Common Names

Hawthorn Berry , Mayblossom, Whitethorn, Red Haw, Mayflower
Botanical Name
Crataegus monogyna
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.




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)


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)

~ 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

~ There are over 120 published studies and articles on Hawthorn, a PDF showing their titles, authors and when and where they were published can be found here

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.

General safety note on herbs

Therapeutic substances, and this certainly all includes all medicinal herbs, can do good and, therefore, also have the potential to do harm. The maxim that 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us and the ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. So, not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs but, equally, we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this old, proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities and medical publications that no so long ago decried herbal medicines as ineffectual have now taken up a different kind of adversarial position. That they are dangerous substances that should not be taken for a long list of reasons and really should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. It is absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver, and fear has also been long proven to be effective when used to manipulate and control others.

I realise that the reader who comes to a page like this is unlikely to be swayed by such misinformation, but I nevertheless want to remind you that the reason that herbs cannot be patented or owned by any individual or corporation is that they are the people's medicine. They belong to us all and it is my great hope that you will learn how to use them safely and wisely for yourself and the people you care for. Be safe but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

I warmly encourage anyone with any kind of heart problem, and those who know they have a weakening heart from simply growing older, to find out what an extraordinary ally Nature has given us with this great healing herb.

I am sure that all herbalists who regularly use Hawthorn grow to love this plant for how reliably and well it helps. Hawthorn is one of the herbs that I personally use the most in my work and I am certain 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 with a special electronic stethoscope. This is especially helpful for anyone who has any kind of heart weakness or irregularity because then you can accurately compare a later reading with an earlier one.

It has been quite marvellous, over the years, to hear exactly what Hawthorn does when you give it to a person with a weakened or troubled heart. In nearly every case, it makes the heart sound significantly better and stronger and better.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine, or have your own personal reasons to need to know this great plant ally more closely, then I 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!

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

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 in an article I wrote for the herbalist's magazine Avena, you are welcome to read it here


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?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Hawthorn can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd