Hawthorn Crataegus spp.

I’ll readily admit to having a great fondness for hawthorn trees. I find them to be particularly graceful and exceedingly magical, I love their compact growing habit, the unmistakable shape they form and all the legends and lore that surrounds them.   And I love their astounding generosity!  Hawthorn trees offer two harvests a season; leaves and flowers in the spring-time, berries in the fall.  This time of year they really call to me.

A wild hawthorn tree has a very sturdy yet enchanting presence and exudes a mighty strength for such a relatively small tree.  I like to say they have charisma.  I often enjoy just basking in their presence, just being with the wild trees we have growing here on the farm through the seasons, admiring their beauty, absorbing their medicine and magic.

Botanists describe hawthorn as a spiny tree or shrub and we’re told that it’s indigenous to northern temperate zones of Europe, Asia and North America.  I can tell you without reserve that its flowers, leaves and berries all make a superlative medicine.  Hawthorn has been a daily ally of mine for years now, but I’m far from the only one who appreciates its unique gifts. Anti-spasmodic, hypotensive, cardiotonic, diuretic and nervine-sedative, the hawthorn tree has quite an impressive history of use throughout millennia.

Hawthorn includes the species C. douglas C. colombia, C. cuneata, C.laevigata, C. pinnatifida, C. monogyna and C. pentagyna.  All are used interchangeably with C. oxyacantha which gets its name from the Greek words Oxus, which means sharp, and Akantha, meaning a thorn, and which is the best studied species of the Crataegus genus..

As a member of the Rosaceae family, hawthorn is incredibly nourishing and like many other members of this plant family, offers exceptional benefits for the heart.

The fruit trees in the Rosaceae family are ancient cultivars that have evolved down through the millennia by natural cross breeding as well as by intentional refinement. Their fruits are the very essences of common, abundant, nourishing and delicious!  They present us with a wide range of nutrients vital for health and well being.  Fruits provide us with an excellent foundation for sound and vigorous health; people who eat an assortment of fruits have a greatly reduced risk of many chronic diseases.

Regular consumption of fresh, cooked and juiced fruits of the Rosaceae family has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and to protect against certain cancers, such as mouth and stomach, colon and rectum. In addition, the risks of both bone loss and developing kidney stones are decreased with frequent consumption of Rosaceae family fruits. such as apples, pears, cherries, plums, blackberries, strawberries and hawthorn berries.

Hawthorn is a trophorestorative for the heart and circulatory system.  Its fruits, or berries, as well as its leaves and flowers, present a remarkably safe and effective long-term heart tonic for maintaining overall cardio-vascular health.

The ancient Italic tribes, Greeks, northern Europeans and Native Americans all made use of the hawthorn tree for its heart nourishing properties. Today, it is one of the most commonly used herbs throughout Europe. In fact, when it comes to the heart and circulatory system, hawthorn is a super star.

In European countries hawthorn berry extract is considered an effective therapy for mild to moderate congestive heart failure.  Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are used by herbal practitioners in the UK to treat hypertension in conjunction with prescribed drugs.

 Regular consumption of hawthorn berries will keep your heart functioning optimally into old age and will especially benefit those with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, angina and heart arrhythmia.  In fact, Hawthorn has the unique ability to help regulate both low and high blood pressure.

European physicians began experimenting with hawthorn for heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders in the early 19th century, and since then its reputation as an effective heart tonic has steadily increased.

Today numerous laboratory tests and clinical trials support this use by demonstrating that hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries contain chemical compounds that increase blood flow to the heart muscle, as well as positively affect other aspects of cardiovascular health.

Hawthorn berry, leaves and flowers improve oxygenation of the blood and brain, which has an immediate beneficial impact on energy levels.  Hawthorn’s reputation extends to improving blood flow through the heart arteries, increasing the strength of heart contractions and preventing plaque buildup in the arteries.

In addition hawthorn has been found to relax blood vessels so that blood flows more efficiently, to prevent high blood pressure and to stabilize collagen. Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the arteries as well as the ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Hawthorn cross links collagen fibers to reinforce the collagen matrix of the connective tissues.  If you are healing from any injury or need to improve the integrity of these structural areas of the body for whatever reason, hawthorn will be your trusty ally.

Hawthorn also exhibits anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties; it prevents the synthesis and release of inflammatory promoters such as histamines, serine proteases and prostaglandins.  Hawthorn may be useful as part of a protocol dealing with hyperactive immunity, or allergic responses of any kind, including asthmatic response, allergies to natural substances such as pollen, itchy, inflamed or irritated skin conditions, and for the relief of inflamed joints.  Its anti-oxidant properties help forestall the deterioration of the body associated with aging.

Hawthorn is an excellent nervine; it is calming and relaxing without being overly sedative. It has traditionally been used to ease anxiety and irritability, prevent bad dreams and eliminate insomnia due to stress.  It is also highly regarded as an herbal treatment for those who are hyperactive, have a hard time concentrating, are considered disruptive and cannot sit still.  To enhance the nervine properties of hawthorn combine it with herbs such as rose petals and hips, milky oats, lemon balm and passionflower.

While there are no acknowledged side effects of hawthorn, it is known to enhance the effects of digitalis, making it more potent.  European doctors often prescribe hawthorn to support digitalis and sometimes recommend it as a substitute when digitalis cannot be tolerated or when they want to avoid its side effects.

Hawthorn may also increase the effectiveness of beta blocker drugs.  If you are being treated for a heart-related condition, be sure to let your physician know if you are considering taking hawthorn, as some of your medications may need to be adjusted.

Hawthorn may best be seen as a heart nourishing herb with preventive properties that can be relied upon to slow down the beginning of cardiovascular damage.  It is entirely safe for long-term use and needs to be taken over a period of several months to achieve results. The usual dose is 30-40 drops of tincture three times daily to begin, and then it drops down to twice daily as a maintenance dose after about one month.

The most recent research tells us that our heart is an acutely sensitive organ of perception. Scientists tell us that our heart more closely resembles the brain than a muscle, that it contains millions of neurons, and is in constant communication with the thinking brain. Our heart and brain appear to act in concert, with the heart functioning as the feeling part of our brain.

Learning to open our wild hearts, to connect with the physical earth, cultivating love and compassion for nature, people, plants and animals, touching and being touched, expressing joy and acceptance, all help keep our hearts well toned and functioning optimally.

Heart-healthy foods include fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as sardines, salmon and herring, and flax seed and hemp seed oils.  Other foods and beverages that bring a host of benefits to the heart include herbal meads and fermented beverages in moderation; green tea; nuts and seeds rich in essential fatty acids; oatmeal; seaweeds; antioxidant-rich blueberries and other anthocyanidin-rich fruits, such as blackberries, elderberries and grapes; foods rich in carotenes, such as carrots and sweet potatoes; and potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, apples and potatoes.

Some of my favorite herbs for nourishing and toning the heart include motherwort, dandelion, oatstraw, ginkgo, rosemary, angelica, ginseng, ginger, nettles, hawthorn, elderberry, garlic, lemon balm, red clover, willow and rose.

A poultice of crushed hawthorn leaves or fruit has strong draining powers and has been used for centuries for the treatment of embedded thorns and splinters.

Hawthorn has long been considered a sacred tree and there are many ancient legends linking it to our origins.  Welsh legends tell of the Goddess Olwen, the White Goddess of the Hawthorn, who once walked the empty universe.  It was the white track of Hawthorn petals she left behind her that became the Milky Way.

Old European grandmothers say that where oak and ash and hawthorn grow there lives one wise in the ways of plant medicines.

In Christian times hawthorn became associated with the crown of thorns and also became the flower used in May processions to crown the Virgin Mary.  Long before that it was the maypole and the flowers were  used  to crown Our Lady of Spring, called Flora in Italy, but known by many other names throughout all of Europe.

The hawthorn is a long lived tree, often surviving to 100 years or more.  I think that a strong, wild heart and enduring spirit are just two of the many gifts of hawthorn.  Fertility, good fortune and peace are said to be others.  Hawthorn berry syrup is one of the tastiest gifts, of that I am sure!

Here’s a recipe for hawthorn berry syrup:  pick your berries right off the tree, place in a pot and cover with water by an inch or two over the top.  Very slowly, on low heat, with the pot covered, bring to a low simmer.  Simmer for ten minutes, turn off the heat and let sit for a couple of hours.  Strain.  Pour the infusion back into the pot, again on very low heat, and sit right there until you see steam escaping from the pot.  As soon as this happens you’ve reached the evaporation point…turn down the heat as low as it will go and let the infusion evaporate by half its original volume.  This can take half an hour or all day depending on how much liquid you start with.  When you’ve evaporated your liquid by half, take it off the heat and add one half of what you’ve got left in honey.  If you have 1 quart of liquid you add 1 pint of honey.  Mix well, bottle and refrigerate.  A teaspoon or two daily is a typical dose.  Note: If you use dried berries, ratio to begin with is 1 ounce of berries to one quart of water.

Dosage: Infusions of leaves and flowers and/or berries – typical dose is 2 cups daily.

Tincture is approximately 30 drops up to three times daily for the first month, then once or twice daily afterwards as a maintenance dose.

I usually throw a small handful of hawthorn berries into the teas and infusions I make.  I take the tincture once a day as well and use the syrup when I have it on hand.

Chemistry: Chemical constituents of hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries: include Vitamin C, Flavonoids : Quercetin,  Hyperoside, Rutin, Flavonoglycosyls,Vitexin-4′-rhamnoside, Glycosides, Oligomeric procyanidins (OPC) – epicatechol, Anthocyanidins and Proanthocyanidins, Saponins and Tannins, Cratetegin.  Also, Cardiotonicamines: Phenylethylamine, Tyramine, Isobutylamine, Omethoxy phenylethylamine;  Choline  and acetylcholine; Purine derivatives: Adenosine, Adenine, Guanine, Caffeic acid; Amygdalin; Pectins;  Triterpene acid.

You’ll find certified organic hawthorn tincture at Blessed Maine Herb Farm http:www.blessedmaineherbs.com/tinctures1.html

About gailfaithedwards

Gail Faith Edwards is an internationally recognized Community Herbalist with over thirty years experience. She is the author of a number of books about herbs and has taught in India, Italy, Poland and Russia, at the Yale School of Nursing, the University of Maine and the College of the Atlantic, among others. She is the founder of Blessed Maine Herb Farm and Director of the Blessed Maine Herb Farm School of Herbal Medicine. She is the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of four grandsons. Gail leads sacred journeys and ancestral pilgrimages to Southern Italia twice a year.
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7 Responses to Hawthorn Crataegus spp.

  1. Ann says:

    Thanks for this very comprehensive review of Hawthorne!

  2. Dia says:

    Lovely article! Thanks for posting it on Herbal Healing / FB!!
    I have a sweet Rowan /Hawthorne cross from One Green World – ‘Ivan’s Belle’ which had the ‘sweet tart’ berries last fall! Yummy just to eat! & ‘of course’ wild hawthorn abounds in W Oregon! There are also trees with large shiny red haws by our community center, but mostly too high to pick (they are also delicious out of hand!)

  3. Pingback: A Native Hawthorn Hedge | Chiot's Run

  4. Barbara Kocen says:

    I just harvested some wild hawthorn yesterday! Thanks for the syrup recipe…..going into the kitchen to brew some up right now!

  5. comfreycottages says:

    Lovely monograph, Gail xx Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for addressing the area as hawthorn to support healing from an injury and its drawing properties also. This is new information for me, and an area of concern I was groping for new ideas in also! Enchanted by the Welsh legend!

  6. Chiot's Run says:

    Great article, thanks for so much great info. I just planted 300 (yep not a typo) around the side yard which I will be pruning into a hedge. I’m really looking forward to blooms and berries. The birds should be very happy with this planting. Not to mention I’ll be able to use it as well!

  7. wonderful, informative, and useful tribute to one of my favorite, magical medicine trees!

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