4.02.2007

Hawthorn in congestive heart failure


The cardiologists met last month in New Orleans to review new strategies, therapies, and research related to cardiovascular health. Among the presentations, a new European study on hawthorn (Crategus species) leaves gave some interesting evidence that this herb, traditionally used for a range of cardiovascular ailments, has a positive effect on congestive heart failure, reducing mortality and improving quality of life. While the study is controversial (some argue that it shows no benefit for hawthorn over placebo), there are some undeniable positive results which, when coupled with the wealth of traditional use, keeps me coming back to my bottle of Vermont hawthorn tincture.
Traditionally, herbalists use the ripe red berries of this storied tree. Modern research has identified a spectrum of flavonoid-family chemicals in all parts of the plant (well, except the bark...), and research has therefore expanded into analyzing the therapeutic effects of leaf and flower, too - and the results, as this recent research shows, have been positive.
Some details:
  • A total of 2,681 patients with markedly impaired left ventricular function - indicating advanced congestive heart failure - were randomized to hawthorn extract or placebo for a duration of two years.
  • All patients were already receiving pharmacological therapy with ACE-inhibitors (83 %), beta-blockers (64 %), glycosides (57 %), spironolactone (39 %) and diuretics (85 %).
  • Researchers saw a 20 percent reduction in cardiac-related deaths among patients on hawthorn extract, extending patients' lives by four months during the first 18 months of the study. The safety of the compound was confirmed by a lower number of adverse events among the study group than those on placebo.
  • Patients taking hawthorn showed significant relative-risk reductions in the secondary end point of cardiac mortality after six months (by 41%, p=0.009) and 18 months (by 20%, p=0.046) but not at the 12-month or 24-month follow-ups (by 18% and 10%, respectively).
  • The protection was significantly stronger among the 70% of patients with ischemic disease. Researchers hypothesized the hawthorn extract is protective probably by being anti-ischemic.
The hawthorn extract "... is safe in patients with more severe congestive heart failure and left ventricular ejection fraction lower than 35 percent," said Dr. Holubarsch of Median Kliniken Hospitals in Bad Krozingen, Germany, and lead study author. "It postpones death of cardiac cause after 18 months and sudden cardiac death in an important subgroup of patients."

Another piece of evidence indicating the general life-promoting quality of colorful, flavonoid-rich plant foods! Additionally, continued reinforcement of hawthorn's beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system. My only complaint: as usual, this study uses a proprietary brand-name hawthorn preparation code-named WS 1442 (a standardized extract, 5:1, of hawthorn leaves and flowers produced by the Dr. Wilmar Schwabe Co. of Karlsruhe, Germany, standardized to contain 18.75% oligomeric procyanidins, a sub-class of the flavonoid family of phytochemicals). Sure, this makes the little pill easier to to take and consistent in dosage. But I bet study participants would have enjoyed a good hawthorn berry jam and/or delicious infusions of the spring leaves and flowers, maybe blended with a little linden flower (Tilia species) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis).

Hawthorn Berry and Black Currant* Jam, from moonwiseherbs.com

-2 quarts Hawthorn berries
-1 quart Black Currants
-1-cup honey (or to taste)
-water to cover

(*Black Currants are high in pectin and make a great addition to thicken any jam or jelly.)

1. Place berries in a pot.
2. Cover with water (2 inches above the berries)
3. Add honey
4. Simmer until mixture thickens, (most of the liquid will be evaporated and the jam will thicken quickly when on a spoon that has been removed from the heat)
5. Run the mixture through a food mill, to remove seeds and stems.
6. Place back in the pot add a quart of water and simmer again until mixture is quite thick.

To can:

-Simmer canning jar lids
-Place mixture in clean canning jars
-Place lids on top
-Place jars in a canning kettle, cover with water (2 inches above the jar)
-Bring to a boil and boil for the appropriate time frame for the jar size: ½ pint 10 minutes, pints 15 minutes, quarts 20 minutes.

13 comments:

s said...

Are the berries and currants in that recipe dried or fresh?

guido said...

Generally, fresh fruit is best for jams and jellies. Hawthorn berries are notoriously had to find fresh - especially out of season - but if you look around in the fall you may be able to find enough for a nice big batch (Pacific Botanicals sometimes sends out excellent fresh herbs when they have them). Alternatively, you can rehydrate dried berries. This will work well for currants (very raisin-like), less well for the hawthorn berries. But I've had some luck soaking them in lukewarm water overnight -- not quite like fresh, but certainly much more plump and "jammable".

s said...

We have ripe fresh hawthorn berries here at the moment. Can't imagine finding ripe hawthorn berries at the same time as ripe blackcurrants though, which is why I wondered if the recipe meant dried.

Maybe anything that has pectin would be ok to substitute for the blackcurrants? Although hawthorn must have a fair bit of pectin itself?

guido said...

Hawthorn does have a fair bit of pectin, but not as much as you would expect. You can either rehydrate dried blackcurrants, which will work quite well, or use a little commercial pectin, probably as indicated on the package. Rosehips would be a good alternative too, if you have any of those.
I'm jealous thinking of ripe, fresh hawthorn berries while looking out at icicles and snow...

Carolyn G. said...

I think this looks interesing and plan to try it when Dad comes back.

SimpleSue said...

Wow, your blog is a great find! I'm following you now. I had googled "Hawthorne berry jam" and that's how I found your page! There is so much great info here-Thanks!

guido said...

Hey Sue, glad you like the information. It's been a little sparse lately, but I still am trying to post interesting tidbits from the herbal research world...

Arleen said...

Are you sure that Hawthorn berries helps to prevent heart disease ? I eat considerably amounts of these berries since I was young but now I have two strokes in my medical history. but it works fine as substitute some ED medicines.As a proof I only buy viagra once in my entire life.

guido said...

Oh come on. First off, just because something can help doesn't mean it will - there are many other factors involved in stroke etiology. Second, very nice sly insertion of your online pharmacy plug. Pff.

Gary said...

I have been looking everywhere for fresh hawthorn berries. I just can't find them. I bought 40 plants three years ago but they are still too small to produce berries. Where can I get them?

guido said...

Gary, try Pacific Botanicals or Healing Spirits herbs in the fall (another month or so).

Olivia said...

I've heard that hawthorn seeds are poisonous. I'm making some jam at the moment, and wondering if you've ever encountered any problems with passing the berries through a food mill and the seeds getting ground up into the jam? What part of the seed is poisonous, the kernel, or the skin?

Guido Masé said...

Olivia, I believe (though I could be mistaken) that it is the skin of the seed, not the kernel, that contains a trace of compounds called cyanogenic glycosides. These compounds release hydrogen cyanide gas when metabolized in the body. It's the same stuff that makes apple seeds taste bitter. You'd get more cyanide from a handful of almonds, to be honest, than from a few tablespoons of hawthorn seeds - and the cyanide disperses quickly, without building up toxicity in the body. So bottom line: I say hawthorn seed isn't poisonous.