Hawthorn for horses should be considered for the older horse showing signs of arthritis and general old age. Hawthorn berries are used extensively as a cardiac tonic and for increasing circulation which is very important for horses with arthritis. The leaves and flowers are used for the same purpose, and it was known in the Middle Ages as a symbol of hope and taken for many ailments.
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Western herbalists consider it to be a “food for the heart” increasing blood flow to the heart muscles and restoring a normal heartbeat. It is a wonderful herb for the elderly senior horse helping with circulation and strengthening the heart.
Hawthorn is also used for joint remedies for horses with arthritis as it increases circulation and is great for helping rid the body of toxins which can build up in the joints. It is considered an astringent, antispasmodic, cardiac, diuretic, sedative and tonic.
Hawthorn is also very useful in horses that have navicular syndrome as it dilates the blood vessels. Often you can see horses with navicular or laminitis nibbling on the new leaves of Hawthorn bushes if they are so lucky to have easy access.
Hawthorns are normally planted as a hedge and are perfect for creating a hedgerow containing other edible herbs for horses. The sharp thorns protect the edible herbs from being completely eaten to the ground by voracious horses but allow them to nibble any tasty morsels within their reach.
Hawthorn is in fact considered a noxious weed in Victoria and South Australia and is native to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. Hawthorn is very common throughout Victoria, southeast New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia where there is moderate to high rainfall.
Hawthorn has been relatively well researched, and its main medicinal benefit is due to its bioflavonoid content. The active constituents relax and dilate the arteries, especially the coronary arteries. This then increases the flow of blood to the heart.
Hawthorn is also considered to be highly antioxidant, which in turn helps reduce degeneration of the blood vessels. It is used today for angina and irregular heartbeat but also requires a few months to produce noticeable results. Like many herbs, hawthorn works in tune with the body which requires time for change to occur.
Not only is this herb used for high blood pressure but it also raises low blood pressure and herbalists have found it can restore blood pressure to normal. Combined with Ginkgo it is used to improve memory by improving circulation to the head and oxygen to the brain.
The 2 species of Hawthorn are very similar, differing mainly in the number of seeds per fruit. They are erect shrubs or small trees around 4-6 metres though can grow up to 9 metres. There are many spreading branches with thorns and triangular to ovate leaves. Flowers are white and appear in clusters with a sweet scent. Hawthorns have bright red berries in autumn but with a mild flavour.
Flowering tops (leaves and flowers) are harvested in late spring, and the berries are gathered in late summer and early autumn. The optimum time for harvesting the tops is only about a week, so you need to be vigilant to get the correct time. The flowers should be mostly open but not yet fading.
You will need gloves when harvesting the berries. They should be harvested once they turn red. At this stage, their level of active constituents is highest, and the berries are less likely to be damaged as they are firmer at this stage. Strip the berries into a basket with gloved hands. The berries will need good drying conditions.
Hawthorn leaf and flowers dry quite easily but should be dried quickly in order to retain good colour. This can then be used as a tea or infusion or you can steep the berries and feed to your elderly horses. A wonderful herb for maintaining a healthy older horse with arthritis or when competing on a regular basis.
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