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Hawthorn as an Herb

Hawthorn as an herb

Crataegus spp.

Other Names: Haw, May, Whitethorn, Hawthorne

The Hawthorn tree was formerly regarded as sacred from a tradition that it was said to have been used for Christ's crown of thorns. In Normandy, it was believed that lightning (which was the work of the devil) could not strike the plant that touched Christ's brow, so people used it to protect their homes.

Hawthorn (often called thorn) was sometimes employed in house construction specifically as a lightning protector.

Hawthorn is the fruit, or the flowers and leaves combined, of several of the more than 100 species of Crataegus, a genus of the rose family found in North America, Europe, and east Asia.

Hawthorn as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

Hawthorn berries on the vine

The medicinal parts are generally white thorn flowers, leaves, fruit, and various mixtures of different plant parts. The flowers have an unpleasant smell and a slightly bitter taste; the fruit has a sour taste.

Hawthorn has mainly been used as a cardiac tonic in organic and functional heart troubles. Both flowers and hawthorn berries are astringent and useful in decoction to cure sore throats. Also a useful diuretic in dropsy and kidney troubles.

In folk medicine, Hawthorn is also used as a cardiotonic, for hypertension, ischemia of the heart, arrhythmia and as a sedative. Hawthorn has a high flavonoid content and is used to prevent collagen destruction in joints and decrease inflammation and decrease the fragility of capillaries. Hawthorn has shown some effectiveness in lowering cholesterol levels in at least one study. Several extracts from different componants of the plant have demonstrated antioxidant effects.

Chinese Medicine: In China, Hawthorn is used to reduce food stagnancy and blood stasis (Chen, 1995).

In traditional Asian medicine as well as European herbal traditions, hawthorn has been widely used in long term prescriptions for hypertension related to cardiac weakness, arteriosclerosis, and angina pectoris.

Homeopathic Uses: Therapeutic dilutions are used for cardiac insufficiency, senile cardiac insufficiency, dysrhythmia, and angina pectoris.

Hawthorn is notably absent from medical works and herbals of early 19th century America and Europe. It came to the attention of the medical profession in the 1890s by means of a single reference in a medical journal. By the early 20th century, it was a mainstay of heart disease treatment. Still widely used in Europe and Asia, it is less frequently recommended in America.

Numerous pharmacological and clinical studies have shown that hawthorn fruit or berry extract improves blood flow to and from the heart. It strengthens contractions. Hawthorn flower and leaf extracts improve circulation to the extremities by reducing resistance in the arteries.

Experiments in China have shown that preparations of hawthorn fruit lower blood pressure and serum cholesterol levels. This makes it useful in the prevention and treatment of arteriosclerosis.

Culinary Uses of Hawthorn

Not applicable.


Hawthorn bouquets are used at weddings to ensure health, happiness, and fertility. It is the "Thorn" referred to in "Oak, Ash, and Thorn," the combination of trees where you might find faeries. Hawthorn protects against lightening and damage from storms.


No side effects or contraindications are known from hawthorn. Any heart condition, however, is serious and should receive the attention of qualified medical practitioners. It is recommended that Hawthorn supplements be prescribed and monitored by a physician. During treatment with Hawthorn, the clinician should monitor heart rate and blood pressure on a regular basis.

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