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Hawthorn

Latin Names: Crataegus oxyacantha; Crataegus cuneata; Crataegus spp.

Other Names: Shan Zha (Chinese); Paducel (Romanian); Aubepine, L’epine Noble (French); Espino Blanco (Spanish); Hagedorn (German); Thorn Apple (English).

Taxonomy: Vegetable Kingdom, Rosaceae (Rose) family

Part Used: Fruit or berry; leaves and flowers.

Basic Qualities: Slightly warming and slightly drying.

Other Qualities: Opening, loosening, attenuating.

Taste: Tart or sour, slightly sweet and pungent.

Humoral Dynamics: Sanguine – dilates blood vessels, improves blood circulation, lowers blood cholesterol and triglycerides.  Phlegmatic – mildly attenuating of phlegm.  Choleric – improves bile secretion and metabolism by the liver, thereby improving the metabolism and excretion of excess fats and cholesterol; stimulates secretion of gastric and digestive juices.  Melancholic – mildly sedating to the nervous system.

Tropism: Heart, arteries and blood vessels; stomach, liver, gall bladder and hepatobiliary system; nervous system.

Constituents and Pharmacology: Caffeic acid, hyperoside, oligomeric procyanids (OCPs), proanthocyanidin, vitexin, ursolic acid, rutin, flavonoids, phenols, quercetin.

Medicinal Properties: Antioxidant, cardiotonic, cholagogue, choleretic, digestive, hepatoprotector, hypolipidemic, hypotensive, nervine, vasodilator, vasotonic.

Cautions and Contraindications: Hawthorn berries are an herbal tonic and superfood, and as such, they are generally very mild and nontoxic in nature, and can be taken even in large doses. Since Hawthorn Berry affects the heart, blood circulation and blood pressure, caution is advised, as there may be interactions, even adverse ones, with various pharmaceutical drugs for various heart conditions, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation or male erectile dysfunction. Hawthorn Berry may interact negatively with Digoxin / Lanoxin, Beta Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, Nitrates for chest pain, and drugs for male erectile dysfunction. Please consult with your physician if you are taking any of these drugs before taking Hawthorn Berry. If you decide to take Hawthorn Berry while taking any of these drugs, it would be a good idea to monitor your heart function and blood pressure until you know how Hawthorn affects you.

Medicinal Uses: Hawthorn berries, leaves and flowers are used primarily as a tonic to the heart, blood vessels and circulatory system to promote and protect their overall health and to improve or reverse degenerative changes in the heart, blood vessels and circulatory system as we age. The chief heart and circulatory conditions treated by Hawthorn include angina, congestive heart failure, poor heart performance and output, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high serum cholesterol and triglycerides, and atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. In addition, Hawthorn is a hepatoprotective herb that improves bile flow and metabolism, and hence lipid and cholesterol metabolism by the liver. As a mild sedative, Hawthorn is of value in the treatment of nervousness and anxiety, as well as mild cases of insomnia. Hawthorn berries also stimulate the bile and the gastric secretions, thereby having a digestive effect that helps to digest and remove accumulations of stagnant food in the digestive tract, especially high fat and/or high protein foods. As an antioxidant, Hawthorn leaves and flowers are particularly good at protecting the health and elasticity of the blood vessels, and preventing the formation of arterial plaque.

Other Uses: Because Hawthorn is a fruit or forest berry, it does have culinary uses and applications, especially when we consider Hippocrates’ dictum to let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food. Hawthorn berries can be made into jams, jellies and conserves. They can be soaked in red wine to produce a tonic wine that is very beneficial to the heart. Soak the berries in red wine, along with bitter tonic herbs as well as pungent and aromatic spices, and voila, you have a before meal aperitif. The pulp of the fruit, as well as the powdered fruit, minus the seeds, can be used to make medicinal jams, or electuaries, in combination with other herbs and spices. A tea or infusion of Hawthorn leaves and flowers can be used for cosmetic purposes, as a mildly toning and astringing skin and facial wash.

Preparation and Dosage: When making a tea from Hawthorn, an infusion is usually made from the leaves and flowers, whereas the berries are usually decocted; however, the leaves and flowers may be decocted as well. For teas, the ratio is generally one heaping tablespoonful of the herb (whichever part(s) is/are used), to one cup of water. The powdered berries and/or leaves and flowers may be taken, even in large doses, of anywhere from a teaspoonful to a heaping tablespoonful, one, two or three times per day; if you have a heart or circulatory condition, you may wish to consult with your doctor and take a smaller dose, like two gelatin capsules. Although the dried berries may be ground up at home in an electric coffee grinder, the rather large seeds present a problem, and do not grind well. Luckily, many herb stores carry Hawthorn Berry already powdered for quick consumption. Many herbalists recommend taking powdered Hawthorn in a ratio of 50% berries and 50% leaves and flowers, to get the benefit of the whole plant. This is a good idea if you are looking for a tonic for the whole circulatory system, as the berries act mainly on the heart, whereas the leaves and flowers offer great antioxidant protection for the arteries and blood vessels. Extracts of Hawthorn berries, as well as the leaves and flowers, can also be made using alcohol (80 proof spirits) or apple cider vinegar, and clinical studies have shown these preparations to be effective. When making these extracts, use double to triple the amount of herb that you would use for making a tea; the dose is from 15 to 30 drops, or a dropperful.

Herbal Formulation: Hawthorn berries, due to their mild and balanced or temperate nature, are quite versatile, and combine quite well with many different herbs in herbal formulas. Many herbalists feel that a 50/50 combination of the berries with the leaves and flowers works better, and is more effective, than the berries alone, and confers health benefits of the whole plant. Because Hawthorn berries have a tart and slightly astringent nature, their mild binding astringency can be beneficially offset by combining it with herbs that have a basically dispersing pungent and/or aromatic taste and energetics. Their therapeutic orientation predisposes Hawthorn berries, leaves and flowers being used in formulas to treat heart and circulatory conditions, as well as with other herbs and forest berries that are rich in antioxidants. Hawthorn can be used in virtually any herbal formula wherever a tonic or restorative effect on the heart and circulatory system is desired.

Classic Combinations: For greater whole plant effectiveness as a tonic to the heart and circulatory system, Hawthorn berries and be combined in a 50/50 ratio with Hawthorn leaves and flowers.  As a tonic for high blood pressure and/or a nervous heart, Hawthorn berries can be combined with other sedating heart tonics like Linden flowers and Valerian root.  As an antioxidant and tonic / protector of the heart and circulatory system, combine with Olive leaves.  As a stimulating tonic to the stomach and digestion, soak Hawthorn berries in Apple Cider Vinegar.  As a general tonic for the heart and circulatory system, soak Hawthorn berries, leaves and flowers in Red Wine.  To reduce fatty deposits in the liver, and to lower serum cholesterol and triglycerides, combine with Milk Thistle Seeds or Extract.

Description: Hawthorn, also called Mayflower or Thorn Apple, is a small tree or shrub of the Rose family, related to apples, that brings forth a tart berry, as well as leaves and flowers, which are used medicinally.  It grows in the Holy Land, and there is a tradition that its thorny branches were used to make Christ’s crown of thorns, although others have maintained that the thorny branches of the Spiny Jujube tree, or Zizyphus spinosa, fulfilled that function.  Hawthorn actually refers to a number of different species of the genus Crataegus, which is derived from the Greek Kratos, which describes the hardness of its wood, which also burns with a very high heat, and which takes a high polish.  The species name, oxyacantha, refers to the sharpness of its thorns; other species, such as C. monogyna or C. cuneata, are also called Hawthorn.  Hawthorn is not included in the Materia Medica section of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, but a closely related species of berry, the Azarole berry (Crataegus azarolus) is.

In Western herbal medicine, the Hawthorn berry, as well as its leaves and flowers, holds a distinguished place as one of the finest tonics for the heart and circulatory system.  It has a vasotonic and vasodilating effect, improving the blood flow through the coronary artery and other arteries and blood vessels throughout the body; it also improves the aerobic efficiency and performance of heart muscle, and the systolic pumping output of the heart.  The rutin, quercetin and other flavonoids and antioxidants found in the berry, as well as the leaves and flowers, of Hawthorn have a tonic and protective effect on the arteries and blood vessels, and reduce the formation of arterial plaque.  In addition, the tart, sour taste of the berries stimulates the flow and production of bile, as well as gastric and other digestive secretions.  The improved flow and metabolism of bile then improves the metabolism of fats and cholesterol, having a beneficial lowering effect in high serum cholesterol and triglycerides.  The improved secretion of gastric and digestive juices stimulates the stomach and digestion, as well as the digestion of stagnant food in the GI tract, especially that which is rich in fats or protein.  In addition, Hawthorn berries have a mild sedative effect, which is useful in treating anxiety and a nervous heart, especially in combination with other sedating herbs like Linden flowers and Valerian root. 

Of all the heart conditions that Hawthorn may be used for, there have been the most clinical studies done on its treatment of congestive heart failure and enlargement of the heart.  Although further research is needed, Hawthorn seems to have a mild blood pressure lowering effect by dilating the peripheral blood vessels, which is due to the proanthocyanidin it contains.  Due to its strengthening of heart contractions and output, some herbalists believe that Hawthorn is beneficial for treating low blood pressure as well.  By improving bile flow and metabolism, Hawthorn can cleanse the liver of excess fats and lower serum concentrations of LDL or bad cholesterol as well as triglycerides; Hawthorn also seems to be able to cleanse excess fats from the aorta as well as protect against hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, and the formation of arterial plaque.  In addition to being a digestive stimulant, Hawthorn tea is also used as a gargle for sores and ulcers of the tongue or mouth, as it is mildly astringent, with the leaves and flowers being more so than the berries.

Being a fruit or berry related to the apple, Hawthorn berries are generally very mild and nontoxic in nature for those who are in basically good health, and can be taken even in large doses as an herbal antioxidant and superfood.  If you suffer from heart or circulatory conditions, however, it would be wise to consult with your physician before taking Hawthorn, and to monitor your circulatory signs and symptoms closely until you know exactly how Hawthorn affects you.  Hawthorn has a number of adverse interactions with pharmaceutical drugs used to treat heart and circulatory conditions, mainly a potentiating effect; for a listing of the major interactions with pharmaceutical drugs, see Cautions and Contraindications, above.  But for those in basically good health who want to use Hawthorn as a general tonic and restorative for their heart and circulatory system, and to protect against aging related degenerative conditions to this vital system of the body, powdered Hawthorn berries, or a 50/50 combination of the powdered berries with the powdered leaves and flowers, can be taken in doses of one teaspoon to one heaping tablespoonful, two to three times per day.  Hawthorn berries, as well as the leaves and flowers, can also be made into teas, either by infusion or decoction, as well as into alcoholic or acid extracts in red wine or apple cider vinegar. 

Related Species: Although the Hawthorn berry is missing from the Materia Medica section of Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine, a closely related species of Crataegus, the Azarole Berry (Crataegus azarolus) is included.  Avicenna says that the Azarole berry is cold and moist in temperament.  Being contrary to Yellow Bile in its basic temperament, its chief medicinal use seems to be to cleanse the body from excessive accumulations of that humor, for which Avicenna says that it is more effective than any other fruit.  He also says that Azarole can cause constipation, and can also be harmful to the stomach; a certain variety of Azarole berry, says Avicenna, can cause headaches.

Sources:

Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna

Hawthorn


The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, translated and compiled by Laleh Bakhtiar, pp. 77 - 79. @2012 by Laleh Bakhtiar, Published by Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications.

A Modern Herbal, Vol. I by Mrs. M. Grieve, pp. 385 – 386.  @ by Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY.   Originally published by Harcourt, Brace & Company in 1931.

The Little Herb Encyclopedia, Third Edition, by Jack Ritchason, ND, pp. 116 – 117.  @ 1995 by Jack Ritchason.  Published by Woodland Health Books, Pleasant Grove, Utah, USA.



DISCLAIMER:  The information contained on this page is intended for educational purposes only, to inform the reader as to the traditional uses of the herb or medicinal substance, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or medical condition.  The author advises the reader to consult with his or her physician before use.