Perceptions of the Heart

It is the heart that always sees, before the head can see.‘ – Thomas Carlyle

The hawthorn trees are budding in the garden and will probably flower in May, well before we are able to safely move around our community once again. In its way, hawthorn is the perfect metaphor for our time.

In the Celtic Tree Oracle, the hawthorn card advises restraint, waiting, keeping to oneself and focusing on mental rather than physical activity.

Hawthorns will vigorously defend their space. Who hasn’t run afoul of one of these trees? If you push forward too quickly with reckless disregard for the fearsome spines lining the branches, some of which can be an inch long, they will pierce your skin to produce a deep, ragged tear before you can stop and extricate yourself. My entire family has lost flesh and blood to local hawthorn.

Conversely hawthorns can also be generous with their gentle medicine. Across time, extracts of hawthorn have been used as medicine for the human heart. Just like every member of this community, hawthorn can be hard-hearted if its personal space has been invaded and soft-hearted if treated with respect.

We are heartsick or broken-hearted these days. We wake expectantly to the possibilities of the day only to remember with sinking hearts that the enemy is still within our gates and our lives are irrevocably altered.

The neuroendocrine and electromagnetic functions of the heart are well documented but only in literature and legend is the heart widely accepted as an organ of perception and communication.

We evaluate everything emotionally as we perceive it. We think about it after.

– Doc Childre

Perceptions of the heart drive the tears, panic and anxiety that are never far from our waking hours and often stalk the vivid dreams of our nights as well.

According to Chinese traditionalists, the heart stores the shen. The notion of shen is roughly equivalent to the spirit. If the heart is sick, the spirit becomes homeless to wander the body without focus. Its energy is scattered and every organ system is affected.

Practitioners of Western medicine have long observed that depression can be symptomatic of heart problems. When the heart is made healthy again, the depression dissipates. In both philosophies then, medicine for the heart is medicine for the entire physical body and the spirit.

I vividly recall one of my teachers saying years ago that everyone over the age of 50 years should be taking hawthorn. This one statement permanently etched in my brain the tonic and remedial properties of hawthorn tea.

Medicine for our hearts can be easily made from hawthorn. Leaves, flowers and berries contain significant levels of oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPC’s) – the good stuff in brightly colored fruits and vegetables that may protect the heart and cardiovascular system. Happily for our purposes, these small condensed tannins are readily soluble in hot water.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a hawthorn tree, you can harvest the leaves and flowers in spring and the berries in late summer to extract those OPC’s either into a tea or a decoction that will help you to take heart in these trying times.

When harvesting hawthorn, I learned early on to form a clear intention, approach the tree slowly and listen for permission. I have been taught since childhood to never take without asking and to ask only for what I can use.

You can prepare a tea from fresh or dried plant matter. Simply chop or grind the leaves and/or flowers and soak in hot water that has just come off the boil. For dry herb try 1 teaspoon to 1 cup water and for fresh try 1 tablespoon to 1 cup water. Steep for at least 15 minutes with a towel over the teacup or pot to keep it hot.

For berries make a decoction by bringing 3 tablespoon fresh or 1 tablespoon dried to a slow simmer in 3 cups water for 20-30 minutes. Bubbles should be barely breaking the surface in the pot.

Strain your preparations into a cup and add any flavorings you want, such as honey, lemon or cinnamon. Teas should not be prepared and refrigerated for more than 36 hours as they may start to ferment.

As for what you should be doing in this time, I suggest you set aside your thoughts and words to follow the perceptions of your heart for it knows the path that is right for you.