Hawthorn Benefits, Uses & History

The hawthorn plant belongs to the Crataegus genus and is a thorny, flowering tree or shrub commonly found in Europe, Asia, and North America.

The leaves, berries and flowers of hawthorn can be used for a number of different purposes, most significantly in herbal medicine. 

Hawthorn Benefits, Uses & History

But, while a lot of people may be familiar with hawthorn and some of its key uses, there still remains a lot of information that is unknown about the plant.

Below we’ll take an in-depth look at hawthorn, exploring some of the benefits of the plant, as well as the ways in which it’s most commonly used.

We’ll also look at the history of hawthorn, finding out where it came from and just how it’s become such a popular herb in medicine. 

Origin and History 

It’s useful to start at the very beginning. Crataegus species are native to temperate regions of Europe and North America.

The majority of cultures that traditionally used hawthorn for medicinal purposes – including European, Native American and Chinese groups – employed it as a stimulant for the heart.

In fact, the use of hawthorn as a cardiac tonic dates as far back as first-century Rome. 

During the Middle Ages, hawthorn was utilized for the treatment of dropsy, a condition that’s now known as congestive heart failure.

The very first study on hawthorn in the late nineteenth-century reported on 43 patients suffering from different types of heart disease who were all treated using hawthorn with positive results. 

For a number of centuries hawthorn has also been used as a herbal remedy for digestive problems and high blood pressure. It’s role in traditional Chinese medicine has been essential. 

Hawthorn has a range of different colloquial names such as the May, Many thorn and thorn apple. These names are mainly due to the fact the plant typically produces its flowers around the 1st May. 

In terms of folklore, many believe that cutting down hawthorn branches can bring bad luck, especially if cut down inside. Conversely, leaving cut hawthorn branches laying outside the home was thought to deter witches from entering.

This belief however, was countered by another tale which stated that felled hawthorn branches were used by witches to create powerful wands and brooms. 

Another interesting piece of hawthorn history is that the Mayflower ship – the ship which transported English families from England to the New World in the early seventeenth-century – was said to be named after the hawthorn tree.

This was because of the feeling of hope that the blooming plant inspired in England. Hawthorn symbolized not just hope, but also love, intimacy, and marriage. 

Health Benefits and Uses  

Hawthorn is packed full of vitamin C and flavonoids, thus making it an extremely valuable antioxidant-rich herb for treating a variety of heart conditions, digestive issues, as well as other health problems. 

The leaves, flowers, and berries of hawthorn all contain an abundance of phytonutrients or antioxidants called oligomeric proanthocyanidins which are widely thought to be responsible for the herb’s pharmacological effect. 

We’ll now take a look at eight of the best potential health benefits of hawthorn. 

1). Treatment of Heart Failure 

Hawthorn berry is considered beneficial for people suffering from heart failure as it has shown to be effective in improving heart function and decreasing problematic symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath. 

A review of over 850 chronic heart failure patients found that hawthorn extra helped manage symptoms and improve heart function and exercise tolerance. 

Those suffering from heart failure are encouraged to take hawthorn berry in addition to their current medication. The antioxidant-rich supplement is considered safe with few side effects. 

2). Lowers Blood Pressure

Some evidence suggests that hawthorn berries can reduce blood pressure by helping to dilate blood vessels in the body.

Moreover, in traditional Chinese medicine, hawthorn berry is one of the most popular and commonly recommended foods to help treat high blood pressure. 

It’s important to note however, that not all studies agree hawthorn reduces blood pressure.

These conflicting results indicate that further research needs to be done on this particular health benefit before definitively using it for this purpose. 

3). Packed With Antioxidants 

As mentioned earlier, hawthorn is a rich source of powerful antioxidant compounds.

These help to stabilize some of the harmful molecules in the body that often derive from poor diet, or environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke and air pollution. 

Polyphenols, one of the antioxidant compounds found in hawthorn, are said to lower the risk of several health issues including heart problems, some cancers, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and premature skin aging.  

4). Anti-Inflammatory Properties 

Chronic inflammation linked to a number of diseases is said to be reduced by hawthorn which contains several anti-inflammatory properties. 

Test-tube and animal studies have revealed hawthorn berry extract to exhibit significant anti-inflammatory potential. Despite these results, it’s clear that more research in humans is needed. 

5). Assists Digestion 

One of the most popular reasons for using hawthorn is to assist digestion. Hawthorn berries and extract have been used for centuries to treat digestive problems, in particular indigestion. 

Hawthorn berries contain good levels of fibre which help to facilitate digestion, acting as a prebiotic.

Prebiotics induce the growth or activity of healthy bacteria in the gut and are vital to maintaining healthy digestion. 

6). Improves Blood Fat Levels

There is some evidence which indicates the effectiveness of hawthorn extract as an ingredient for improving blood fat levels. 

Cholesterol and triglycerides are two types of fat found in the blood, which at normal healthy levels, are essential for hormone production and nutrient transport throughout the body.

However, imbalanced blood fat levels can lead to serious health conditions and the potential of suffering a heart attack or stroke. 

In a study of mice, hawthorn extract led to decreased levels of both LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides.

It’s important to note however, that further research on humans is needed to fully assess the effect of the herb on blood fats. 

7). Reduces Anxiety

The mild sedative effect of hawthorn is believed to help limit some of the symptoms of anxiety. This is substantiated by a couple of studies which reveal a very slight trend towards reduced anxiety after consuming hawthorn extract. 

The herb has very few side effects compared to other more traditional anti-anxiety medications.

Therefore, research continues to be done to find whether it can be used as a potential treatment for disorders of the central nervous system. 

Again, like many of the other benefits highlighted above, more advanced research needs to be done before strong recommendations can be made.

So, if you want to try a hawthorn supplement to manage your anxiety, make sure you discuss it with a healthcare professional first. 

8). Simple Addition to Diet 

While the herb may not be the easiest thing to find at your local store, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find hawthorn in either health-specific food stores or online. 

It can be added to a diet in a number of simple ways. One of the most popular methods is consuming raw hawthorn berries. These provide a slightly tart, sweet taste and are ideal for a quick snack between meals. 

Premade hawthorn tea can also be consumed from the dried berries, leaves, and flowers of the plant which is nice and simple, while jams and dessert are similarly straightforward to incorporate into a diet.

If you prefer to take supplements instead, you’ll be able to find suitable hawthorn supplements in the form of powder, pill or liquid.

It’s worth keeping in mind that supplements aren’t regulated, so to ensure the effectiveness and safety of the product, always purchase them from reputable and trusted sources. 

Preparation and Dosage 

hawthorn flower

Fresh hawthorn is best prepared as a tincture, an infusion, or a concentrated liquid herbal extract.

The most effective method of preparing the herb as an infusion is to use two teaspoons of crushed leaves or fruit and add to a cup of boiling water, keeping the hawthorn steeped for around 20 minutes.

The recommended amount to drink is up to two cups a day. 

Recommended dosages of the herb range from 160 to 1,800 a day in two or three divided doses for over three to 24 weeks.

The most effective dosage hasn’t yet been scientifically proven, but the general thought is that higher dosages result in greater therapeutic effects. 

To provide some context, A minimum effective dose for adjunctive therapy in mild congestive heart failure is around 300 milligrams of standardized hawthorn extract daily. 

It’s worth noting that hawthorn is reasonably slow-acting, so it’s best to attempt a trial period of four to eight weeks in order to properly determine if you’ll benefit from its use. 

Side Effects and Precautions 

On the whole, hawthorn is generally considered to be safe with very few serious side effects when used at recommended doses over short-term.

The most common adverse effects to the herb are vertigo and dizziness. Less commonly, hawthorn can also trigger nausea and other intestinal symptoms, fatigue, headache, palpitations, sedation, sweating, and nosebleeds.

It’s worth noting however, that these symptoms are usually mild and short-term. 

Looking at some of the more serious precautions to take, hawthorn can interact and interfere with a number of medications due to its potent effect on the heart.

So, for people taking beta-blockers or other cardiac medication, it’s important to thoroughly follow all guidelines and consult an experienced healthcare professional before using hawthorn. 

Also keep in mind the safety of supplements for particular groups of people.

For example, pregnant women, children, and those with medical conditions are all at greater risk when taking supplements which have yet to be proven entirely safe.

In these situations, it’s even more important to discuss with a primary care provider about the use of hawthorn. 

Final Thoughts 

As this guide has hopefully explained, hawthorn is an antioxidant-rich herb that can provide a number of potential health benefits, especially for people suffering with heart problems. 

Studies indicate that hawthorn can improve blood pressure, help treat heart failure, and assist with digestion, amongst many other potential benefits. 

However, despite all the positivity surrounding the herb, further research needs to be carried out before it’s widely recommended for use. 

Therefore, if you want to try the herb, be sure to consult with your doctor or a healthcare professional before taking it. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does hawthorn make you sleepy? 

Hawthorn can act as a calmative, causing a sedative effect. This subsequently affects the nervous system and nerve function.

The effect is mild however, so it’s highly unlikely that hawthorn will induce sleep. Rather, it will just promote calm. 

Where’s best to plant hawthorn trees? 

The best time of year to plant hawthorn trees is during the milder months of either spring or fall. This helps to avoid heat or cold stress.

In terms of positioning, it’s recommended to plant hawthorn in a sunny site with well-draining soil. 

Once the trees have been planted, aim to thoroughly water them a couple of times a week throughout the first growing season until they’re firmly established.

To combat the wind, you can stake young trees to support them and ensure they continue to grow straight. 

Does hawthorn help to prevent hair loss? 

The herb is a common ingredient in many commercial hair growth products. It’s widely believed that the polyphenol content in hawthorn berry is responsible for promoting healthy hair growth.

Further research on the topic is needed to conclusively prove any type of beneficial effect.