The way to a herbalist’s heart..

Brian, whoever you are.. you certainly know the way to a herbalist’s heart!

I found these seedlings in the greenhouse at Living Under One Sun, a community growing space in North London, where I have been learning horticulture these past couple of months. They weren’t for me (sadly!), but it was exciting to see that someone had lovingly propagated seedlings from one of the most important native plants in our Materia Medica. I confess I have only ever seen Hawthorn out in the wild, and in its ‘adult’ form, as it is the most common hedgerow species in the British countryside.

In May, it bursts into a mass of pretty white flowers, tinged with pink, which is why it sometimes goes by the name of ‘Mayblossom’. In Autumn, it is covered with little pillar-box red berries. In medicine, both the flowering tops and the berries are used, as they share many of the same chemical constituents. In my practice, I often use both the berries and flowering tops together, to take advantage of the full spectrum of constituents in the plant.

Medicinally, Hawthorn is well-known these days for its cardiovascular effects, although this was not always the case. In 1896, the New York Medical Journal published the story of an Irish medic called Dr. Green, who was known for his ‘singular success’ in treating heart disease. After his death, it was disclosed that he had been using hawthorn berry tincture to treat his patients.

Safety notes: If you have a health condition, it is important to seek advice from a medical herbalist or other health professional before self-medicating.

Bruton-Seal, J. & M. (2009). Hedgerow Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. Ludlow: Merlin Unwin Books.

Chevallier A. (2000). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine’ (2nd ed.). NY: Dorling Kindersley.

Fisher, C. (2009). Materia Medica of Western Herbs. Nelson: Vitex Medica.

Grieve, M. (1971) A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications.

Hatfield, G. (2007). Hatfield’s Herbal: A Secret History of British Plants. London: Penguin Books.

Kuhn, M. A. & Winston, D. (2008). Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins