During the month of February, when all marketing seems to center on triumphs of the heart, it’s important to remember that not every heart is celebrating Valentine’s Day; many hearts need physical and emotional nurturing. That’s when we herbalists love to sing the praises of hawthorn, one of the nature’s resilient trees and Western herbalism’s most widely used plants for promoting heart health.* Beloved around the world since the time of the ancient Chinese, Greeks and Native Americans, hawthorn remains a staple in herbal apothecaries as a tonic and natural support for all things related to the heart.
The hardy Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) consists of over 280 species whose dense, thorny, deciduous trees thrive in temperate climates. A member of the rose family, the plant blooms clusters of pink or white flowers in the late spring, which then give way to red berries, called “haws,” in late summer.
An important species in Traditional European Herbal Medicine. Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, hawthorn often gathers into thick hedgerows, used throughout history for their strength to enclose pastures and meadows. In fact, historians claim that the ancient hedgerows in France’s Normandy region were so robust that they made the D-Day Battles of World War II even more challenging. Some hawthorn plants can live for up to 200 years.
Hawthorn lends its innate resilience to the circulatory system in countless ways. As hearty as it is hardy, herbalist Rosemary Gladstar writes that hawthorn’s haws, leaves, and flowers contain beneficial flavonoids and procyanidins “to feed and tone the heart.” Flavonoids help promote everyday wellness and support heart health, while procyanidins, as condensed tannins, add a protective benefit much like red wine grapes. What’s more, herbalists believe that the energetic properties of hawthorn can help lift the spirits from heartbreak and grief.
First praised by the ancient Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century A.D. and in the ancient Chinese herbal, Tang-Ben-Cao, in 659 A.D., hawthorn has since held an affectionate place in herbalists’ hearts. Beyond herbal medicine, hawthorn has also played a role in herbal folklore to ward off evil spirits. To shield newborn babies from harm, the Romans would hang hawthorn sprigs over cradles. Other pagans strung hawthorn flowers into garlands for use in May Day celebrations. Early Christians associated the plant with Jesus’ crown of thorns and hung it over doorways for protection during the Middle Ages.
Whether physical, emotional or spiritual, hawthorn’s herbal powers seek to protect and support matters of the heart.
Also, Known As:
- English Hawthorn
- May Blossom
- May Tree
The herb called the hawthorn is one of the best herbal remedies to boost the performance of the heart and the human circulatory system in general. A potent vasodilatory action can be induced in the human body by the flowers, leaves and the berries of the hawthorn. When these parts of the herb are consumed, they open up the arteries to promote circulation and improve the blood supply to all the general tissues in the body. Regular supplementation with this herb can thus help bring some balance blood pressure and it is considered to be an excellent remedy for the treatment of high blood pressure – especially when the condition is connected to hardening in the arteries of the person. Problems such as those connected to poor circulation caused by aging arteries, problems of poor circulation towards the lower body and legs as well as problems like poor memory and confusion induced by a poor blood circulation to the brain can all be remedied by supplementation with the hawthorn herb. The herb also has an effective and remedial effect in angina cases, the hawthorn based remedies can help open the coronary arteries in the heart and by so doing aid in the improvement of blood flow to the heart, and this herb also softens deposits in the arterial system. The vagus nerve which influences the cardiac muscles is also beneficially affected by the hawthorn herbal remedies, the consumption of this herb can thus slow down irregularities in the heart and reduce a rapid or fast heart rate in a patient. It can be said that herbal remedies made from the hawthorn are ideal for most heart conditions affecting people.
Hawthorn berries possess a potent and effective astringent effect – this is very effective in the treatment of problems such as diarrhea and dysentery in patients. The digestive system also benefits due to the relaxant action possessed by the hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries – the herbal remedy also boosts the appetite. At the same time, it acts in relieving abdominal distension and in the removal of stagnation of food in the intestinal tract. Hawthorn herbal remedies also have an effective relaxing effect on the functioning of the nervous system, the herb aids in relieving excessive stress and anxiety, it helps in calming mental agitation, it lessens restlessness and reduces nervous palpitations. The herb also induces sleepiness in people affected by insomnia. The herbal remedies made from the hawthorn also have a diuretic action on the body, it aids in relieving fluid retention in the body and helps dissolve deposits of kidney stones and gravel. The herb is helpful to women in menopause, as it aids in removing debility or night sweats in those affected by them. The hawthorn berries can be made into an herbal decoction, which can be used as an astringent gargle for sore throats as well as an herbal douche for women affected by excessive vaginal discharges.
The hawthorn family of herbs is represented by a family of one hundred to two hundred related species of small trees and shrubs, found in the North American continent, with huge populations in the eastern part of the United States of America. This family of related plants has a very confusing and difficult taxonomy. Though no longer used for most, the hawthorn herb was initially divided into many species. At least 1,100 specific names were published, most of which are no longer accepted. At the same time, many different varieties of the plant are recognized, and hybrids of the herb do exist in the wild. The hawthorn family serves as an important source of food for wildlife; these plants also serve as foliage and cover for animals. The many species which bear fruits that can persist over the winter are particularly of great value to different animal communities in the forest. The many varieties of the hawthorn are utilized in environmental plantings in many forestation projects. Hawthorn plants are very hardy and can tolerate conditions in many different sites with a variety of climatic and soil conditions, due to this, the plants have been planted for stabilizing river banks, and have also been used to shelter reverie belts, as well as being used for erosion control of the soil.
Most members of the hawthorn family of plants are characterized by the presence of thorny twigs and branches, while a few species bear no spines whatsoever. Hawthorn plants bear leaves singly on the branches; these are simple leaves that are borne in alternate rows along the axis of the plant – all of them in different degrees of lobing and varying shapes and serration. The hawthorn family is characterized by bearing very conspicuous flowers, these flowers have five creamy coloreds to pinkish blossoms. The hawthorn flowers are an important part of the history and lore of the United States – for example, the Pilgrims’ ship, the Mayflower, is named after hawthorn flower. The hawthorn flowers normally grow in fragrant clusters during the midsummer, thriving in flattish and terminal groups on the branches. Hawthorn also gives out fruit each season, these are small and resemble apples, and they are characteristically tipped with the remnants of the outermost floral leaves. The fruits are really pomes, which is a fleshy reproductive entity of the plant. Hawthorn pomes have five seeds enclosed in the capsules. These pomes also have a thick outer fleshy layer that is markedly different in taste from one shrub or tree to the other – particularly when the pomes are raw. The size of the each pomes or fruiting body is usually less than half an inch in diameter. The color being reddish, though sometimes yellow and rarely bluish, black or purplish. The hawthorn fruits have a high sugar and low protein, as well as low-fat content pulps.
Bulgarian medical doctors were reportedly treating patients with coronary heart problems using a fluid extract of the hawthorn according to British newspaper reports from 1969. These doctors treated patients over a period of six weeks, the dosage for each patient was fifteen drops of the extract dropped beneath the tongue two times every day, at least three-quarters of the group of sixty-two patients were said to fully recover from the treatment given to them. The use of the hawthorn berries in the treatment of problems such as heart palpitations, conditions like angina, as well as a problem like a stroke was also given in the report by the Sunday times. The presence of organic compounds such as bioflavonoids, like the compound rutin and hesperidin as well as vitamin C, is believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects.
There are two major ways in which the hawthorn acts on the human body. The dilation it induces in the blood vessels, particularly the coronary vessels, which leads to a reduction in the peripheral resistance and a consequent lowering of the blood pressure is the considered to be the primary action. This action of the hawthorn is believed to be responsible for beginning about a reduction in the tendency to experience sudden attacks of angina. The secondary action that the hawthorn induces is apparently a direct and favorable effect on the functioning of the heart; this action is very evident particularly in cases of heart damage sustained by a patient. The effect of the hawthorn extract is not immediate and the beneficial actions tend to develop very slowly over a period of time. The hawthorn is also known to be toxic only at abnormally high dosages and is safe in low doses as a heart tonic. Hawthorn can be considered as a relatively harmless heart tonic, which yields beneficial results in many cardiac conditions that can be treated with herbal remedies.
The beneficial effects of the hawthorn principally accrue from a mixture of plant organic pigments called flavonoids, these chemicals are present in high quantities in many different parts of the herb body. The greatest chemical and physiological actions seem to be displayed by the compounds known as oligomeric procyanidins – or the dihydro catechins. A strong sedative action is also displayed by these chemicals which suggest a beneficial action on the central nervous system in general. The various hawthorn’s based herbal preparations said to possess significant therapeutic value has been recently defined by the German commission E. In the year 1994, the German commission published a revised monograph that recognizes an herbal preparation containing fixed combinations of hawthorn flowers, leaves, and fruits, the monogram also recognized herbal preparations made from the leaves and flowers for use in various treatments. These two herbal extracts are both formed from water and alcohol mixtures with the herb to extract ratio at approximately 5-7:1 per volume. These two herbal hawthorn preparations have been calculated to deliver from 4 mg to 20 mg of flavonoids – that is based on the hyperoside content – and from 30 to 160 mg of the oligomeric procyanidins – based on the epicatechin content – in a single daily hawthorn extract dosage amount of 160 to 900 mg. The dosages are pre-determined by the physician after examination of the patient. A usual dosage period of these oral forms are extended for at least six weeks and can be longer on a case by case basis. Though unsupported by any major clinical study, the usage of other hawthorn preparations, including a well-known alcoholic extract made using only the leaves or the flowers may also prove effective and useful in many cases. As the effectiveness or safety of some preparations made from hawthorn leaf, berry, or flowers alone in the form of mono-preparations have not been documented – such therapeutic claims must be ignored till further study.
These findings may be defeated or substantiated by further scientific studies. As the hawthorn remedies are potentially very valuable in the treatment of many disorders and conditions in the body, the need for immediate scientific studies is apparent and urgently needed. All the side effects and potential dangers of using hawthorn medications must be considered by patients till additional research is carried out, this particularly concerns all prospective users of the hawthorn for serious heart and circulation conditions. Most people who self-prescribe their medications tend to do so following self-diagnosis of the symptoms. There is a great deal of danger involved with this practice particularly when the vital systems of the human body such as the heart and the blood vessels are concerned. Therefore, due to such reasons, the use of hawthorn remedies without the diagnosis of a professional clinician is not suggested – there may be a side effect and other dangers.
Plant Parts Used:
Flowering tops, berries.
Remedies made from the hawthorn plant were traditionally used for all sorts of kidney and bladder stones in Europe. The herbal hawthorn also saw use as a diuretic in the herbal medicine system of medieval Europe. The writings of herbalists such as Culpeper, Gerard, and K’Eogh have all listed the various uses of the herb in herbal literature spanning the 16th to 18th century. An Irish physician successfully used the hawthorn for treating his patients for all kinds of circulatory and cardiac problems near the end of the 19th century – this is the reason that the hawthorn is still used for these particular problems.
Problems such as angina and coronary artery diseases are still treated using the hawthorn remedies today. Hawthorn remedies are also useful for cases of mild congestive heart failure and problems of irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrhythmia. Results usually take some months to show themselves, though the medication is known to work well in a large number of cases. A lot of time is required for the beneficial results to show, similar to the action of many other therapeutic herbs, the hawthorn also works primarily through the body’s own’ physiological processes, changes thus take time and months may go by before results begin to show.
The ability of the hawthorn remedy to reduce high blood pressure is of great therapeutic value, the herbal remedy also raises low blood pressure at the same time. The ability of the hawthorn to restore blood pressure to normal ranges is also highly praised by many herbalists.
Hawthorn is also often used combined with the ginkgo to enhance memory and boost retentive power. The actions of the herb primarily lie in its ability to improve the circulation of blood inside the head, this results in an increase in the amount of oxygen flowing to the brain and this also results in improved memory.
Other medical uses
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Intermittent claudication
- Swollen Ankles
The Habitat of Hawthorn:
In the northern hemisphere, the temperate areas covering pastures and hedges form ideal habitats for hawthorn trees. Cultivation of the hawthorn trees is usually undertaken using cuttings, while the hawthorn seeds take upwards of eighteen months to germinate in plantations. In plantations, harvesting of the flowering tops is carried out during the late spring, while the hawthorn berries are usually gathered in the late summer to the early autumn each year.
There has been a fair amount of scientific research conducted on the hawthorn herb. The bioflavonoid content of the herb is considered to be the main source of the beneficial effects. Organic compounds like the flavonoids are responsible for bringing out the relaxation and dilation in the arteries – the coronary arteries in particular. The activity of these bioflavonoids is what increases the actual flow of blood to the muscles of the heart, leading to the reduction of the physical symptoms of angina in a person. A potent and efficient antioxidant action is also displayed by the bioflavonoids, the presence of these substances results in the prevention or reduction and the degeneration of the blood vessels in the body.
The effectiveness of hawthorn in the treatment of chronic heart failure has been confirmed in a number of clinical trials, the most notable one was a 1994 trail in Germany, where the ability of hawthorn to improve heartbeat rate and lower the blood pressure was clearly documented in patients.
Hawthorn contains flavonoid glycosides, procyanidins, saponins, tannins, minerals.
Most nutritionally oriented doctors prescribe the extracts of the leaves and flowers to their patients. The usual dose used is hawthorn extract that has been standardized to have total bioflavonoid content of about 2.2 % or with an oligomeric procyanidins content of about 18.75% per dose. The dosage used by the majority of patients is about 80 to 300 mg of the herbal hawthorn extract in the form of capsules or in tablet form, with dosage 2 – 3 times daily. The herbal extract in the tincture form at four to five ml doses is also taken three times a day by some patients. The suggested dosage for the traditional berry preparations is to take at least four to five grams daily during the treatment period. The results take some time to become manifest and the remedy could take one to two months to show maximum effect, and the herbal extracts are only meant for long-term treatment strategies.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions:
There is very littler danger from the long-term use of the hawthorn and it is considered to be extremely safe for patients using it in any long term treatments. Side effects from hawthorn use are also mostly absent and no negative interactions with any other prescription cardiac medications have been identified as yet – though the possibility always exists. Hawthorn herbal remedies are considered safe for use with pregnant women and in women who are lactating, as far as it is known the use of hawthorn by such patients has no known contraindications. The safety of hawthorn remedies is thus guaranteed till further studies are conducted.
How Hawthorn Works in the Body
The main action of the hawthorn is on the functioning of the cardiovascular system, the organic compounds in the herb affect the regulation of the heartbeat, they affect the relaxation of the arteries, and they also aid in bringing about normalization in the blood pressure – these compounds are capable of lowering and raising blood pressure in the body. The herbal hawthorn remedies can be used to correct the symptoms of angina and in cases of coronary artery disease; they can help boost the flow of blood to the muscles in the heart of the person. The beneficial and medicinal effects of the hawthorn remedies are believed to originate from the presence of a combination of amines and the flavonoids in the herb. At any rate, the beneficial effects of the hawthorn remedies do not occur suddenly but take place over a period of time, and when taken over a period of months, the remedy can reduce symptoms, while also acting as a tonic to the heart at the same time. In the Chinese system of medication, the herb is often suggested for the treatment of problems associated with the digestive system. It is believed to help ease digestion of meat and greasy foods, and the hawthorn is also given in cases of stomach pain, abdominal distension, and also in cases of diarrhea.
- Flowering tops:
- INFUSION – The hawthorn herb is often prepared into an herbal infusion, this is used to bring about an improvement in the poor or impaired circulation. It is also used as an herbal tonic for various problems of the heart. The herbal infusion made from the hawthorn can be used combined with other herbs such as the yarrow or the ju hua for the treatment of hypertension in different patients.
TINCTURE – The herbal tincture made from the hawthorn is often prescribed as a combination herbal remedy with other cardiac herbs and used in the treatment of problems such as angina, problems such as hypertension, and for all related circulatory disorders in the body.
- DECOCTION – The hawthorn is also prepared into an herbal decoction using 30 g of the berries to 0.5l water. This is decocted for fifteen minutes and used in various treatments. This decoction can be taken for the treatment of diarrhea, or when mixed with the ju hua and the gou qi zi for treating hypertension in patients.
JUICE – Hawthorn herbal juice is also used, this juice of the fresh berries is drunk as a cardiac tonic by many patients. The juice of the hawthorn berries is also used for treating diarrhea as well as poor digestion, and as a general digestive tonic by all patients.
- 1 cup (60 g) hawthorn flowers
- 2 cups (500 ml) gin, brandy or, ideally, kirsch
Crush the flowers in a mortar. Pour in the alcohol and macerate for 1 month away from light. Strain.
Take 1 tsp. (5 m) in a little water every morning and evening before meals for 20 consecutive days to treat arrhythmia, hypertension and palpitations. To maintain the blood vessels in general, follow this same treatment at the start of each season.