Health Benefits of the Mayhaw
Like many herbs of significance to naturopathic and homeopathic medicine, hawthorn berry was celebrated for its healing properties long before evidence-based medicine could validate its benefits. To modern scientists, the medici- nal properties of hawthorn berry can be attributed to the presence of certain bioflavonoids, most notably oligomeric procyanidins. Research has shown that these agents provide antioxidant activity and may help to improve the elasticity of blood vessels, thereby enhancing circulation, reducing cholesterol levels, and lowering blood pressure. Several studies have investigated the effects of these compounds on the heart in particular, the findings of which sug- gest that hawthorn berry may improve heart function in patients diagnosed with heart failure. The LSU AgCenter and the Mayhaw Association began studies several years ago to determine the health benefits and improve the marketability of the fruit as it moved from growing wild in the swamps to being cultivated in orchards. "Mayhaws are a good source of antioxidants," said Dr. Charlie Graham, an associate professor of horticulture with the LSU AgCenter. "Antioxidants in fruit play a role in preventing diseases caused as a result of oxidative stress." Oxidative stress, which releases free oxygen radicals in the body, has been implicated in a number of disorders including cardiovascular malfunction, cataracts, cancers, rheumatism and many other autoimmune diseases. Consumers want to know the health benefits of different fruit, and Graham said additional research is needed to determine the stability of the antioxidants in processed fruit products.
Dr. Charles Graham of the LSU AgCenter's Calhoun Research Station conducts research on mayhaws and says the berries always have been a favorite fruit of Louisiana residents. "People began transplanting mayhaw trees from the swamps, where they grew naturally, to higher, drier ground about 25 years ago," Graham said. "Mayhaws grow better in drier, upland soil. Although some people think mayhaws should be grown in swampy land, I advise people not to plant mayhaws in wet ground." Retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. John Pyzner agreed, saying that people began to realize where the trees could be grown as they moved them out of the swamps. "Many people think mayhaws only grow in flooded areas because they are naturally found there, but that's not the case. They actually grow better away from the swamp."
The transplanting of mayhaws began as the swamps were developed into cropland and residential areas, according to the experts, who say that transformation of land made people who were used to gathering mayhaws in the wild realize they had to grow them instead.
"The growers in the Louisiana Mayhaw Association are very innovative," said Dr. Pyzner. "They are encouraging research, creating new markets, developing improved varieties and mechanizing their harvesting operations." "We believe the mayhaw could be an economic development opportunity for our state," said Dr. Pyzner. "We don't have enough growers now to meet the demands for mayhaws."