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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Berry good for digestion

Dried hawthorn berries can relieve food stagnation in the digestive tract and ease painful periods.
The Straits Times - September 6, 2012
By: Joan Chew
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Berry good for digestion -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

WHAT IT IS: Generations of children have enjoyed haw flakes, those thin discs of candied hawthorn with a sweet tang.

The fruit of the hawthorn, called shanzha in Mandarin, is also used in foodstuff such as jams and jellies, and consumed for medicinal purposes.

Hawthorn, a member of the Rosaceae family, is a thorny shrub or small tree that produces brilliant red clusters of berries. It is grown in many parts of China, such as Henan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Anhui, Hubei, Guizhou and Guangdong.

It is harvested between the end of autumn and the onset of winter, said Madam Liu Yang, a senior traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician from Econ Chinese Medicine, a TCM clinic in West Point Hospital, a private community hospital.

The third edition of Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica noted that hawthorn fruits of good quality have red or reddish-brown surfaces and fleshy pulp. The fruit is fried on its own to enhance its medicinal properties.

Dried hawthorn fruit is sold at $0.80 for a tael (37.5g) at some medical halls here.

HOW TCM USES IT: The hawthorn fruit is sour-sweet and slightly warm in nature.

It is thought to move through the spleen, stomach and liver meridians in the body. Meridians are channels through which qi (vital energy) travels and a good flow of qi is required for good health.

The hawthorn fruit is used primarily to relieve food stagnation in the digestive tract, which gives rise to ailments such as belching, bloating, vomiting and diarrhoea, said Madam Liu.

This usually occurs when a person has overindulged in meat and greasy food, she added.

Since the hawthorn fruit aids digestion, it is also believed to reduce one's risk of developing atherosclerosis, which is the accumulation of cholesterol in the walls of arteries that may lead to heart attacks.

The fruit is useful for women who experience painful periods aggravated by eating "cold" food, such as ice cream, sushi and watermelon, which leads to blood stasis, said Madam Liu.

Hawthorn berry would be prescribed to relieve the pain, alongside other herbs such as cassia bark (rougui), Chinese angelica (danggui) and codonopsis root (dangshen), she added.

WHO IT IS FOR: People with poor digestion and hence reduced appetites, such as the elderly.

WHO SHOULD AVOID IT: Since the fruit is sour, it should not be eaten by those who have stomach ulcers, as there could be a risk of acid reflux, said Madam Liu. This is when contents of the stomach, which are usually acidic, reflux (flow back up) from the stomach to the oesophagus (food pipe).

The hawthorn fruit is also corrosive to the teeth, so children should not consume too much of it and should rinse their mouths after eating it.

People with a weak constitution or who are nursing illnesses should use it with caution. They have poor flow of qi, which means their bodies are not functioning optimally. This, coupled with the use of the fruit, makes it harder for their bodies to absorb the nutrients from food, Madam Liu said.

Consuming large amounts of hawthorn fruit is discouraged during pregnancy because it is said to cause the womb to contract, which could result in foetal death, she warned.

WHAT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN: Numerous Western clinical studies have demonstrated that hawthorn preparations are very effective in the early stages of congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, angina (chest pain) and minor arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).

A review of 14 trials on the use of hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure was published in The Cochrane Library 2009 (Issue 1), a publication of the Cochrane Collaboration, an international research organisation that evaluates medical evidence.

The review showed that the use of hawthorn extract led to a significant increase in the work capacity of the heart, improved patients' exercise tolerance and led to better control of symptoms, such as shortness of breath and fatigue.

The pressure-heart rate product - an indicator of the oxygen requirements of the heart - also showed a beneficial decrease with hawthorn treatment. This indicator is calculated by multiplying the heart rate and systolic blood pressure (the maximum pressure exerted by the blood on vessel walls).

When the indicator drops, it means that a patient's heart is using less oxygen to function. This suggests that the heart has to pump less hard after treatment with the hawthorn extract.

The authors of the study, from the Peninsula Medical School of the University of Exeter and Plymouth in Britain, concluded that "there is a significant benefit in symptom control and physiologic outcomes from hawthorn extract as an adjunctive treatment for chronic heart failure".


Hawthorn berry tea

(Serves one to two)


300ml water

10g dried hawthorn berries

Honey or sugar, to taste


Boil the water.

Place the hawthorn berries in a glass and then pour the hot water slowly over them.

Allow the berries to steep for a few minutes before drinking the tea.

The beverage may leave a slightly sour aftertaste. If desired, honey or sugar can be added to sweeten it.

Source: Madam Liu Yang, a senior traditional Chinese medicine physician at Econ Chinese Medicine


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