Hawthorn Berries

Tonic for the Heart

Scientific Name: Crataegus oxycanthia.

Common Names: Mayblossom, Mayflower, Whitehorn, Hagthorn.

Description: Hawthorn grows as either a bushy, spiny shrub or as a tree which can reach heights of up to ten meters. In May the plant produces lovely white and sometimes pinkish blossoms—earning hawthorn the folk names “mayblossom” and “moonflower”—with clusters of small, red fruit appearing in the fall. Hawthorn is native to East Asia, Europe, and Eastern North America.

History: Hawthorn was well-known in ancient times. It symbolized hope and fertility to the Greeks, and Romans placed the leaves in babies’ cribs to ward of threatening spirits. The plant’s image was somewhat tarnished; however, by the Christian tradition that held that the crown of thorns worn by Christ was fashioned from hawthorn twigs and by beliefs that the herb was associated with the bubonic plague.

By the sixteenth century the plant had shed much of its unfortunate reputation and began to be recognized by herbalists for its effectiveness in treating weaknesses of the heart. In the late eighteenth century the herb began to be prescribed for a variety of heart and circulatory ailments such as high and low blood pressure, rapid pulse, arrhythmic heartbeat and as a temporary reliever of angina pain. Today Hawthorn is widely regarded as the world’s best cardiotonic.

Modern Uses: Hawthorn is a cardiotonic used to prevent the premature degradation of the cardiovascular system. Hawthorn may be preferred over its prescription drug counterpart as most digitalis derivatives are not only addictive, but may also cause some patients to experience symptoms of poisoning. In over a hundred years of clinical use, and even when tested at higher than recommended levels, there have been no reports of toxicity among hawthorn users.

Hawthorn lessens anginal attacks by improving coronary blood supply. Use of hawthorn also tends to normalize both low and high blood pressure. The plant has also been found to decrease free fatty acid and lactate buildup while increasing triglyceride concentrations which suggests an anabolic (or upbuilding) effect on metabolism. Hawthorn has been clinically shown to destroy experimentally-induced blockades of anaerobic glycolysis, a condition that typifies some forms of heart disease.

Recommendations: The healthful effects of hawthorn are gradual, and are best realized through extended, moderate use. Preparations generally combine the leaves and flowers. Capsules should be taken in the amount of two capsules, twice daily, with meals. Liquid extracts are generally taken twice daily in 1/2 tsp doses, with water. Since hawthorn is an active cardiotonic agent, users should consult a physician when combining this herb with other cardiac drugs.



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“Hawthorn” in HerbalGram (Spring, 1990).

Herbal Tonic Therapies by Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D. (New Canaan, Connecticut: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1993).

Herbs that Heal by Michael A. Weiner, Ph.D. and Janet Weiner (Mill Valley, California: Quantum Books, 1994).

Left For Dead by Dick Quinn (Minneapolis: R. F. Quinn publishing Co., 1992).

Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen (Warsaw, Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1994).

The Book of Herbs, by Dorothy Hall (London: Pan Books, 1972).

The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes (Boulder, Colorado: Artemis Press, 1989).

The Healing Herbs by Michael Castleman (Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1991).

The Wild Rose Scientific Herbal by Terry Willard, Ph. D. (Calgary, Alberta: Wild Rose College of Natural Healing, 1991).