Hawthorn is a plant in which the leaves, berries, and flowers are all used in naturopathic medicines. According to the Natural Medicines physicians reference, the name has a Greek derivation, Crategus, meaning “always been there”. It is suggested that in Christianity, the hawthorn thorns formed the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head.
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) is native to Britain and Europe but is naturalized in the United States and Canada. It can be found north and east of Tennessee, up the west coast from California to Alaska, as well as in Utah, Montana and Arkansas. Local and regionally known Hawthorns are C. aestivalis (commonly known as the May Haw).
There are no “poisonous” Hawthorns except for the seeds. Many Hawthorns, while not poisonous, are not palatable. Some improve with cooking. The genus has many medicinal uses and is known for its heart support and has actually been termed a beta blocker in the herbalist realm.
Hawthorn and the Heart
“Hawthorn has been shown to lower unhealthy cholesterol and high blood pressure. It apparently does this by improving the deposition of lipids in the walls of the capillaries and in the red blood cells that are squeezed through them. This cuts down on the irritability of the capillaries, so that the blood passes more quickly and efficiently, thus reducing congestion and heat. Hawthorn has a normalizing effect on the cholesterols. This causes more efficient patching on injured capillary surfaces.
“Hawthorn not only has an affinity for the capillaries and cholesterol, but an elective affinity for the coronary circulation. The coronary arteries are the site for the most deposition of LDLs because they are made up of triglycerides and it is believed the heart prefers this source over glucose for its sugar. Thus, the coronary arteries have a tendency to build up the so-called “bad cholesterols.” Hawthorn probably normalizes this deposition to the right value. Irritable capillaries, backup of red blood cells, and LDL cholesterol deposition all favor high blood pressure, and hypertrophy of the heart, as it overbuilds itself to pump the blood against these increased pressures.
“Rudolf Weiss describes Hawthorn as a cardiac tonic, reducing the likelihood of heart attack and relieving the subjective symptoms of discomfort in angina. It opens the coronary arteries and improves blood flow to the heart, strengthening the myocardium. It improves the nutrition, activity, energy reserves, and energy release of the heart muscle. Consequently, it has a beneficial effect in degenerative, age-related changes in structure. It is useful in cardiac arrhythmias. By opening the coronary circulation, it can antidote the effects of arteriosclerosis, lower high blood pressure, and increase the health of the heart muscle.
“By reducing heat Hawthorn lessens restlessness, irritability, anxiety, and nervousness that sometimes accompany cardiac conditions. It has been cited as a remedy for attention deficit.
“In recent years Hawthorn has been cited as a remedy for autoimmune disease. This goes hand in hand with its prominence as a remedy to fight heat and the excited tissue state, which is characterized by such overactivity. It reduces irritation of the skin, mucosa, and blood vessels.
“In traditional Chinese medicine Hawthorn is used for sluggish digestion, especially of meat. It probably acts on the cells of the gut, through which digested lipids have to pass, since the digestate goes through cells walls, not between the cells. If the cell walls of the gut are slightly dry and lacking in their full measure of fats, it stands to reason they will not assimilate lipids as well.
“Hawthorn contains flavonoids, procyanidins, and numerous acids. These constituents are cooling, or antioxidant. More specifically, the flavonoid rutin is believed to act on the capillaries, reducing wear and tear – thus increasing the passage of blood and removing congestion associated with heat.
Researched Health Benefits
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Cardiac Arrhythmia
Research To Explore
Bahorun T, Trotin F, Pommery J, et al. Antioxidant activities of Crataegus monogyna extracts. Planta Med 1994; 60:323-8.
Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 139-44.
Hanack T, Brückel M-H. The treatment of mild stable forms of angina pectoris using Crataegutt (R) Novo. Therapiewoche 1983;33:4331-3 [in German].
Leuchtgens H. Crataegus Special Extract WS 1442 in NYHA II heart failure. A placebo controlled randomized double-blind study. Fortschr Med 1993;111:352-4 [in German].
Loew D. Pharmacological and clinical results with Crataegus special extracts in cardiac insufficiency. ESCOP Phytotelegram 1994;6:20-6.
Schmidt U, Kuhn U, Ploch M, Hübner W-D. Efficacy of the hawthorn (Crataegus) preparation LI 132 in 78 patients with chronic congestive heart failure defined as NYHA functional class II. Phytomed1994;1(1):17-24.
Tauchert M, Ploch M, Hübner W-D. Effectiveness of hawthorn extract LI 132 compared with the ACE inhibitor Captopril: Multicenter double-blind study with 132 patients NYHA stage II. Münch Med Wochenschr 1994;132(suppl):S27-33.
Weihmayr T, Ernst E. Therapeutic effectiveness of Crataegus. Fortschr Med 1996;114:27-9 [in German].
Weikl A, Assmus KD, Neukum-Schmidt A, et al. Crataegus Special Extract WS 1442. Assessment of objective effectiveness in patients with heart failure. Fortschr Med 1996;114:291-6 [in German].
Weikl A, Noh HS. The influence of Crataegus on global cardiac insufficiency. Herz Gerfässe 1992; 11:516-24.