Hawthorn Berries for a Healthy Heart

Coronary heart disease and related circulatory diseases account for over half of all deaths nationwide with over 1.2 million Americans experiencing heart attacks annually. The Standard American Diet is clearly the reason for this ongoing epidemic and is compounded by the proliferation of deadly toxins in our environment. Since most of us have a family member who suffers from some form of hypertension and/or heart disease, it is important to know exactly what we can do to nourish our heart and circulatory system.

by Ingri Cassel

Heart disease can be in an advanced stage before symptoms even arise. Cardiovascular problems occur when the heart's blood vessels narrow and limit the amount of blood supply to the heart. This oxygen limitation deprives the blood supply to the heart and can cause chest pains known as angina pectoris.

Hardening of the arteries, or arteriosclerosis, is an abnormal thickening and loss of elasticity of the arterial walls. When the coronary arteries that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle close up, the flow of blood is cut off completely, and a heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs, causing damage to the heart muscle.

Pressure in the chest, which can extend to the shoulders, arm, neck or jaw, can be a symptom of a heart attack. Other symptoms are shortness of breath, dizziness, anxiety, fainting, nausea, or loss of speech. Hypertension can lead to heart disorders.

A poor diet is the main cause of cardiovascular disease. Eating too much meat, processed oils, fried foods, coffee, tobacco, alcohol and not enough raw, fiber-rich foods are contributing factors.

A lack of exercise contributes to the problem by depriving the heart of oxygen and enzymes causing fatty deposits in the arteries. A poor diet causes putrefaction in the digestive tract providing a perfect breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Many cardiovascular problems arise from parasites invading the heart muscle itself.

Anxiety, nervousness and stress can also lead to heart problems, especially when a healthy lifestyle is neglected. Living in the fast lane without proper rest and relaxation can put stress on the cardiovascular system.

Primary causes of congestive heart failure are hypertension, thyroid problems, coronary, valvular or congenital heart disease, diabetes and emphysema.

Understanding our emotional needs is vital in resolving heart and circulatory problems. We have known for some time that certain personalities are more prone to heart disease. If you are a perfectionist, intolerant and impatient, you will have more of a tendency to have arteriosclerosis and heart problems than those with easier-going personalities.

Typically prescribed pharma drugs

Drugs used to treat heart failure are digitalis, diuretics, vasodilators, calcium channel blocking drugs, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors. DigoxinTM is a stimulant used in the treatment of congestive heart failure. Possible side effects are headaches, drowsiness, lethargy, confusion, changes in vision, loss of appetite, nausea, hallucinations, disorientation, and heart rhythm disturbances. CaptoprilTM is often prescribed for high blood pressure. Side effects include dizziness, fainting, light-headedness, bone marrow depression, fatigue, weakness, abnormal bleeding and bruising.

Diuretics can also increase the risk of heart attack since they promote the excretion of calcium and magnesium. These two minerals are absolutely vital in maintaining proper blood pressure and a healthy heart.

Hawthorn berries to the rescue

Our heart requires better protection than most Standard American Diets (SADs) provide. The living cells of the heart must be continuously bathed in an assortment of nutrients which happen to be present in herbs such as cayenne, garlic, ginkgo biloba and, particularly, hawthorn berries.

Hawthorn berries have a long history of use as a heart tonic. The Chinese used the berries for both digestion and circulatory problems and the Greeks employed hawthorn berries primarily for heart disorders.

During the Middle Ages many people had a superstitious dread over hawthorn because it was believed that Christ's crown of thorns was made from this tree. Much later in France and England hawthorn branches were used during the May Day festivals and acquired the name of May blossom since it was then used as a symbol of love and betrothal.

Hawthorn is a thorny tree or shrub native to Europe. It may reach a height of 30 feet but is often grown as a hedge plant. Its botanical name -- Crataegus oxyacantha -- is from the Greek kratos meaning hardness (of the wood), oxus meaning sharp, and akantha meaning a thorn.

Although hawthorn flowers and berries have been used primarily as tonics for the heart and circulatory system, they have also been used as mild diuretics and for their astringent quality in the relief of sore throats. The beneficial action of hawthorn leaves, berries and flowers is due to its chemical constituents, primarily flavonoid compounds. Hawthorn contains flavone glycosides, proanthocyanidins, catechins, saponins, amygdalin and vitamin C.

The many cardiovascular benefits are the result of the following actions:

1. Improves blood supply to the heart by dilating the coronary blood vessels

2. Inhibits the angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), reducing the amount of stress placed on the heart.

3. Improves metabolic processes in the heart

4. Prevents atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

5. Lowers blood pressure

Many studies have shown that hawthorn dilates coronary blood vessels, allowing the heart to be supplied with vital oxygen and nutrients. The various flavonoids present in hawthorn neutralize certain substances from constricting blood vessels. In both humans and animals, hawthorn extracts or syrups improve energy production within the heart.

This occurs not only because of the increased blood and oxygen supply to the heart, but also because of enhanced metabolism within the heart muscle itself. The result is an increase in the force of contraction. This is why using hawthorn has been shown to be beneficial in cases of congestive heart failure and various heart rhythm disturbances such as arrhythmia and heart palpitations.

The flavonoids in hawthorn also strengthen the connective tissue in the arterial walls. Hawthorn extracts have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and decrease the size of atherosclerotic plaques. This is why hawthorn extracts have a blood pressure-lowering effect. This usually takes about two weeks using the extract or syrup from hawthorn berries at least three times a day for adequate tissue concentrations of these flavonoids to take effect.

In addition, hawthorn has mild sedative properties which may be another reason it is so beneficial to those who are anxious, nervous and stressed -- personality traits commonly associated with heart problems.

Success stories

When living in Arizona I met my great uncle for the first time. After meeting him, I found out that he was scheduled to have open heart surgery the following week. I shared with him the power of herbs as Dr. John R. Christopher taught me. He was very receptive so we immediately told him he had to stop eating refined carbohydrates of all kinds, especially white sugar. We gave him cayenne and garlic capsules to take with meals three times a day, a natural source of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopherols), and hawthorn berry syrup which he also took three times a day. He was also instructed to drink only purified water and do very mild exercise on a rebounder (mini trampoline).

When he went to his doctor six days later and the day before his surgery was scheduled, the doctor was amazed and canceled the surgery.

Wally's story:

“I had several major heart attacks before the doctors told me that my next would be my last. I lived on one floor of my house and never went to the basement or to the upstairs bedrooms. I didn't dare exert myself.

“I went to Texas for a triple bypass operation, but the doctors said I was so weak I wouldn't survive the operation. They sent me home. I was waiting for my next and last heart attack when I started taking the herb hawthorn.

“When I went to buy hawthorn, I wouldn't even get out of the car because I didn't want to strain myself that much. About two months later I began taking an herbal combination for heart problems -- the combination also has hawthorn in it (hawthorn, garlic and cayenne).

My skin color became a lot better, and soon I was able to walk more. The doctor didn't understand why I was getting stronger. My wife and I considered starting a business in a neighboring town. I started working in my basement, leading a normal life again.”

~From the book, Herb Success Stories: Actual Case Histories, pp. 46-47.

Hawthorn berry syrup

Dr. John R. Christopher provides us with a hawthorn berry syrup he refers to as a heart tonic. This is made by making a decoction from hawthorn berries and adding vegetable glycerine and grape brandy. The following is quoted from Dr. Christopher's newsletter titled, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled”:

“This heart tonic is a very special food for the heart and circulatory systems. In hundreds of cases we have had wonderful results with this heart formula in people all the way from small infants to youth and to adults of all ages.

“Let me recall an experience we had with my own father-in-law who was in his sixties at the time and who had had heart trouble since birth. He was born with a leakage of the heart and was carried around on a pillow as an infant. He worked hard all his life on the farm but never could he take a job where a physical examination was required for he would always be turned down because of his heart condition.

“During the years of the Second World War he had been accepted at a large chemical depot. The firm had hired him because of the war time manpower shortage. They had placed Mr. W in their construction division without a physical examination when he was sixty-two years of age, and he worked for them until he was sixty-five years old.

“He had begun using this heart tonic when he was sixty years old and had used it faithfully from then on because, according to him, 'it tasted good.' Now he was sixty-five years old and the war came to an end.

“He was called into the company's main office where they complimented his work record and asked him if he could remain there as an employee. First they would have to send him in for a physical examination and, of course, this was what he feared the most. Nonetheless, he agreed to take the examination.

“You may imagine his surprise when he found that he had been given a clean bill of health. He then asked the doctor, 'What about my heart leakage?' The doctor replied, 'I wish I had a heart as good as yours. You should never worry about dying from a heart attack; in fact, if you don't get hit by a truck or lightening, you will probably die quietly in your sleep from old age and won't even muss up the covers.'

“Mr. W. worked for several more years at the plant, retired and then lived on until he was in his eighties. On a July evening in 1970, he went to the rodeo with his family and enjoyed the evening like a kid as he watched his son ride and perform with the rodeo group.

“The next morning one of his sons came to his home and found his father lying peacefully in bed. He had passed away with his hands folded over his chest and, just as the doctor had predicted, the covers were 'not mussed up.' No heart attack -- just the final sleep of old age.”

Hawthorn syrup can be obtained from most health food stores. The syrup can also be made quite easily. Send an SASE amd $1 to The IO for a recipe -- or send an email.

Much of the information for the above article was taken from Louise Tenney's excellent reference book, Today's Herbal Health, 5th Edition New and Revised.