There are around 280 different species of Hawthorn (Crataegus). Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) is native to the PNW. They have deep purple berries and slightly less shallow lobed leaves, but their medicinal properties are interchangeable with the more common, naturalized species, One-Seed Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). These have red berries and deep lobes on their leaves. Hawthorn prefers to grow at lower elevations and west of the cascades. Starting around the beginning of May, you can find flower clusters that range from white to rose colored.
Hawthorn has a rich history in both herbal medicine and folklore. The thick, thorny nature of Hawthorn branches made a popular choice for lining one's property as a natural hedge. It is said that Hawthorn is the guardian of the faery realm. If you take a nap underneath a hawthorn tree, you’ll be escorted off to the world of the Fae. Hawthorn is also a central part of May Day and Beltane celebrations. It is said that the maypole was made from Hawthorn, and the blooming branches were used to decorate altars and persons alike.
In herbalism, Hawthorn is known as the heart's herb. On all levels - physical, emotional, and energetic - Hawthorn supports the heart. Physically, Hawthorn is a cardio-tonic, nourishing and strengthening the heart muscle, as well as the circulatory system. "Medical herbal research has validated this use, finding hawthorn to be effective for increasing the strength of heart contractions, increasing blood flow to the heart, decreasing blood lipids (ie decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides) and modulating blood pressure." (1) Emotionally, Hawthorn teaches us to open our heart to giving and receiving love (both for self and others), and for helping us come into our strength and power. Energetically, Hawthorn is all about healthy boundaries and is a protector of the small, the vulnerable, and the weak. Hawthorn is about shelter and protection, especially in times of stress.
Although the berries have more scientific research supporting their effect on our bodies, the leaves and flowers are also gaining traction in the scientific world to have many benefits as well. The berries are high in antioxidants and flavonoids, and are commonly utilized in culinary recipes such as jam, drinking vinegars, and juice for their nutritional benefits. In South Korea, the berries are used to make a liquor called Sansachun. The flowers and leaves can provide a calming, nervine quality.
Botanical Name: Crataegus douglasii, Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus spp.
Common Names: hawthorn, mayblossom, thornapple, fairy tree, may tree, hawberry, white thorn
Parts Used: flowers, leaves, berries
Taste: sweet, astringent, somewhat sour
Energetics: drying, cooling
Herbal Actions: antioxidant, adaptogen, cardiac trophorestorative, cardiotonic, hypotension, coronary vasodilator, peripheral vasodilator, anti-arrhythmic, diuretic, collagen stabilizing, reduces myocardial oxygen demand, protects against myocardial damage, antioxidant
Preparations: tincture, decoction/tea, honey, vinegar, juice, powder, jam
Contraindications: If you are using cardio-active pharmaceuticals like digoxin, consult your doctor for supervision.