Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains why the herb Hawthorn has a long history as a heart protector
The heart does more than just keep us alive, it also has a significant impact on the quality of our life and our health.
Since February is the month of love, it seems appropriate to talk about the heart this week.
We all know how important the heart is. Perhaps some of us have family members with cardiac issues, we may even suffer from heart problems ourselves. The dangers of a heart attack are well known, the severity of which range from mild to fatal. The heart does more than just keep us alive though, it also has a significant impact on the quality of our life and our health.
The heart pumps blood around our body using four chambers separated by valves that open and close to allow passage and effective movement of blood. The rhythmic “lub dub” sound that we recognise as a heartbeat is the sound of these sets of valves closing as blood is squeezed through these chambers towards the rest of the body. The blood then transports oxygen and other nutrients to the organs of the body and all the way to the fingers and toes.
The blood vessels act as a vast road map, with the large motorway like vessels carrying large amounts of blood before splitting off into A roads and tiny B roads called capillaries. Capillaries are so thin that their walls are only a single cell thick and we’d need a microscope to see them. Through these thin walls, nutrients are delivered and exchanged before the blood makes it’s return journey back to the heart.
On it’s way, the blood stops off at the lungs to gather fresh oxygen, before re-entering the heart chambers and starting the cycle again. This is the reason that breathlessness can often accompany heart problems and why unexplained breathlessness should always be checked by a doctor.
If the heart is not working as well as it should, perhaps due to an ongoing heart condition or medication needed to manage a heart problem, then we may no longer feel at our best.
Some proven medicines, like beta blockers, slow down the heart rate, which is a way of protecting a cardiovascular system that is at risk of more serious complications. If blood isn’t moving quite as effectively through the body, we may find that our circulation is poor, our hands and feet are much colder and we generally have less energy or don’t quite feel on top of our game.
The herb I use to protect and support the heart is hawthorn, a common hedgerow plant that is used across the UK and is easily found along many country pathways and walks. Hawthorn trees have small, green, lobed leaves interspersed with tiny thorns among the branches, so if you’re harvesting your own, watch out!
During spring, the young shoots of hawthorns can be eaten as fresh greens and were actually known as bread and cheese among children who would pick and eat them, back when foraging was a more common way of life. Naturally, the hawthorn shoots taste nothing like bread and cheese but they are rich in nutrients, as are the flowers and the bright red berries that fruit from them.
I use hawthorn to protect the heart and also to improve it’s efficiency. It is known among herbalists to improve “cardiac output” without putting further strain on the heart. It is also an incredibly safe herb to use and works well alongside most common medications for cardiac problems.
As always though, I’d recommend checking any specific medications with a herbalist or a pharmacist to identify possible interactions.
Foraged hawthorn can be used in all manner of kitchen recipes, but to maintain it’s potency without the added sugar found in jams or jellies, I prefer hawthorn tincture. I consider hawthorn to be an essential base in any medicine I make for anyone with concerns about the health of their heart, especially if their issues come with tiredness and poor circulation.
Obviously, heart problems should be managed by a doctor or cardio specialist but that doesn’t mean you cannot help yourself alongside your primary care.
Hawthorn has a long history as a heart protector and is a perfect way to show your heart some extra love when it needs it.
For more information on this topic, or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.