The Monthly Wort
The Monthly Wort will provide readers with detailed descriptions of specifically chosen herbs (aka “wort”, meaning a useful herb), splitting it into 4 categories over the span of the month. Herbal History, Medicinal Uses, Magical Uses and Growing/Harvesting. In order to get the full scope of each plant, stay tuned every week as we delve into spiritual and practical experience of Herbalism.
Now that we’ve covered the basic history concerning Blackthorn, we can dive right into its use in traditional medicine and its questionable ability to achieve any of the noted results. Despite that a single prick or puncture from a Blackthorn can cause serious infection, there are those that treasure it in the herbal remedy world! That is not the case for everyone, however.
- Blackthorn: Questionable Use -
Since there’s such a dichotomy when it comes to Blackthorn’s reception, this blog is going to be writing in a different style than the last few Monthly Wort: Medicine blogs I’ve been doing, mainly in that I’m not going to go into a very detailed list of what the plant does or how to use it. Mainly, I don’t find it productive to pretend the plant gives more than it does, nor do I want to imply that it is utterly safe, as I have no empirical experience with it as a medicine. The only thing I can really stress is to trust your own judgment and don’t forget that research can only make you wiser.
- In the Eyes of the Herbalist -
As far as herbalism goes, the pretty white flowers that pop up on Blackthorn in early spring are the most used part of this plant, although the bark and berries are also employed. The flowers are commonly used in the form of infusions for diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as laxative, when steeped in boiling water (decoction) or made into a syrup (which would be much tastier). The University of Lodz (Poland) did a study that revealed the flowers have a flavonoid glycoside quercetin and kaempferol, the first of which has anti-inflammatory properties and the latter that helps reduce the risk of some cancerous and cardiovascular diseases.
The berries, or sloes, contain tannins (you may recognize this term in reference to wine, you lush) that can reduce swelling as well. They make a very bitter tonic, which implies they make a good astringent, and also can be used – like the flowers – for digestive issues, as they stimulate the metabolism when ingested. As far as the outer body, they are believed to help with herpes and eczema problems. Less commonly, they aid with allergies, colds, weak hearts, kidney stones and make a good “blood purifier”. Other compounds that make up the sloes are organic acids, sugars and vitamin C, all of which are important components to human health on their own.
Bark and leaf extracts have equal astringent properties because of the tannins, which reduces swelling in the mouth and throat associated with tonsillitis and laryngitis.
- WARNINGS AND RISKS -
Despite everything I just stated above, there is some concern, particularly in relation to the FDA, about whether or not Blackthorn is safe for consumption. I can say with absolute certainty that women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should not consume this plant due to the poisonous chemicals that can be found in it, some of which can cause birth defects. On that same vein, I wouldn’t recommend it for children, as their dosing tends to be more sensitive than adults. For the regular joes out there, a small amount will most likely not have too much of an effect, however most parts of the plant contain hydrogen cyanide, which – as most know – can absolutely have a toxic effect. The tannins we discussed earlier can also have damaging properties in large doses, irritating the intestinal mucosa and causing vomiting and ulcers. The seeds of Blackthorn contain hydrocyanic acid, which makes them poisonous to consume.
As always, use at your own risk. While I do believe that most natural remedies trump the side effects you get from pharmaceutical drugs, you have to remember that nature isn’t a soft and tender blanket to tuck carelessly away under. Nature can be dangerous and deadly if not taken seriously. The mutual benefits between yourself and the plants you choose to use in your life should always come with an equally mutual respect for the plant’s makeup.
That about sums it up, folks. While there isn’t a wide diversity as far as how Blackthorn can be used medicinally, next week is when we’ll be covering its magical uses, of which it has a VASTLY larger amount to contribute. I can’t wait! Just remember to always err on the side of caution when it comes to using plants as medicine, as you should do with any medicine, and don’t be afraid to consult a doctor or experienced herbalist before ingesting plants like Blackthorn.