Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Herb of the Day -- Hawthorn Berry -- An herb for the Heart

On Friendship and Communication

While swimming the other day I found myself lost in deep thought. I find this happens to me frequently while swimming, which I suspect is better than being lost in the deep end. So, there I was, counting my laps, and mulling through this ever-perpetual, consistently annoying confliction that has been plaguing my brain for the last 21 months. “Why can I not resolve this issue?” I asked myself for the seventy-seven-thousandth-three-hundred-fifty-second time. And thus began my memory replay of important people and good friends, acquaintances, and friendships turned bad; as well as a reflection upon myself as a human, colleague, acquaintance, enemy, woman, and a friend. Deep thought in the shallow end!

I thought all the way back to my first really close friend. Sarah was 1 year older than me, a brunette with big front teeth, and she lived with her dad on a hill above the ancient adobe house my parents were renting. That was the first stunning revelation I had as a child—that some kids didn’t live with BOTH parents. Divorce was seemingly uncommon, and the fact that my friend’s mother lived more than half a continent away was difficult to swallow. “She didn’t want me.” Sarah would say bluntly, while smacking chewing gum between her teeth. But given the tone of her voice I knew that was just her 5-year old way of showing off in a convoluted and sad kind of way. Apparently it was much more complicated than that, but I’ve never been told the whole story, and thus I’ve been left to my own fabrications.

Sarah and I, however, had a long and tumultuous friendship that had many periods of extreme joy and elation, and definite periods of difficulty. We played together a lot, and we were fortunate to have an ideal childhood set-up of ponds, a ditch, massive amounts of space to roam in, hundreds of trees, a gaggle of dogs, a smattering of chickens, and a couple of ducks. Given the large acreage of all the houses surrounding us, our absolute remoteness away from the real world, tucked in as we were in El Rancho, New Mexico; as well as our minority status as Anglos in a community that was largely Hispanic, we stuck together like glue.

Sticking together saved our gringa butts a few times as kids, like the day the bus driver decided he didn’t feel like driving the extra mile to our bus stop when I was 6 and she 7. We held hands and trembled most of the way, fighting off mongrel dogs and hiding from a number of high-school-aged cholos driving their lowriders along the dirt road. The first one we didn’t hide from scared us so silly we were sure would end up knifed in the river, like in the stories my brother told on occasion. As we made it closer to home, we could hear her dogs barking, and she wisely said, “They’re barking to let us know they can smell us and they are waiting for us.” This seemed somehow comforting, although I did wonder why they didn’t just run down the road to greet us. They chased cars all day long, anyway.

In reflecting upon my current conflicting emotions, I wondered if my ability to interact with people was influenced by these ups and downs with my childhood friend. Perhaps at the root of it all, I mused. There is no doubt that Sarah and I taught each other a lot about relationships. We had a remarkable ability to cause our whole world to explode around us, and then minutes later clamber up a big cottonwood tree, or wade through the ditch as if nothing bad had happened. “Why can’t it be like that now?” I pondered.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen master whose work I’ve become very fond of. If only I could maintain all his teachings in the up-front region of my brain so that every one of my interactions with others could be maintained with a positive, smooth, outflow of awareness and without reaction and the subsequent negative thoughts that may arise when communications head south. I’ve never U-Tubed any of his talks, but I imagine that he’s a calm and collected person whose awareness, joy, and centeredness is contagious.

In his understated book, Peace is Every Step he has a chapter titled “Internal Formations.” When I first read this chapter I realized how perfectly it described my recent conflicting events. Such a simple concept-- that knots are being tied up inside me, and all the thoughts and communications, emotions and feelings I have only seem to make them stronger and more complex.

Mr. Hanh is simple in his statement, “When we have a sensory input, depending on how we receive it, a knot may be tied in us.”[1]

“If we practice full awareness, we will be able to recognize internal formations as soon as they are formed, and we will find ways to transform them.” [2] and finally,

“If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions of the present moment, and we will not let knots form or become tighter in our consciousness.” [3]

It sounds so graceful and simple and I understand fully what must be done. But I am simply a mortal human, and not a Zen Master. I work and have kids, and I focus on my personal goals and priorities, as well as maintain the health and well-being of my family and household. I’m not seeking out excuses, but what am I to do? I’ve been struggling to untie these fetters in my soul for over a year now!

The convoluted intertwinings of friendships and acquaintances that take place in a small town cannot be adequately explored within a few paragraphs. I’m hoping that this, too, shall pass…

Now, back to the plants.

Hawthorn Berry
Crataegus spp.

Hawthorns are a widespread group of shrubs, which in our area are quite indistinct...that is you probably wouldn't notice it if you tripped over it, and even then you would be likely to mistake it for something else, namely a rose, even though it has nearly no thorns and really doesn't look like one.

I found my first Hawthorn last summer, while exploring a lovely section of the East Fork of the Jemez River. I had mistaken it for a rose. And then, upon inspecting it closer, my heart, so to speak felt drawn to it. Look at it's lovely purple fruit, I wondered to myself, taste it...Mmmm...sweet, yet tart, Yes! This is the lovely herb I'd been hearing so much about the previous year amongst my herbal classmates.

It is a notably small shrub, although I suspect it could grow to be about 10 or 12 feet in height. It has small, coarse-toothed leaves, hairless twigs that appear almost mauve in color behind the typical brown bark. The flowers are small, white, and in clusters, and the fruit are small, and range from red before they are ripe to a nearly purple-black, and they appear apple-like and very similar to rose hips--but with a much more delicate skin. It is a genuinely attractive little shrub, but has no airs about it.


Medicinally, Hawthorn is considered to be an excellent nutritive tonic and a restorative tonic for heart and blood vessels. It dilates the coronary artery and improves blood flow to the heart. It strengthens the heartbeat and regulates its rhythm. It normalizes blood pressure. Additionally, it is considered a connective tissue tonic. Hawthorn is safe during pregnancy, and can be used during the later stages of pregnancy if the blood pressure tends to run slightly higher than normal.


Hawthorn has been indicated specifically for degenerative heart disease, arteriosclerosis, aging heart, smoker's heart, heart weakness due to debilitating or infectious disease; weak or irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure. It has also been prescribed for injured connective tissues such as injured ligaments and tendons, arthritic joints, varicose veins, and degenerative diseases associated with these. 4


Hawthorn may potentiate the effects of Digitalis. Patients taking digitalis heart medication should seek consultation with their Dr. before taking Hawthorn, or supplements containing Hawthorn.


Hawthorn has long been associated with the heart, both physically and metaphorically. Many herbal cordial recipes include hawthorn amongst the primary ingredients, especially for romantic cordials--aphrodisiacs among them!

1 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 64
2 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 65
3 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 67

4 Ed Smith, Therapeutic Herb Manual, page 44

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Peak of the Summer

Summer, for me, is the pinnacle of the year. Whether this is due to my birthday being in July, or whether this is simply the manner in which my brain categorizes the year, I’m unsure. Each season is full of its own beauty and wonder and I appreciate them all (except, possibly, the wind in the spring, which I could live without; but I suspect it is vital to many aspects of this region.).

Summer, though…summer is it. The scent of chlorine saturated towels and sunscreen, the sound of flip flops and the buzzing of bees. The flowers waving in light breezes, and the coolness of the evening as the sun slowly disappears behind the mountains…these things satiate my summer satisfaction.

Six years ago today, my first baby was born—without pain blockers, medical interventions, or being taken away to be placed in some plastic container down the hall. Having kept several people awake all night long, I was left on my own with my new baby while everyone else went home to sleep. I, however, was buzzing with energy, despite my 31-hour marathon. Additionally, I felt about as motherly as an acorn lying in the dirt—what was I supposed to be doing? Thinking? Saying? Singing? I wasn’t quite sure. And nothing miraculously came into play once I was an actual Mom, and not just another pregnant lady. The motherly instincts didn’t suddenly come “on-line” like my satellite TV did once hooked up.

I was amazed, however, at how remarkably beautiful this teensy-tiny baby looked, at how long her fingernails were, and that she had not one, but two sets of dimples on each tiny cheek. I did feel remarkably better to have space around my abdominal organs, and I certainly knew that it felt great to finally be done being pregnant. I guessed that I would be able to figure most things about being a parent out, and that whatever I couldn’t, there would be books, other mamas, and grandmas to consult with.

Looking down on that remarkably perfect little face, I really didn’t know how I would change in the future. None of us can forsee the future anyway, whether we are parents or not. I had adamantly said that becoming a Mom wouldn’t change my lifestyle or interests, and for that most part that has been true. I did not, however, expect the deep realization that comes with knowing that should something happen to me, I would certainly decide to become a ghost so that I might have some influence on my kids’ day to day lives.

Reflecting back a short six years ago, I certainly never anticipated how much more motivation I would have to pursue my own interests, while nurturing the interests of my little ones. I didn’t realize that kids can be so remarkably goofy without anyone teaching them how to be, and that they come up with creative ways to say things through nothing more than their own working brain. My favorite? “I have a monster in my foot,” is what this oldest one says when her foot falls asleep. Who would’ve guessed?

Birthdays are special days for most people. A time to reflect on the past and to hope for the future. Perhaps a time to receive a welcomed gift, or to splurge a little on oneself. When I think back on the day that I brought this particular child out onto the planet, I am in awe of the magic of a growing and developing life. SO much to look forward to, and so many potential possibilities!
Happy Birthday, Honey Bee!!