Hawthorn, Heart & Brownies

Feb 14 / Alberto Carbo
The modern-day celebration of Valentine’s Day is exciting, romantic, and certainly quite popular in western culture. Loved ones gift each other trinkets and romantic nights out, while friends frequently present each other with thoughtful cards, expressing gratitude and appreciation for each other. Some of us show our love and appreciation through the preparation of food, and if you are one of those, make sure to check out the Hawthorn Infused Brownie recipe below.

Did you ever stop and wonder wherefore this holiday may have originated? Surely, we are all familiar with Cupid - the cartoon-like boy with the magical bow and arrow, and likely, you have heard reference to St. Valentine, which are two of the most commonly associated Valentine’s Day personae. Hopefully, we can all recognize the marketable qualities of the contemporary images associated with Cupid, but where did the concept originate?

Although not quite clear, it is evident that this tradition has been around for quite a while. Many say that it originated before the story of St. Valentines and that it is actually an adaptation of the ancient Roman spring-time celebration of Lupercalia – which was dedicated to fertility. Although this festival has been said to include goat sacrifices and promiscuity, it is important to remember that accounts of it come to us from the prevailing culture that succeeded it (Catholic), and makes you wonder if it could have been misrepresented in any way?

Interestingly enough, the qualities of the modern-day angelic version of Cupid, can be traced back to ancient Greece, and even further back. In contrast, however, the Greek god Eros was known as the god of love – the god of fertility and sensual love, who was not so cute and was even known to be cruel to his victims.

The better known, and perhaps more marketable origin stories are of martyred Christians such as the jailed priest Valentine, who after befriending and falling in love with his jailer’s daughter, wrote her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’. Or the story of the Roman emperor, Claudius II, concerned only with war and inscription, realized that men who were in love, and married, were less likely to fight his battles, and he decided to outlaw marriage. A priest named Valentine continued to marry young lovers in secret, in defiance of the emperor’s orders.

In my humble opinion, the past is but a woven tapestry of events, that line the walls of the halls we walk down today. It is likely that all of these stories had some sort of influence on modern-day Valentine’s. What is surprising is how integrated and prevalent ancient stories are – even today, although they may be modified, and given a different outwardly appearance, the underlying concepts are ancient and continue to come through in the present.

Although origin stories are interesting and important, as herbalists we are likely to think of love through its relationship with the most important organ in the entire body, the heart, as well as issues related to the heart, whether they be emotional or physical.

The fact of the matter is that the heart is at the center of who we are. The human heart is roughly the size of the corresponding person's clenched fist. It is situated in the chest cavity, slightly left-centered, protected by the pericardium and the rib cage. Its importance is clearly understood if we observe the development of a fetus, the very beginning of life itself. The human heart is formed from the mesoderm, following chemical signals from the underlying endoderm, and is the first organ to be formed. This happens as the embryo grows and passive oxygen diffusion (from mama) is no longer sufficient to support the developing metabolism. Heart development starts early, about three weeks after fertilization, with the first heartbeat commencing around day twenty-two, followed by independent, active, fetal blood circulation by the end of week four. By gestational week seven, the four-chambered heart is complete.

Aside from the physical dependence on the heart that every cell in our organism is bound to, what is seldom talked about is the hearts’ ability to produce its own electrical charges, that enable it to maintain its cardiac rhythm and consequentially enable the heart to act as they body’s energetic communicator. In scientific language, energetic communication by the heart is referred to as cardio-electromagnetic communication.

What this suggests is that the heart communicates to the entire body through the physical systems and that it also influences every single cell in the body with electromagnetic energy. Every pulse produces an electromagnetic wave that emanates outwards through the entire system, synchronizing our physiology. This explains why emotional wounds can have such a dramatic impact on an individual’s health, after all, if the rhythm of the heart is thrown off, other major systems, organs, and tissues may have a difficult time finding their rhythm, and working in sync with the rest of the body. In clinic, I have certainly come across several people who attest that someone close to them ‘died of a broken heart’.

The ancient Chinese believed that the heart was where Shen, or spirit, resides, and they were somehow capable of understanding these incredible heart qualities long ago. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the heart is referred to as "King" of the human organism and is known to be the source of coordination and organization between all organs as well as the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual facets.

The Chinese also understood the nature of the electromagnetic field and the heart's rhythmic influence on the entire organism. Through this understanding, they developed a simple, yet incredibly accurate system of assessing a person’s overall health - the reading of the pulse – which is still in use today. Although uncomplicated, it is profound and grounded in the understanding that the heart’s pulse and rhythmic influence permeate the entire body. They understood that the bloodstream acted as a body of water, rippling with each heartbeat and electromagnetic wave, and simultaneously rippling from the electromagnetic waves exerted by the other major organs. With this understanding, they were able to glean information about the whole physiology of a person, and more specifically, determine precise information about the health of major organs and the quality of the blood.

Since the hearts’ electromagnetic field extends past the limits of the body, this means that the heart's electromagnetic field can reach out into the surrounding environment, and can be detected by others, and vice versa. This is referred to as bio-magnetic communication. These scientific findings surely give a whole new or rather re-discovered meaning to energetic sensitivity and empathy. The human heart is the foremost sensory organ, and is capable of detecting, feeling, and decoding information, before any contact, whether physical or visual is made, otherwise referred to as intuitive perception.

Evidently, the heart is receiving a lot of attention from researchers and scientific minds in contemporary times. If this research continues to be successful, and people pay attention to it, I believe it could pave the way for a reconfiguration of how people understand their experiences. Through science, people may be able to understand that humans are heart-centered beings, that the heart influences every aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual self, and that learning more about our heart perception will likely facilitate our interactions with the world and other people through the heart’s ability for vibrational understanding.

There are many herbs with affinities for the heart, but perhaps none as gentle, and as effective as Hawthorn. As Matthew Wood relates in his Book of Herbal Wisdom, Volume I, Hawthorn has been shown to lower unhealthy cholesterol and high blood pressure by encouraging the removal of depositions in the wall of the capillaries and in red blood cells, thereby allowing the blood to flow more freely, reducing congestion and heat. Hawthorn is also adept at nurturing the heart, improving its energy output, while increasing its resilience. In my opinion, Hawthorn soothes the heart and helps it sync back into its natural rhythm.

Belonging to the Rosaceae Family, it makes sense that, like Roses, Hawthorn would have thorns, and ‘oh my’ does it ever! Like for the rose, the thorns are in sharp contrast to its fragrant and delicate flowers, symbolizing the necessity for protection of the heart, and protection of the innocence that pure love necessitates.

In many cultures past, Hawthorn has been associated with the spirit realm, the faery realm, or whatever other name it may go by. I’ll leave you to explore the many different stories of Hawthorn’s connection with the spirit world, but I will point out that it makes so much sense that a being with qualities so beneficial to the heart would also be associated with other dimensions. After all, in modern-day society, we are generally quite removed from our hearts, our intuition, and our spirituality – perhaps Hawthorn is pointing directly at the answer: The heart is the organ through which we meaningfully connect with others, and perhaps the heart is also the portal through which we may perceive other dimensional frequencies.

While medicinally speaking, drinking Hawthorn leaf tea, or using a tincture of the haws would likely be the go-to choice, I like to find ways of incorporating medicinal herbs into delicious food, making day-to-day consumption a no-brainer! If our food is to be our medicine, as Hippocrates once said, we may as well put some medicine in it!

Hawthorn Infused Brownies

with Hawthorn Syrup
Dairy-free, Gluten-free if using GF oats

These healthy brownies are full of fiber, anti-oxidants (from the cacao and the Hawthorn), vitamins, and minerals. Feel good about eating these any time of day. Even for breakfast!

  • 2 cups Hawthorn berries (fresh or dried)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup/250 ml Honey
  • 2 cups pitted dates
  • 5 tbsp cacao powder (not cocoa with added sugar, but raw cacao)
  • 1-5 tbsp maple syrup (depending on the level of sweetness you like – Personally I like them with 1 tbsp)
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • ¼ cup Millet flour
  • 2 ½ tbsp of fresh squeezed lemon juice (usually, the juice from half a lemon is enough)
  • ¼ tsp baking soda

  1. Take a small saucepan and add all of the water and Hawthorn berries.
  2. Bring to a boil, and immediately reduce the heat – you want a gentle, slow but consistent simmer. Decoct for about 40 minutes, until you have about 4 cups of deep red liquid left – this is much easier to ascertain if you have a pot with measurement lines on the inside. Most of this decoction will be used for the Brownies, and 1 cup of it will be used to make the syrup.
  3. Strain the decoction to separate the haws from the liquid.
  4. Pour all of the liquid, back into the pot (you should have at least 2 cups), except for 1 cup.
  5. Add the honey to the remaining 1 cup of hawthorn berry decoction while it is still hot. Mix the honey into the decoction with a spoon to incorporate it. Stir until the honey is dissolved. The syrup is ready! Leave it aside to cool.
    ***Important note: If you wait too long to add the honey to the decoction, and the decoction cools, the honey will not incorporate properly.
  6. Add the dates to the Hawthorn decoction (that you poured back into the pot), and place it back on the stove.
  7. Bring up to a boil, and then lower the heat (to low) to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and allow it to cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and with a hand blender (or a full-size blender), blend the dates and Hawthorn decoction until you have a thick, silky liquid.
  9. Add the cacao powder and the maple syrup, and blend again, until it is all evenly incorporated.
  10. Pour the silky viscous liquid into a mixing bowl.
  11. Activate the baking soda by adding it to the lemon juice.
  12. Add the foamy mixture of lemon juice and baking soda to the brownie batter, and mix with a spatula/wooden spoon to incorporate.
  13. Add the oats and the millet flour to the mix - using a spatula/wooden spoon, mix thoroughly, to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are well incorporated into the wet ingredients. Allow to sit for 10 minutes – the oats and flour will begin to soak up the liquid.
  14. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  15. Take a baking pan and rub the bottom and sides with some coconut oil.
  16. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading evenly throughout. You want it to be about 1.5 inches thick.
  17. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.
  18. The top should be somewhat firm and a toothpick will come out clean.
  19. Allow cooling as long as you can help it (you can absolutely have them warm!) and serve with a teaspoon, or two, of your own Hawthorn Syrup.
  20. Enjoy!
As always make sure to forage for plants away from roads and pollution as much as possible. Never overharvest any plant, as they are of course not only here for our enjoyment, but also here for the insects, bees, and birds. Have fun out there!
The information provided in this digital content is not medical advice, nor should it be taken or applied as a replacement for medical advice. Matthew Wood, the Matthew Wood Institute of Herbalism, ETS Productions, and their employees, guests, and affiliates assume no liability for the application of the information discussed.