Death Doula’s Toolbox: Herbal Education – Hawthorn is for Heartbreak (and more!)

I’m excited that 2017 will see the introduction of my new Herbal Education for Death and Mourning Doulas Program, which will wonderfully supplement our existing death and mourning doula trainings. In support of that initiative, I will be blogging about one herb each month, focusing on both scientific and/or folkloric beliefs about the use of the herb in the support of the dying and mourning alike, and even those which are purported to provide information about where the soul is after death, and those which help prevent hauntings 🙂 I hope you enjoy this fun and informative foray into the world of herbs for death and mourning support – I’m so excited to be teaching from the perspective of a death doula’s herbal support for death and grief. Without further ado, allow me to introduce our first herb:



Perhaps you already know hawthorn, as it is rather common. Perhaps you’ve already enjoyed the tasty goodness that is hawthorn jam, jelly, or wine. If so, maybe you recall a sweet sense of peace that seemed to accompany it. You weren’t imagining it, the Hawthorne plant is known for healing hearts, both physically, and emotionally. Let’s take a closer look.

Hawthorn knowledge and lore hearkens back a long time, to the dawn of folk medicine. It has also long been considered a “faerie tree,” a gateway to otherworld or realms, and perhaps subsequently, has long-held ties to birth and death.

As we explore the hawthorn’s properties, perhaps you will understand how it earned a reputation for healing a broken heart, for it manages to combine antioxidants with a calming nervine, diuretic, and astringent properties, culminating in a wonderful cardiovascular tonic.

Crataegus oxyacantha and Cratnegus mongyna are the species I’m referring to when I speak of hawthorn. This is a common shrub or small tree that’s native to Europe, North Africa, and Asia, and has now found it’s way all around the globe. In fact, it’s considered an invasive species at this point,  even in America. In addition to being tasty in pies, jams, jellies, and wines, the leaves, flowers, berries – or haw – and tips of the branches are each used for medicinal purposes, making it a plant with little that goes to waste!

Hawthorn is demonstrated to be useful for high cholesterol, high and low blood pressure, diseases of the veins, hardening of the arteries, congestive heart failure, and other issues*. In fact, while additional study results are still to come, it looks like it could wind up playing an important role in helping those with congestive heart failure. In addition to all this, some use hawthorn for dealing with tapeworm, a number of digestive issues, menstrual conditions, for anxiety, as a sedative and a number of others symptoms.  As such, it has a number of potential contraindicative factors, and you should always talk with your health care provider before introducing hawthorn into your life. 

How does it achieve these wonders? It tones the heart muscles and vessels, and dilates arteries and veins, helping blood flow more freely, and potentially loosening up any blockages; it’s antioxidants fight free radicals; and these things work to reduce cholesterol, improve cardiovascular output, and to even potentially prevent heart attack, by preventing cell death*.

We know people can literally die of a broken heart. In fact, studies have suggested that in the six months following their loss, widows and widowers death risk rises by anywhere from 30 to 50percent. Author Dr. James Lynch, a long-time pioneer of mind/body medicine, speaks about the health consequences of loneliness in his book, A Cry Unheard. “Every year millions of lonely people … die broken-hearted, long before their time. It’s a silent epidemic.”

Symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome are similar to that of a heart attack, and come on quickly, likely by the rise in hormones following stress (there’s even examples of teenagers dying on a roller coaster after a sudden drop, and of a 14 year-old healthy girl dying upon learning of the death of her 17 year-old brother, for example).

So, how is hawthorn helping heal a broken heart? It can be argued that it is helping your entire cardiovascular system run more efficiently, and that the anxiety reduction and nervine properties are heart protectors, and would theoretically help life the spirits. However, some believe it’s also because we store memories in different places, and believe hawthorn helps release or prevent “stuck” or “stagnant” memories, freeing us to heal in a more fluid way.

I can speak personally to the anecdotal evidence I’ve witnessed, both in my own personal experiences of loss, and among those I work with. Hawthorn, whether served as a tea (3-4 times a day, ideally – again, make sure there are no contraindications with medications), as a tincture or syrup, or through jams, candied berries, or other food product (some swear by the flowers included in a salad), seems to help one’s heart feel lightened just enough to find the beauty in our memories, when the moment is right, or at the very least, to take the edge off the worst of the loss. I can honestly say that one of my favorite mourning and death doula toolkit herbs is hawthorn.

In our new online Mourning and Death Doula Herbal Education for Supporting Death and Mourning Class, we will not only be studying the most useful herbs, we will be discussing recipes (which ones can be combined, and how), ways to prepare them (how to make a tincture, a salve, a syrup, etc), and so much more. I’m so excited about this class. It will be accessible for no extra cost to our Complete 6-in-1 Death Doula Training Students, and for $179 to graduates of our Modified 5-in-1 Death Doula Training Program. At this time it will only be open to our graduates, as we must keep the class size small.

If you’re interested in registering for one of our death doula trainings, now is a great time! Just visit our main page at to learn more, and to discern which of our trainings is the best one for you. In the meantime, enjoy exploring how to introduce the wonder of hawthorn into your life – it doesn’t have to be just for moving through grief and past a loss, the cardiovascular toning properties of hawthorn are stunning, and well worth considering for possible introduction into your life**.

One note before I go: If wildcrafting hawthorn, make sure to do what you can to discern whether it has been treated with pesticides – I recommend only using organic materials when making medicines.

I hope you enjoy this foray into a death doula’s herbal support for the dying and grieving.

*Check out these sites for more details:

Web MD

Modern Alternative Health on broken heart syndrome

Health at How Stuff Works

THIS ARTICLE IS NOT INTENDED TO BE USED FOR MAKING A DIAGNOSIS< OR TO REPLACE MEDICAL ADVICE> You are encouraged to speak with your care provider before introducing something into your life; this article is for education purposes only. While many have deemed hawthorn safe, and I myself have found it so, it has powerful impact on the body, and if someone is on, say a blood pressure medication, and we know hawthorn can impact blood pressure, this could be of concern – so again, this is for educational purposes only. Note that in some instances, use of hawthorn in large doses has been potentially tied to a sensation of vertigo.