Crataegus monogyna and related species
Hawthorn, Whitethorn, Quickthorn, Thornapple, Hedgethorn, Gentle Bush, Lone Thorn.
Throughout Europe its name is often a variation on “haw”, ‘hedge’ or “white” followed by throne. In Swedish it is Hagthorn (pronounced hog thorn), in German Weißdorn (white thorn).
In the Ogham, the Celtic tree alphabet, it is Huath (ho’ah, ooh’ah)
It has been – and still is – associated with purification, cleansing, fertility and protection of the sacred.
Its thorns are a reminder that there is protection to the vulnerability of feeling into heart wounding and having a sensitive, open heart.
A singular Hawthorn in British Isles is called a Fairy Tree, and it is regarded as bad luck to cut one down. Road construction in Ireland considers the presence of a Fairy Tree, if one in a proposed path, the road will be diverted (sometimes to much expense and labor) so as not to have to remove a Hawthorn.
Medicinally, Hawthorn is known for being a “heart herb”. The vast majority of the time I cringe so hard when I hear herbs being pigeon-holed into a single use or body system, and I try to challenge myself to not speak that way, too. Herbs are complex and have many applications: they are not a single application pharmaceutical. Nor do I beleive we should simply qualify an herb based on what it’s “good for”.
Hawthorn is more than a cardiovascular herb, true. It also works on the digestive, urinary and nervous systems. Interestingly, it wasn’t used as a cardiovascular herb in Western Medicine until around 1900 (I go into that in the Materia Medica you can have sent to you, see below). Yet still, it excels as a throphreorestorative for the heart and circulation, and is a guide into heart medicine.
You can learn a lot about the heart through working with Hawthorn, on all levels: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and energetically.
For that reason I allow myself a little more forgiveness to verbally associate Hawthorn and the heart. Jim McDonald refers to Hawthorn as the “Archetypal Heart Herb”, and I think that is a great way to refer to this plant.
In this long post, I am going to talk mostly about the emotional-spiritual healing aspects of Hawthorn.
Yes, I still am a clinical herbalist, and I love herbs as medicine, for sure. But as I sat down to write this, I was drawn to explore this herbs’ other sides.
Why? Well, mostly because although things like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and tachycardia are absolutely rampant in modern society, so are trauma, wounding, and emotional pain. Heartbreak and heartaches happen too, and often.
Herbs can help. Hawthorn can help.
These are just my stories. I would love for you to delve into your OWN hawthorn stories. My sincere hope is that you are inspired to dive into those herbs that call you into your own story, into your own body, into your own healing.
But herb nerds, I didn’t forget you!
If you are intersted in looking at my own personal Materia Medica for Hawthorn, which includes a condensed summary of its usage and a 3 page write-up about it’s history, medicinal applications (and a bit about other uses) both West and East, you can download it here.
Hawthorn Harvest Permeating Our Lives
When an herbal harvest enters our days and comes into our home, everyone in my family becomes more attuned to that plant.
During those times we connect more intimately. We are steeped in that plant.
The kids and I have been munching Hawthorn berries for weeks. We’ve been walking by the two hawthorns up the street and gnaw the sweet mealy flesh, examining the stone-hard haws inside.
We listen to the birds and squirrels nibbling, and the hear berries ting tinging as the heavy arms of the trees release them to bounce on car roofs and the sidewalk.
We say “Hello Hawthorn, thank you for your lovely fruits”. I introduce myself to the plants and animals I meet by name, and I have the kids do the same.
Yet all week, Wolfie has been looking out the window a little sad, or sitting in the yard saying, “I wish we had a hawthorn tree”. I know there are ones close by, trees we see almost daily, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wish they were closer. And when you’re 4, a block feels too far away.
Isn’t that funny that we eat these berries all day for weeks, but yet we feel a bit of sadness that we don’t have our own tree we can hang out with all day long? You’d think all that munching and harvesting would satisfy the desire for connection.
But I get it. I feel the same about Hawthorn. The more I work with this herb, the more I want to keep working with it.
It makes me feel fully embodied, centered in the chest and yet there’s an open flow it creates. My hands and feet feel a little warmer. My head feels enlivened.
Medicinally Hawthorn helps to regulate the vagus nerve and nourishes the heart and opens the blood vessels all the way from the head to the toes, from the center out to the periphery.
It opens me up, and brings me in deep, and then sends me out wide. It feels like there is a whole ‘nother world with this plant.
It also makes me think of how this is a Fairy tree and how it is a getaway to the hidden realms.
In magic it is an herb of purification and cleansing. Medicinally it cleans out arteries, and from a Chinese concept can clear Heart Phlegm that can cause insomnia, anxiety, lack of focus and mental cloudiness, and in Chinese medicine helps with stuck digestion of heavy things.
When I started working with Hawthorn, my husband did kind of a life “cleanse” to get rid of some things that were not working for him. Afterwards, he had a complete 180 with some personal projects he holds near to his heart. He took a stand to invest in his authentic passions — and started a major overhaul to his creative space in the basement. Cleansing, purification, connecting to your passion…that reminds me of Hawthorn.
Then I started to work with someone who had a history of heart troubles interrelated with exhaustion that follows extreme overwork – oh, that is definitely Hawthorn (I got that indication from Finley Ellingwood which you can view on Micheal Moore’s website, and I talk mention it in the Materia Medica).
My daughter and I worked with Hawthorn, too. Yes, Hawthorn was a family affair.
She had been going through a two-year-old sleep regression and overall identity shift as she started to see herself less as a baby and more like a kid. During this early two-year-old shift, the child and the primary caregiver (often a mother) become a little more separated as the child sees themselves more as a “self” more rather than a unit with their mom/primary caregiver (although this shift doesn’t fully happen until after 3).
This is made a little more poignant and personal for both of us as we are in a sloooooow (like 4 months out) but real weaning process. Yet another level of identity shifts for both of us, and physically absolutely involving the heart and chest.
During shifts, developmental, cognitive or otherwise, the caregiver often ends up doing a lot of holding, tending, rocking and so on as the little one has an increased need for closeness. The child holds on to their source of stability to weather the change.
She was holding on tight, alright. Like a wrestling hold on my neck all day, and wanting to sleep on my chest. After a while of this, my weak upper body started to be quite sore. Very sore. Eventually I developed a headache. After three days the headache threatened to become a migraine.
I did a lot of self-body work and acupuncture, used a lot of herbs internally and externally (hello, Hypericum oil), and laid down by myself to do body meditations for pain management.
Perhaps they helped keep it to a dull roar.
But on the third day headache only increased.
That night she was up, wailing. She only wanted mama, of course. I wanted to be there for her, but I felt as if a migraine was immanent. It was ramping up with every second I held her.
I got fed up. I gathered my focus and stated that I wanted to be there for her and I wanted my pain go away. I want to fulfill my desire to comfort my child now and I don’t want typical parenting needs to hurt me.
Let me tell you, I don’t feel entitled to have my pain “go away” just by declaring it. Not at all.
Over the years I’ve spent over 500 days in debilitating pain from dysmenorrhea alone and I KNOW there’s NO willing or wishing or praying the pain away.
Yet I still said it, and I meant it.
What gave me some hope is that I’ve had experiences with migraines in the past shifting by non-physical methods. Migraines tend to have a ancestral flavor for me, and one of the first times I met my ancestors was during the worst migraine of my life, they guided me through it. They’ve helped me with mothering before. This was related to mothering, so maybe this headache would respond similarly?
I had nothing to lose. Gotta try something.
Within moments, I thought of a white fluffy cloud, then a mist. Through the mist a lovely maiden in white came.
She took me to a Hawthorn grove. It was superimposed with the Hawthorns down the street from which I harvest from and connect with, as if they were a gateway. The thorny branches ripe and weighted with deep red fruits, the lined bark distinct along the snaking trunks and branches. Its presence flowed into my present moment. And in what felt like a couple of minuets the aching muscles of my chest, neck and shoulders lifted. The headache was completely gone.
After something like that happens, in hindsight I would expect myself to be in awe, gracious. It was pretty neat, I did feel happy, and I was very thankful.
But I’m human too. I was a little pissed.
Like, damn! All it took was a minuet of Hawthorn to come to me in a meditation to get this headache to go away?! To think I’ve had a headache for three days, and if this didn’t happen I’d be puking in a bucket with an awful migraine all night long.
Yeah, I go there. Like I said, I’m human.
I am curious as to how the invisible side of things work, and reflect upon all aspects and allow myself any emotions that arise, no matter how “rude” they might seem. It’s part of my learning experience.
Oh, Hawthorn. I truly am thankful for you.
Do you ever take an herb, or hang out with it, as part of a curious exploration, reflection or meditation?
That is one of my favorite ways of learning about and connecting with herbs.
In this post I am talking about the energetic and spiritual aspects of this herb that I have come across. It’s just what I was inspired to do (although you can download the materia media for the medicinal attributes).
But I don’t want you to think that a plant exploration, reflection or meditation is tap into energetic side of an herb ONLY. You can learn a TON about the medicinal side of an herb through a meditation.
Many times what you find will be varied. I want to share the story of the first time I connected with Hawthorn energetically as an example of what sort of stuff might come up.
This is not the end-all-be-all…it is just my experience.
At this time of my herbal study, whenever I took an herb I first felt it’s taste, temperature or nature, and meridians entered. I was coming out of Chinese medicine school and this is how I often experienced herbs.
(Again, these are my own interpretation at that particular moment, and not the end-all, be-all explanation of its’ energetics.)
When you do a plant meditation, you will have your own unique interpretation, some of which is for you and reflective of your own experience, and some of which is reflective of the plant that other people observe as well.
Sometimes during a meditation you might not get much of anything at all. That’s OKAY. These things ebb and flow.
To me connecting with a plant is not about “getting” something, it’s about relationship.
It’s not like you do your time meditating and thus are paid with a particular experience or result: in fact, that to me is one part of the rampant spiritual materialism of our times.
Connecting with a plant is more akin to sitting down next to a friend and spending time with each other. When you part ways, thoughts of your friend is still in your heart and mind. It’s a tending and nurturing of a relationship that blossoms over time. It’s kin keeping, showing respect.
That all being said, I DO think there are “actual results” about plant meditations – and body meditations, or any meditations. These meditations calm the body and imparts relaxation and balance to our entire being, especially the nervous system.
I had been attending a class by Scott Kloos here in Portland, called Plant Teachers of Cascadia. Each week we were introduced to 2-3 plants harvested from this bioregion. We took three drops of a tincture in meditation, and noticed the taste, effects, feelings and impressions that arose.
It was a very intentional class: from the harvesting and preparation of the medicine, to singing the plants’ song, to listening deeply to the plant, to the disseminating of the teachings gleaned that followed. I love learning in these type of settings. Whatever I would feel on my own would often be amplified by the guidance of Scott as well as the plant-loving attendees.
I took three drops of Hawthorn tincture and sunk into bodily sensations and intuitive insight. Here is a stream of what came from this experience:
Taste: Sweet, sour. Nature: slightly cool
Meridians: Pc, Ht, ST (Pericardium, Heart, Stomach)
- Felt two heartbeats, mine and the Earths/Universes
- Image of the Sacred heart – a burning heart with a crown of thorns
- Forearms and finger tips especially sensitive and tingly, embryologically related to the heart tissue
- Felt very soft, relaxed, white, fluffy
- Upper Jiao activated (chest)
- The Pc/Ht channels of my right arm very itchy and blocked, Hawthorn cooled and aligned them
- I asked why those channels felt that way, Hawthorn said I needed to start my work as a healer to let my hands and heart feel
- Saw a seed in a heart, it sprouted, looked like a bean sprout
- The roots grew like veins and sunk into the Stomach and Liver
- The Stomach and Liver nourish the roots of the Heart
- I saw myself hanging onto my aunts leg after I was lost as a child, I felt a hug back like a tree trunk
- I felt embarrassed when I mistakenly hugged the leg of a woman standing next to my aunt, the Hawthorn trunk assured me that it’s okay, absolved me from deep shame and judgment
- Saw Jesus as a Shepherd, sheep all around, the message was one of infinite divine love and ultimate forgiveness
We convene as a group. Scott, the teacher, talks about things that have come up Hawthorn as energetical themes as well as it’s medicinal and traditional uses…
- Hawthorn is associated with Beltane and Mayday
- The flowers smell like creation and death – sex and death – some think they smell like semen
- Associated with Jesus’s crown of thorns
- There is a Hawthorn tree planted in Glastonbury Abbey that flowers both in May and December
- Helps with sadness, grief, to open up to receive and give love
- Opens heart, but has thorns to protect the vulnerability
- Called for people with shoulders rolled over to protect their heart
- Once he gave it to someone with those rolled-over, protective shoulders, they hated it because it made them cry but their posture was better after that (and the person was happy because it made her breasts look better)
One note on harvesting it: add a little glycerine into the tincture to bind up the pectic or it could gel up in your bottles (and use the dried berries, fresh are too pectiny)
The Flu on Hawthorn
I left the class that evening intrigued by Hawthorn, particularly the Christian iconography associated with it. I hadn’t been Christian since I was a child. I also wasn’t Catholic and did not have any association with the Sacred Heart symbol.
Scott the teacher was raised Jewish and also didn’t have those Christian images in his life from which to base those associations. Yet, it is the dominant religion in the West and the it’s symbols have deeper meanings passed through our culture base.
The important thing to note is that its not that Hawthorn symbolizes Christianity, as Hawthorn has been around way before there were any people practicing this or any religion. Instead, aspects of Christianity resonated with the heart-centeredness of Hawthorn.
At home, I was called to continue to incorporate it’s energetic qualities into my life and herbal practice. I shared some with Rob, my husband.
Then we got the stomach flu.
It was a strong one, and unlike any sort of flu we’ve ever had.
Rob got it first. While he was in the throws of vomiting, he’d come back to the couch in a feverish high. Have you ever felt the peaceful high after puking? It must be a sort of opiate-endorphin-seretonin rush to give you enough good feelings and clarity to get into a semi-safe place to crash to wait between the next round.
In those moments, Rob began to emote. He spoke. He cried. He wailed. He ached.
Physically he was purging, emotionally he was purging.
The things he said…it was intense.
He’d wail about the decimation of the salmon for 10 minuets between rounds of vomiting. The he’d run to the toilet and while puking, crying and wailing, “the salmon! the salmon!”.
Writhing around in feverish aches as if these painful feelings were being squeezed out his pores, like a thousand little birth pains out his entire body. Sure enough, next time he ran to the bathroom he was puking while crying, “the rivers! oh god, the rivers!”
Afterwards he was like, holy crap, what was that virus?! I wondered the same.
The it was my turn at the sickness.
And I too was simultaneously emotionally and physically purging. I was now in Rob’s shoes.
It felt as if I had a soul sickness that was mirroring the physical one.I felt a deep mourning. Not grief per se, not exactly sadness. But a physical wringing out of a pain-loss from my very bone marrow as I shook with aches and pains and fevers.
I mourned out my bones, out of my skin, out of my heart – and of course out of my gut.
My mourning was different from Robs, though. I was deeply, deeply stricken by mourning the loss of my former faith in Christianity and Jesus. I am laughing as I type this, not because I am belittling my childhood belief of being a true-hearted Christian, but expressively smiling around the intensely tender innocence of the feelings that came out of me.
Like the Barenaked Ladies song, I too am the type of person who laughs at a funeral, and this definitely felt like one.
Between bouts of running to the bathroom, I was holding myself, rocking back and forth, singing “Jesus loves me, this I know” and “I’ve got peace like a river in my soul” and “My God is an awesome God”.
(Okay, now I am laughing because it was actually pretty hilarious).
The tears flowed out of my eyes and my pores wept too, just like I observed in Rob. My heart ached.
And from deep, deep in my gut, the sense of loss became manifest and puked out.
Since Hawthorn has became a go-to herb for helping people through loss, grief, physical mourning. Yes, it is a “heart herb” but sometime morning can be gut-wrenching. When that sort of thing comes up, I remember Hawthorn’s ability to help with that purification (as well as the grief).
In Closing on Hawthorn – Healing the Deepest Wounds
One night I asked Hawthorn what I should really say about it.
What would be most helpful to be shared?
I entered a journey space in which my heart called to me. As I breathed into the sensation of my chest, I felt a fullness arrive, bit by bit, section by section (actually looking like the sections of an orange) circling clockwise.
Then the sensation stops. When I breath into the sensation in my chest, instead of being full it is constricted, and very small. That area of my chest is tender, achey. I linger, breathing, listening.
A memory comes to me. The forgotten scene is played out just like I was there in real time. I feel those emotions and mostly, I feel how my body shuts down and wants to hide. Under it all is a deep sadness, a deep wounding.
I sit with the scene. Sometimes in experiences like this I am called to come into the scene and speak to my younger self in a comforting way, or like in a dream or story, ask other characters for assistance. This time I don’t. I don’t know why, but I trust it. Instead I keep breathing onto my chest, before long that space feels full and light, too.
Hawthorn to me to an immense heartache. Not just a breakup, not a first world problem. Not a complaint. Not a sadness. But THEE sadness.
One so big for me I didn’t even feel how big it was, because I built my whole life around it to cope with it, and I shrunk my being so nobody —including myself— could see the pain.
Michael Moore said Hawthorn was for people with a heart-related terminal diagnosis, scared shitless about dying. I think Hawthorn could be for any traumatic event involving the heart, existential crises, and attachment wounds which are part wounded child and part mother wounds.
Sometimes we need medicine like this. It’s not the end-all be-all. It’s not a magic trauma reducer. But can it help? Can it be part of the healing? Absolutely.
Think of what Hawthorn does to the heart. It helps it beat stronger, more regularly, and helps the blood flow to and from the extremities.
Hawthorn clears out gunk, helps with digesting.
And tt helps regulate the nervous system via the vagus nerve. This last part alone is powerful medicine and helpful for emotional healing as well, and yet it is gentle and restorative (although use common sense and definitely consult a practitioner if you are on heart medications, especially digitalis).
There is much healing potential with this herb.
So here’s to Hawthorn. It’s been a pleasure hanging out with this herb over the last 6 weeks, and I know we are just getting started.
Here is a tea Heart-warming, opening, grounding Hawthorn with the womb in mind.
I want to share a tea I’ve been sipping as an inspiration for your own Hawthorn tea blending.
Hawthorn berries are sweet and sour, nourishing and balancing the blood and heart. I also added Hawthorn flowers and leaves, too, to center the tea around its heart-opening actions.
Hawthorn brings me into the chest, into the heart itself, then it opens the circulation. I find it to taste a little cool, but in the body it opens up circulation and helps me feel warm from my head to toes.
Motherwort is a bitter mint. It too is a heart-opener, but it also supports digestion through moving the Liver and as a bitter. It is grounding as it enters the womb-space. To me, motherwort helps unblock stuck-ness in the heart, and it helps to organize scattered-ness and soften hardness, especially when I am moody, crabby or upset in any way.
Together, Hawthorn and Motherwort help with opening and flowing; uplifting and centering.
Rose is added for flavor and to accentuate the heart-centered qualities. I find it to be more cooling than Hawthorn, even though they are in the same family and overlap some of the same types of anti-inflammatory constituents and pigments.
Da Zao or the jujube date is a Chinese herb. It is a sweet nutritive herb that enters the Heart and Spleen, and I thought it would further support the actions of Hawthorn.
Western Red Cedar was added for its fresh invigoration flavor and green beauty – although it is a medicinal herb all of its own. I was drawn to it as a local herb that helps me feel anchored into the place where I live. In this way it can support coming home to ones heart.
This tea is flavored with sweet, warming and spicy herbs like cinnamon licorice, ginger and pink peppercorns.
Lead with the Heart – Hawthorn, Motherwort and Rose Tea
- Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries
- Da Zao – Jujube date
- Western Red Cedar tips
- Pink Peppercorn
Mix a pinch or two of everything – though less of the warming spices.
Steep tea. Strain – if you want. Drink, enjoy.
Re-steep: I find Hawthorn berries get better the more then are steeped.