borne on thorny limbs. I wove them into wreaths and stuck them into arrangements. I admired their beauty. But these days I bring hawthorn even closer to me. As food and medicine, hawthorn has a place in my heart. Literally.
Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) is like a strong yet kind and tender friend. The type you can always turn to. The type that will just smile softly and hold your hand gently while you rage or cry – or both. Like this friend, hawthorn won’t necessarily take away the pain, frustration or anger you may be experiencing, but instead will offer you protection and safe haven while you process these big emotions. You see, hawthorn is a cardiovascular tonic – strengthening the heart muscle, regulating our blood pressure and encouraging the free and fluid movement of our blood bringing nourishment and life force to our every organ. Who doesn’t need a friend like hawthorn?
For all my gentle words, hawthorn berry is a powerhouse of heart friendly constituents, boasting anthocynanin pigments, quercetin, epicatechin, vitamin C and amino acids, among others. As such hawthorn berry offer analgesic, astringent, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihyperlipidemic, antispasmodic, cardiotonic, sedative and vasodilator action. Translation? Hawthorn may relieve pain and inflammation, scavenge free radicals, lower bad cholesterol, help prevent the formation of plaques, ease the tension of smooth muscle tissue, increase This wonderful botanical encourages blood flow, regulates blood pressure and calm your embattled being. Who doesn’t need hawthorn in their life, right? offers all this while remaining extremely safe, non-toxic and relatively free of contraindication. (DISCLAIMER: Be smart and consult with a medical doctor or qualified herbalist regarding your particular health concerns before starting any herbal supplementation and discontinue use if you experience new or disturbing symptoms).
A few weeks ago, we collected hawthorn berries from the numerous trees that sprawl through our lower pasture. A cold, windy and thorny venture, made more perilous by the overly curious Jersey bull that calls those fields home. Suffice to say I harvested with one eye peering over my shoulder at all times. I have been infusing three half gallon jars of 100 proof vodka with the fruits of that harvest. Some will be bottled as hawthorn berry tincture/bitters (I have made a small amount of bitters available from my Etsy store here) – for which I will take medicinally and liberally splash into holiday beverages. Blood orange juice, club soda and a little gin or vodka with the hawthorn berry bitters might do me quite nicely, I think. The rest of the hawthorn berry tincture will await next spring’s hawthorn flowers and new leaves for a powerful hawthorn heart tonic. I have also prepared a lovely little savory syrup to serve with the smoked ducks that I will be serving as my “go-to” dish this holiday season. A long simmering infusion of hawthorn berries, cranberries, juniper berries, rosemary and peppercorn, dosed liberally with white balsamic vinegar will offset the rich and smoky flavor of the duck for just a bit of much needed culinary perfection.
If the hawthorn berries are past their prime in your neck of the woods, multiple online sources such as Mountain Rose Herbs offer an abundance of dried options. Always be sure of your plant identification before wild harvest any plant, berry, root or mushroom.
I hope that you find your ally, plant or human, to offer you safe haven in those storms of the heart and mind, to protect your essence and leave your heart strong. With a friend like hawthorn, you can rest assured that you are being sheltered, supported and protected.
- 6 cups fresh hawthorn berries (or 3 cups dried hawthorn berries)
- 4 cups fresh cranberries
- ¼ cup juniper berries
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
- 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 12 cups water
- 2 cups organic sugar or honey
- Place all ingredients in a heavy bottomed stock pot with a tight fitting lid and simmer, covered for 4-6 hours.
- Place a colander lined with muslin or cheese cloth over a large bowl and pour the berry mixture into the colander, allowing to drain well.
- Return the berry liquid to the saucepan and return to medium heat. Simmer, uncovered until the volume is reduced to 4 cups of light syrup.
- You may refrigerate syrup until use for up to three weeks. Alternatively, you may process in a water bath canner in half pint jars for 10 minutes at a full rolling boil and keep for up to a year.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The above post is for informational purposes only and not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Consult your physician about any healthcare concerns.
Petersen, Do. (2015). HERB302 Herbal Materia Medica I. Portland, OR: ACHS.
Phytochemicals,Constituents and Chemical Composition of Hawthorn. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2015, from http://www.mdidea.com/products/herbextract/hawthorn/data04.html