Hawthorn is a popular traditional herb for heart health.
The berries, leaves, and flowers of the hawthorn trees were traditionally used for cardiovascular health, bladder and kidney issues, and as a general heart tonic. It has also been enjoyed as a culinary treat.
This article will look at the health benefits of hawthorn, as well as its safety and history.
Table of Contents
What is Hawthorn?
Hawthorn is a tree or shrub that is well known for its ability to support the heart.
The scientific name for hawthorn is Crataegus monogyna. It’s famously known for consistently blooming in May and has symbolic cultural meanings in many countries.
Traditional reports recommend hawthorn for numerous heart conditions, including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (plaque build up in the arteries), and congestive heart failure. It’s also been said to help with digestive issues and menstruation.
Modern research suggests that hawthorn benefits heart health. Research also shows that hawthorn benefits gut health and may help to reduce indigestion.
Some of hawthorn’s main active constituents, like flavonoids, polyphenols, and glycosides, may attribute to its various health benefits.
Health Benefits of Hawthorn:
A combination of clinical research, traditional knowledge, and contemporary herbalist accounts have observed various hawthorn benefits.
Below are the primary health benefits of hawthorn and its main constituents.
1. May Support Heart Health
A review of hawthorn concluded that its active constituents, flavonoids and proanthocyanidins, may be responsible for its heart-supporting properties.
A. Decreased Blood Pressure
In a clinical study observing participants with mildly high blood pressure, researchers discovered that a hawthorn supplement reduced high diastolic blood pressure by 8.1% after 10 weeks of supplementation. Subjects also experienced a significant anxiety reduction.
Another clinical trial involving patients with type 2 diabetes found that hawthorn extract significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure (the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats). Participants took 1200mg of hawthorn extract daily for 16 weeks.
B. Improved Congestive Heart Failure Symptoms
A clinical study observing subjects with chronic congestive heart failure discovered that hawthorn extract significantly increased the participants’ ability to exercise. Subjects were given 1800mg per day for 16 weeks.
In another clinical study involving subjects with mild chronic heart failure, researchers noted that a hawthorn extract improved exercise tolerance and oxygen utilization.
A research review noted that hawthorn supplementation, along with conventional heart health treatments like diuretics, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and calcium antagonists, significantly reduced chronic heart failure symptoms. Researchers reported hawthorn was safe and well tolerated by the study participants.
C. Reduced Cholesterol
A research review of hawthorn discovered that hawthorn extract reduced cholesterol levels in the bloodstream by 23%, lowering the risk and symptoms of atherosclerosis (cholesterol build-up on artery walls). The review also noted the heart-protecting effects of hawthorn.
In Canada, hawthorn can legally be used as an ingredient to maintain and support heart health.
The European Medicines Agency recommends hawthorn for individuals with heart palpitations.
Well-renowned AHG herbalist, David Hoffmann, mentions that “[h]awthorn’s primary attribute appears to be an ability to improve coronary circulation. It dilates the coronary arteries, relieving cardiac hypoxemia [low oxygen levels].” This effect decreases the chance of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
Summary:Clinical research has found that hawthorn may benefit heart function by lowering blood pressure, improving symptoms of congestive heart failure, and decreasing cholesterol.
2. May Support the Gastrointestinal Tract
Hawthorn has traditionally been used for stomach issues due to its ability to regulate and improve gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.
An animal study observing rats with indigestion discovered that hawthorn improved the overall gut function. The hawthorn also helped regulate food intake and weight gain and supported the GI microbiome.
In another animal study, hawthorn extract exhibited gastroprotective effects on rats with induced stress. The results were comparable to a pharmaceutical drug (ranitidine) that reduces stomach acid.
In a review of hawthorn and its active constituents, researchers noted that hawthorn extract protected the GI tract by regulating the gut’s metabolism. The extract also regulated bile excretion, which can help to reduce indigestion symptoms.
The American Botanical Council suggests using dried, ripe Chinese hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida) for bloating, diarrhea, and food stagnation. Researchers also mention that Chinese hawthorn has been used for stomach complaints for millennia.
Traditional herbalist Henriette Kress recommends sour hawthorn berries to strengthen digestion and help with diarrhea.
Summary:Animal studies indicate that hawthorn may work to promote gastrointestinal health. Human clinical trials are needed for confirmation of this finding
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Research suggests that hawthorn is beneficial for reducing and regulating inflammation.
Inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system responds to trauma, infection, toxins, and physical overuse. Short-term inflammation supports the beginning stages of healing, while chronic inflammation signals a more significant physiological issue.
In a review of hawthorn, researchers noted that flavonoids and polysaccharides are responsible for hawthorn’s anti-inflammatory activity. The active constituent, pectin, may also improve liver inflammation by regulating the gut microbiome.
In an animal study observing rats, hawthorn extract reduced inflammation at and around the site of the edema. The best results were obtained when the researchers administered 200mg of the extract.
A lab-based study involving hawthorn fruit extract discovered that the extract encouraged an anti-inflammatory effect in white blood cells.
In Herbs & Natural Supplements, Dr. Leslie Braun and Dr. Marc Cohen write that hawthorn’s flavonoids “have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity.”
Summary:A combination of animal research, lab-based studies, and traditional herbalism show that hawthorn may have anti-inflammatory activity. Clinical trials are needed for verification.
4. Other Hawthorn Benefits
Other purported hawthorn health benefits include:
• May have Antimicrobial Properties: A lab-based study discovered that hawthorn’s proanthocyanidins have an antimicrobial effect against fungal strain Candida albicans and Herpes simplex virus.
In a review of hawthorn, researchers mention that hawthorn seed extract exhibited antibacterial effects against numerous strains that cause vaginitis, like Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Gardnerella vaginalis, and Candida albicans.
• Antioxidant Effects: A review of hawthorn’s effects on cardiovascular diseases found that proanthocyanidins from hawthorn pulp (mashed hawthorn berries) exhibited high antioxidant activity.
Summary:Hawthorn has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: A
Hawthorn is typically well tolerated and safe for most individuals.
Although no human studies have resulted in adverse events, the Botanical Safety Handbook recommends caution when taking hawthorn with heart medications.
Consult a medical professional if you’re considering the use of hawthorn and experience heart issues.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Although it is not recommended to use hawthorn during pregnancy and lactation, a few animal studies observed no adverse side effects when pregnant subjects took human levels of hawthorn flower and leaf.
The Botanical Safety Handbook still suggest avoidance due to limited safety data.
Standard dosing for hawthorn is as follows:
Infusion (tea): Add 1 cup of boiling water to 2 teaspoons of dried herb. Infuse for 5-10 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 2.5 mL, 3x/day
- For acute to severe conditions, use up to 5 ml, 3x/day.
Liquid Extract (1:1): 1-2mL, 3x/day.
Capsules/Supplements: 500mg, 2x/day.
Dried Herb: 0.3-1 g/day 1+ drops as needed, 3-5x/day.
Hawthorn is a legal active ingredient in natural health products and is readily available in the US and Canada.
Hawthorn is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list, implying that human activities do not impact this herb.
The American Botanical Council writes that there’s a high demand for sustainable requirements around hawthorn products and many countries are implementing social and ecological standards for hawthorn harvesting. These countries include Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Poland, and Chile.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Hawthorn’s scientific name is Crataegus monogyna. Although it is frequently called “hawthorn,” many cultures refer to this species as “common hawthorn” or “single-seeded hawthorn.”
The scientific name Crataegus stems from the Greek word “kratos,” which means “strength” and refers to the bark’s hardiness and the tree’s powerful therapeutic properties. The common name “hawthorn” stems from the words “haw” (hedge) and “thorn.”
Crataegus monogyna is medicinally synonymous with the Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese hawthorn) and Crataegus laevigata.
Hawthorn is in the Rosaceae (i.e., rose) family, which means it sports the characteristic thorns and edible “fruits” or haws. It is a deciduous tree native to Europe, Northwest Africa, and Western Asia.
The sturdy hawthorn tree or shrub can vary in height from 3-30 feet tall and is commonly found in the woods or hedgerows of England and Ireland. Its branches look “gnarly” and bear long, sharp thorns. Hawthorn prefers moist, well-drained soil but is tolerant of most soil types.
Hawthorn has white and pink blossoms similar to wild cherry tree flowers. The blossoms give off a disagreeable scent that attracts pollinators.
There are around 200 Crataegus species, and they commonly live to be upwards of 150 years old.
Common names of hawthorn include: Thornapple, Mayblossom, Mayhaw, May Tree, Whitehorn, Hawberry, Hagthorn, Ladies’ Meat, Gazels, Halves, Bread and Cheese Tree, Ban-sangli (Ayuveda), Shānzā (traditional Chinese medicine), Hagedorn (German), L’épine noble (French).
Other plants in the Crataegus species include:
- Crataegus pinnatifida (Chinese hawthorn)
- Crataegus laevigata
- Crataegus phaenopyrum
- Crataegus mollis
- Crataegus douglasii (Black hawthorn)
History & Traditional Use:
Hawthorn has deep roots in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the medical traditions of Europe. Hawthorn trees are considered a symbol of love and protection and is often associated with the festival of Beltane.
During Beltane (or Mayday) festivals, hawthorn branches were used for the Maypole. The maypole represented fertility that people danced around during the celebrations. In folklore, hawthorn trees were also home to fairies.
In TCM, the use of hawthorn dates back to 659 AD when it was administered for heart conditions. Evidence also suggests that the Native American Cherokee tribe has used this herb to promote circulation.
In the 16th century, Swiss physician, Paracelsus, recorded one of the first mentions of hawthorn and its health benefits. During the 17th century, English botanist Nicholas Culpepper wrote that dried, powdered hawthorn berries support “dropsy” (swelling of the lower extremities caused by congestive heart failure).
Hawthorn medicine became a part of European clinical practices during the 17th century and continued in popularity throughout the 20th century. Presently, hawthorn is one of the best-selling botanical medicines in Germany.
Hawthorn berries are historically used to make jam, sweet wine, and candied fruit slices in European and Chinese cultures. Their high vitamin C made them a supportive, immune-boosting treat during cold winters.
Hawthorn is a powerful herb and symbol best known for its delicious berries, heart-supporting properties, and longevity.
While hawthorn’s medicinal parts are revered for their affinity toward the heart, Crataegus monogyna, among other species, has demonstrated numerous health benefits.
Consult a healthcare professional if you are considering a hawthorn supplement for medicinal use. Those taking heart medication should proceed with caution.
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