When you consider that the leading cause of death in Canada is heart disease, you’ll be glad to know there are safe and effective herb in both Chinese and Western herbal medicine that treat and prevent heart disease. (See my previous post on San qi to learn about another heart health powerhouse).
Today I’m going to talk about another amazing heart herb – Hawthorn berry, which is called Shan zha in Chinese medicine. In Chinese medicine, it is used to improve digestion, especially of meats and greasy foods, transform blood stasis and improve blood circulation. It also treats high blood pressure, lowers high cholesterol and treats angina and coronary artery disease along with irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart failure.
Western herbal uses Hawthorn in many of the same ways as Chinese medicine, and is the best known cardiac herb in this tradition. It grows the northern hemisphere and is native to North America, Europe and Asia; it grows widely here in Ontario. It’s been used herbally since at least the 17th century.
Here are its main indications, according to it’s German Commission E monograph:
- Reduction in heart function
- Uneasiness or feeling of oppression in the heart
- A patient not yet taking digoxin
- Mild forms of irregular heart beat with slow heart rate.
It goes on to say that Hawthorn has the following effects:
- It dilates the arteries that supply the heart with blood, oxygen and fuel, giving it a better supply of these essential nutrients, resulting in a stronger, more efficient heart beat.
- Its a powerful free-radical, which protects the heart from the effects of reduced oxygen supply, which is a common sequelae of cardiovascular disease.
- It can help steady the heart beat
- It is a mild nervous system sedative and calmative.
Pharmacological tests in animals and humans back up these clinical observations. They show that hawthorn increases the contractility of the heart muscle, increasing cardiac performance and output. It has also been proven that hawthorn reduces peripheral vascular resistance, which reduces the workload of the heart. It steadies the heartbeat to correct arrhythmias and increases the heart’s tolerance to reduced oxygen supply as can happen during stress or excitement, or in cases where the arteries are partially blocked.
So who is hawthorn helpful for? In my acupuncture and Chinese medicine practice, I prescribe it if there is any suspicion of cardiovascular problem such as irregular heart beats or hypertension. (Please note that all such suspicions should be investigated by your family doctor). I also recommend it to people with a family history of heart disease and to people under a lot of stress.
Due to its lack of interaction with Western medications according to its German Commission E herbal monograph, it is often used even when people are taking heart medications. As always though, if you are taking medications, it is essential that you check with your MD before starting any new supplements or herbs.
While hawthorn berries are the plant part most used traditionally, flowers and leaves also have significant amounts of the active constituents and also make effective medicines Hawthorn tinctures are very safe and can be used long-term.
So what is the best way to take hawthorn? I usually recommend a tincture, as compliance is high with it. Its easy to take. Hawthorn takes a while to be fully effective in the body, so it’s important to make it as easy as possible to take everyday. Hawthorn tincture is widely available. I also have it available at both my Collingwood and Meaford clinics.
Another option is to make it yourself, which is easy to do. I recommend a double extracted tincture instead of a single extraction. In a double extraction, you simmer the herb for 30-45 mins, making a strong tea with it. Then you get the highest proof alcohol you can, and add it to both the tea and the hawthorn berries themselves. A standard tincture is 5:1 at 40%, meaning that there is 500 ml of liquid for every 100g of the herb, and that the alcohol is 40% of the volume of the liquid.
Let it sit for 6 weeks, shaking daily or as often as possible, then run the mixture through a cheese cloth to extract the liquid. Voila, you have a nice, strong tincture that will last for years. (If this sounds complicated, its really not – there are many YouTube vidoes you can watch to learn how to do it).
The recommended dosage is 2-4 ml of a 5:1 tincture twice daily.
So there you have it. Hawthorn is for the heart and at the same time, it is very helpful for digestion. It is a powerful yet gentle and safe plant ally, long beloved in herbal medicine traditions around the globe. For more information on this plant ally, here is a link to Chrisopher Hobb’s blog
As always, if you have any questions, please email me at email@example.com or ask a question in the comments. I am also available for acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine at both my Collingwood and Meaford clinics.