HAWTHORN
Common Names

Hawthorn Berry , Mayblossom, Whitethorn, Red Haw, Mayflower
Botanical Name
Crataegus monogyna
Family
ROSACEAE ~ Rose Family

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What is it?

The flowers, leaves and berries of Hawthorn which are all highly regarded for their therapeutic benefits and are abundantly produced every year by strong, long-lived Hawthorn trees.


FLOWERS


BERRIES


DRIED

How has it been used?

Hawthorn has a marvellous folk-history as a heart remedy and restorative and modern studies fully bear out its traditional reputation. This is a fact, without increasing blood pressure or producing any other kind of strain, Hawthorn increases blood flow through the heart and strengthens the heart muscle.

Hawthorn can help:

  • Angina
  • Hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis)
  • Plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Enlarged heart from over-work
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Mild high blood pressure
  • Risk of heart attack
  • Intermittent claudication (painful legs from poor blood flow)

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Science on Hawthorn

Hawthorn has been the subject of a great deal of scientific research. The New York Heart Association (NYHA) classifies loss of cardiac function as stage 1; the patient is symptom free when at rest and taking treatment and at stage 2 when also on treatment but losing heart capacity with medium amounts of effort.

~ A meta-analysis involving 8 clinical trials using Hawthorn extracts showed consistently and significant positive effects for patients who were mostly NYHA stage 2 (Loew D. Der Kassenarzt, 1994; 15:43-52)

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hawthorn extract administered for 12 weeks increased exercise tolerance in patients with NYHA stage 2 congestive heart failure. The placebo group showed worsening results. No adverse reactions were reported in the Hawthorn group (Zapfe jun. G: Phytomed 8(4)252-266, 2001)

~ Significant benefit in cardia parameters was achieved in a multi-centre, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial using Hawthorn leaf and berry extract in 80 patients with mild congestive heart disease resulting from ischemia or hypertension. No adverse interactions with conventional medicines were observed (Iwamoto M, Ishizaki t, Sato T. Planta Med 1981; 42(1):1-16)

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Hawthorn extract significantly increased heart rate variability (HRV) in geriatric patients compared with placebo. Low HRV is a risk factor in coronary heart disease and a positive correlation exists between HRV and life expectancy (Rudoplh HT, Erben C, Buhring M. International Congress on Phytotherapy, Munich, September 10-13, 1992)

~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study, Hawthorn extract for three weeks was found to improve pathology in patients with angina pectoris (Hanack t, Bruckel MH, Therapiewoche 1983; 33:4331-4333)

~ In a surveillance study Hawthorn extract was shown to be well tolerated and improved the symptom score on average by 66.6% in patients with heart disease (NYHA stage 1 & 2). Clinicians rated overall efficacy as better than 90%. Patients with borderline hypertension, tachycardia and cardiac arrhythmias exhibited excellent results, with blood pressure, heart rate and incidence of arrhythmias being reduced (Schmidt U, Albrecht M, Podzuweit H et al. Z Phytother 1998; 19:22-30)

Safety of Hawthorn

Hawthorn is an extremely safe herb. As copious experience through the past and many modern clinicall studies have also shown it may be taken without fear by the young or old and may be used at the same time as any pharmaceutical medications with no concern as to adverse reactions or cross-overs.


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Personal experiences

I encourage anyone with any kind of heart problem or even those who just know they have a weakening heart from doing nothing other than simply growing older to find out what an extraordinary ally Nature has given us with this great healing herb.

I think that all herbalists who regularly use Hawthorn grow to love this plant for how reliably and well it helps our patients. Hawthorn is one of the herbs that I personally use the most in my work and I know for a fact that I have many patients who are alive and well today because of it.

I record the heart beats of nearly all my patients when I first meet them and any of those patients with any kind of heart weakness or audible issue get repeat recordings to compare against the first one. Hawthorn continually and reliably makes the heart sound stronger; it's really quite marvellous to hear what it does. If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or if you have your own personal reasons to need to know this great plant ally more closely then I warmly recommend you take a small dose of Hawthorn (leaf, berry or both) in a tea or tincture and then listen closely to what your body has to tell you. For many people, especially when they are ready for a heart tonic, these is a noticeable, palpable warmth and well-being that suffuses through the system after just a few moments. Try for yourself and see!

Dosage is always a critically important part of herbal medicine and getting the right dose is frequently what makes or breaks a successful treatment. I don't think there is one exact right level to use Hawthorn for everyone but this is a herb that should be in reasonable physical quantities to be sure of its benefits and I am often looking for as much as 3 or 4 mls in a day of a combination of the extracts of both the leaves and the berries.

Hawthorn combines beautifully with Motherwort for irregular heart-beats, with Valerian for any kind of cardiac stress or blood pressure type problems and with Panax Ginseng and Withania for a tired or weakened heart.

We have a large and flourishing Hawthorn tree right at the corner of our clinic entrance. It's kind of the first thing you see all year round and then it fills with beautiful pink blossoms every spring followed by equally abundant berries in the summer. I have more personal thoughts about Hawthorn that you are welcome to read by clicking this link here - it's is an article I wrote called Hawthorn Thoughts that was originally published in the herbalist's magazine Avena.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Hawthorn is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Hawthorn can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Research highlights on Hawthorn

A four year study commissioned by the German Ministry of Health, found that it improves contractions in the veins and heart while dilating the heart. (Hoffmann 1995).

In a clinical trial with 78 patients with congestive heart failure, hawthorn increased heart working capacity, lowered blood pressure and improved fatigue and endurance while relieving difficult breathing (Schmidt, et. al. 1994)

A clinical trial with 46 patients decreased the number of angina attacks by 85% (Chang 1986).

A clinical trial with 18 healthy patients found that hawthorn lowered heart rate and blood pressure during exercise and maintained resting heart rate (Hellenbrecht 1990).

Laboratory and clinical trials have reported that hawthorn lowers cholesterol and triglycerides by improving excretion

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd