In his otherwise excellent article on replacing ornamental species of plants with useful, edible species in landscaping, Matthew C. mistakenly advises getting rid of hawthorns (medium and small size perennial shrubs). Hawthorn is valuable medicinally, tactically, and nutritionally.
Hawthorn is one of the most potent heart and blood pressure medications available. It has been extensively researched, and has been approved by the German Commission E Report. Unlike digitalis, which is much better known, hawthorn is extremely non-toxic, and is not known to interact with any other medications. The earliest recorded medicinal use was in ancient Greece.
In a TEOTWAWKI situation, unavailability of hawthorn could spell disaster for anyone with high blood pressure, or with heart problems, including arrhythmia, tachycardia, angina, insufficient cardiac blood flow, symptoms of congestive heart failure, and weaker heart function due to aging. Even lesser disasters, natural, political or economic, may mean that heart medications become restricted or unavailable.
The Commission E Report recommends using the end tips of flowering leafy twigs, up to seven centimeters in length, but not longer. In a grid-down situation it can be dried and used as a tea (2-3 teaspoons of hawthorn, 2-3 times a day), or as an alcohol-based tincture. Stored in a cool, dry place, the dried flowering twig ends will keep up to three years.
My own experience confirms this. I developed severe cardiac arrhythmia a few years ago. After learning that people often don’t actually die of their heart disease, but die from arrhythmia, I started taking hawthorn daily. Just as the research says, within a few weeks the arrhythmia was almost entirely gone.
A couple years later, I found a much cheaper source, and switched. In a few weeks, the arrhythmia returned. Comparing the bottles, I realized I had unwittingly switched from flowers and leafy twigs to the berry form of hawthorn. I immediately switched back, and in a few weeks, the arrhythmia again disappeared. You better believe there will be plenty of hawthorn in my survival garden.
Do not use the berry form for arrhythmia. The berries may be useful for blood pressure, are traditionally often used for cardiac purposes, and have some research support. But they should never be used as a substitute for the flowering tips.
Hawthorn is something of a miracle drug for mild to moderate cardiac problems. It raised blood pressure that is too low, and lowers blood pressure that is too high. It is equal to pharmaceutical drugs in controlling heart rhythm to prevent arrhythmia, but unlike drugs, has no significant side effects. It strengthens arterial walls by promoting cross linkage of collagen, dilates arteries, increases coronary blood flow, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, and gradually rebuilds the heart in degenerative heart disease. Since it also strengthens capillaries, it may be helpful in capillary and small blood vessel related problems, such as bloodshot eyes, varicose veins, and hemorrhoids (One author mentions it may possibly help with glaucoma.)
Hawthorn is easy to grow. It likes sun, and for centuries, has been used to make dense, thorny hedges around gardens to protect them from invasive deer and humans. Birds love eating the berries, and hawthorn branches grow at the ideal angle for supporting birds’ nests (60 degrees spread), with ferocious thorns to keep predators away from their eggs. The word for "hedge" is actually derived from "hawthorn." One word of caution: Don’t plant them near the windows of your house. The flowers literally smell rotten!
The berries, however, can be made into jam and jellies, and eaten on your morning toast. – Johan D.
The article on transition from ornamentals to edibles is one of the better things I’ve seen on your site, and I’ve seen many good things indeed. One thing I would add is the fact that (as of a few years ago, and I haven’t seen new information to contradict it) Americans spend more money per year to grow lawns and do home-based landscaping than we do on any other single crop. Corn? Lots of that. Soybeans, too. But growing grass consumes more of our money than any other crop — and you can’t eat grass or boxwood hedges.
My lawn frequently looks like a miniature jungle because it’s a rental house and I just don’t like mowing grass. My landlord has actually protested to the fact that I don’t cut the grass, but has prohibited us from planting a garden. It’s not the work I’m opposed to. It’s the fact that I get nothing out of cutting the lawn, other than having shorter grass. I have convinced my wife that our next home purchase will include as little lawn as possible, with a goat or two to eat the grass that does exist.
It makes no sense to grow things that aren’t useful, unless you are doing it as an art — and as an artist, I must confess that art is rarely "useful", but is necessary in some way to the human spirit. But if you can make useful art? That’s even better. Instead of the decorative wintertime cabbages and kale that are frequently planted here in the Deep South, if people planted cold-weather items like squashes, edible cabbages and kale, they could actually eat what their gardens produce.
Thanks, as always, for an excellent site. – J.D.C. in Mississippi