A.S.APOTHECARY’s Tara Gould (content & comms), stepped out into the Sussex countryside to collect Hawthorn berries for a heart strengthening home made tincture.
”The fair maid, who on the first of May,
Goes to the fields at the break of day,
And bathes in the dew from the hawthorn tree,
Will ever strong and handsome be”.
(Old English Nursery Rhyme)
The gnarled and sculptural Hawthorn tree proliferates along the stubbly corridors of our Sussex holloways. Its ancient silhouette decorates our thickets and woodlands and edges the farmland, the arable meadows and the sheep grazed pastures. At this time of year the glossy red berries are easy to find. On a recent walk cross-country to Firle, I was delighted to discover an abundance of the blood red fruit, jewelling a tapestry of hedgerow which lined the bridleway. I filled my canvas bag, and escaped with only a few pricks and scratches, pouring them out onto my kitchen table to dry, ready for use.
I’m not in the habit of making potions at home, my plant knowledge, though growing, is still limited, but working for an expert plantswoman and writing about the botanical products we make here has begun to influence my thinking. After reading about how beneficial the berries are for heart conditions I began to take a keener interest in hawthorn. A month ago I reached a milestone birthday, and while I feel really positive about it, there’s nothing like half a century on this planet and the symptoms of peri-menopause to force you to consider your mortality in a new and bracing way. Hormone changes have brought on higher blood pressure and occasional palpitations. So, I’m hoping the hawthorn’s powers for cardiovascular healing might help to protect against the heart disease that is in my family, improve my heart health and balance blood pressure.
Hawthorn has been used by farmers as a natural boundary for their land since Saxon times because of its thick growth and thorny branches. It lives for up to 400 years and is one of our oldest, native plant companions. With its heart associations and ruby berries it’s no surprise that hawthorn was a symbol of romantic love and magical protection in Celtic mythology. It has always been linked to Beltane, brides wore hawthorn flowers in their hair and the Faery Queen was said to dwell beneath the hawthorne’s thorny branches, a myth which likely grew from an earlier pre-Christian archetype, reminding us of a Goddess-centred worship, practised by priestesses in sacred circular hawthorn groves. Out of all of our native and ancient trees, it is one of the most heavily imbued with myth and legend, it has the power to open the heart, to protect against evil, to grant wishes and to offer strength in times of struggle.
Despite such life affirming representations, an old superstition advised again bringing its blossoms into the home, which could invite in illness and death. Records show that Medieval people reported the smell of hawthorn blossom was just like the smell of the Great Plague. The chemical trimethylamine, present in hawthorn blossom, is also one of the chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue, which is perhaps where this superstition derives.
More recently, numerous clinical studies have confirmed that hawthorn berries improve the tone of the heart muscle, improve oxygen uptake by the heart, improve circulation to the heart, energise heart cells, and dilate blood vessels in the extremities to reduce strain on the heart. It has also been shown to enhance memory as it improves blood flow, (and oxygen) to the head. It can balance an irregular heartbeat, reduce palpitations and restore blood pressure to normal - reducing pressure if it’s high and increasing it if it’s low. Best results became evident when hawthorn was taken regularly over a period of six months.
Homemade Hawthorn Berry Tincture for Heart Health
Dry the berries in baskets or on wooden racks, in brown paper bags or on surfaces covered with parchment paper.
Pour whole dried hawthorn berries into a pint sized glass jar. Pour over 80 or 90 proof brandy or vodka.
Screw a lid on the jar, date and store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks, ideally shaking daily to extracts the juice.
Using a funnel, strain the hawthorn tincture into an amber tincture bottle and store in a cool, dark place, like this, it will last for a couple of years.
The recommended daily dosage is approx. 2 or 2 1/2 teaspoons. For hawthorn tea, add one or two teaspoons of berries to hot water.
NB: If you are taking regular medication please check with a qualified medical herbalist before using.