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Herbal A-Z: Hawthorn
By Meagan - February 02, 2016

Herbal A-Z: Hawthorn

Hawthorn. Crataegus species... from the plant family Rosaceae. Also known as thorn blossom, may bush, may tree, may apple, and Tree of Chastity among others. There are over 200 different species of hawthorn spread throughout Europe and northeastern North America. [2]


Before this post, if you had asked me about the history of hawthorn the only thing I would have been able to tell you was that although this tree contains many beneficial phytochemicals, in the past, it was believed to bring death to a home when the branches were brought indoors. But, as far as its history goes, there's much more to this tree than the above superstition. To the Greeks, it symbolized hope and was often used at weddings. To the English, it was the inspiration behind the naming of the Mayflower ship that transported the pilgrims across the Atlantic Ocean to their new home in America. Its name has significant meaning too. "Haw" is Old English for "hedge" or "thorny hedge," and "Crataegus" is Latin for "hardness." It's even speculated that Jesus's crown of thorns was made from hawthorn branches. Hawthorn leaves were also used during World War 1 as a substitute for tea and tobacco, and the seeds were ground and substituted for coffee. [7]

Plant Description

Hawthorn grows as a small shrub that can end up reaching 25 feet in height. It's leaves vary in shape depending upon the species of hawthorn. They are often 2 inches in length, flat, small, and lobed like the leaves of a maple tree. Flowers bloom in clusters of 5-12 during spring. They are small, white, and have 5 rose-like petals. Its leaves vary in shape depending upon the species of hawthorn. They are often 2 inches in length, flat, small, and lobed like the leaves of a maple tree. Flowers bloom in clusters of 5-12 during spring. They are small, white, and have 5 rose-like petals. Flowers bloom in clusters of 5-12 during spring. They are small, white, and have 5 rose-like petals. Flowers turn into bright red berries around 1/3 of an inch in diameter with one large seed in the center of each berry. [7]

Growing Your Own Hawthorn

Hawthorn is a perennial to zone 4 and seems to be a labor of love to start this plant from seed. Germination can take anywhere from 2-3 years and often requires scarification with acid. Stratify for 90 days. Hawthorn does okay in most soil conditions but is said to prefer alkaline soils. It can be planted in shaded forest environments, but if it gets too much shade it won't flower or produce as many berries as it will when planted in full sun or partial shade. Seedlings can be transplanted, although the long taproot can make this tricky. Be sure to dig deep, well-tilled holes and pack dirt tightly when transplanting is complete. [7] Harvesting Hawthorn Harvest young leaves in spring. Lay flat to dry in a hot area for three days until fully dry and crunchy. Berries will ripen in early autumn and remain on the tree until winter. Gather berries during the fall. Berries are best dried using low heat in a dehydrator or oven. [7]

Nutritional Benefits

Amino acids, calcium, choline, chromium, essential fatty acids, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, silicon, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3, and C. [1]

Plant Constituents

Flavonoids: vitexin, quercetin, hyperoside, rutin; oligomeric procyanidines; triterpene acids; ursolic, oleanolic, crataegolic acids; phenolic acids. [5]


Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Cardiotonic, Hypolipidemic, Hypotensive, Cardiac trophorestorative, Nervine, Vasodilator, Astringent. [4]


  • Taste: sweet and sour
  • Energetics: cooling (TCM), warming (Ayruveda) [4]

Medicinal Uses

Anxiety/Nerves Hawthorn flowers have been used like rose to calm the nerves and bring emotional healing to the heart. Many well-known herbalists, including Rosemary Gladstar and David Winston, use hawthorn in formulas for grief, sadness, and loneliness. [3] [8] Diuretic Hawthorn flower tea has been used in the past as a diuretic and astringent for those who suffer from kidney stones. Astringent A decoction made from hawthorn berries has been used to aid in cases of diarrhea, sore throats, and skin eruptions. Cardiovascular Tonic *If you have heart disease or are on any kind of cardio medications, it's advised to not use hawthorn unless under the direct supervision of an herbalist and medical doctor. See "Precautions" for more details. Hawthorn is, by far, most known and used as a cardiovascular supporting herb. Overall, it acts as a broad cardiovascular tonic by strengthening all areas of cardiovascular function and minimizing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It is especially beneficial for the aging heart. It causes no toxicity, accumulation, or habituation, and it's safe for long-term use. Specific actions include improving coronary circulation by dilating the coronary arteries so more blood can reach the heart as well as strengthening the contractions of the heart. [5] It's also believed that regular use can lead to a more stable rhythmic heart rhythm. [2] Hawthorn has long been used to relieve mild angina and to help decrease blood pressure. This is partly due to the dilating effects on the coronary arteries, but also because it deters the release of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) which has been an identified cause of high blood pressure. [2] In 2008, the Chochrane Review examined 14 qualifying clinical trials of hawthorn used by chronic heart failure patients as an adjuvant therapy. The results indicated the following:
  • Hawthorn extracts were more beneficial than placebos in the physiologic outcome of the heart's maximal workload.
  • Patients taking hawthorn extract resulted in significantly increased exercise tolerance.
  • There was a decrease in the pressure-heart rate product, an index of cardiac oxygen consumption, in patients taking hawthorn.
  • Patients taking hawthorn extract had a significant improvement in symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue.
  • Mild and infrequent adverse events, which included nausea, dizziness, cardiac, and gastrointestinal complaints, were experienced by those taking hawthorn extract. [4] [6]


Can be prepared as a food, powder, tea, decoction, tincture, or syrup.
  • Infusion: infuse 2 tsp. of dried herb in 1 cup of boiled water. Drink 3 times a day.
  • Tincture: 1.5 ml tincture (1:5 in 40% alcohol), 3 times per day, then 2.5 ml morning and evening as maintenance dose.
  • Acute/severe conditions: 5 ml tincture 3 times per day. [5]


Hawthorn enhances the activity of cardioactive drugs. There is some disagreement between herbalists as to whether it can be safely combined with cardiovascular medications. It's best to be under the supervision of an herbalist and medical doctor. [3] [5] High doses may lower blood pressure or act as a sedative. It's not advised to eat raw hawthorn berries. [2] REFERENCES:
  1. Balch, Phylis. (2006). Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York, NY: The Penguin Group.
  2. Duke, J. (2000) The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press.
  3. Gladstar, R. (2008). Herbal recipes for vibrant health. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  4. Herbarium at HANE (2014). Hawthorn Monograph. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  5. Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
  6. Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. (2008). Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD005312.
  7. Rogers, M. (2006). Herbalpedia. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  8. Winston, David. (2012). Traditional Research: Grief Relief. David Winston’s Resources. Retrieved January 2016 from http://www.davidwinston.org/formulas/griefrelief_trad.html
Stay tuned for more posts this month that feature hawthorn, including a recipe for a delicious cardiovascular tonic to support healthy heart function.
Share with us in the comment section below. How do you most often use hawthorn?