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.
- 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.
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.
-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.