Hawthorn is the oldest European medicinal herb. Its flowers, leaves, and berries are highly valued, especially as heart disease remedies. This plant may offer added benefits to people with high cholesterol, diabetes, and anxiety. Read on to discover more about Hawthorn and how to safely use it.
What is Hawthorn?
Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are thorny trees or bushes with white flowers and red berries. Although the name “Hawthorn” originally referred to the common hawthorn (C. monogyna), it’s now used for the whole genus and even for its relatives (Rhaphiolepis) [1+].
Hawthorns are native to Europe, North America, and Asia. They belong to the same family as roses and many edible fruits such as apples, pears, plums, and cherries (Rosaceae) .
- Heart disease
- Digestive issues
- Anxiety and insomnia
Similarly, Chinese hawthorn (C. pinnatifida) is a traditional remedy for :
- Blood circulation disorders
- Digestive issues
- High blood fat
The German Commission E approved hawthorn use for mild heart failure in the 1980s. Hawthorn extracts are mainly obtained from the common and English (C. laevigata) Hawthorn, their hybrids, and other European species [3+].
Should You Use the Berries, Flowers, or Leaves?
The extracts used in Europe and America are obtained from the berries, leaves, and flowers. The berries must contain at least 1% procyanidins, while the leaves and flowers need a minimum flavonoid content of 1.5% [1+].
Two commercial extracts have been widely investigated in clinical trials [6+]:
- WS 1442: standardized to 18.75% oligomeric procyanidins
- LI 132: standardized to 2.2% flavonoids
In China, only the berries and leaves are used. There are no requirements for the berries, but leaves must contain at least 7% flavonoids and 0.05% hyperoside [1+].
The berries are also eaten fresh or used to make wine, jam, and candy in both China and Europe [1+].
- Flavonoids: such as hyperoside, vitexin, rutin, and quercetin
- Oligomeric proanthocyanidins: such as catechin, epicatechin, and procyanidin B2
- Phenolic acids: chlorogenic and caffeic acid
- Pentacyclic triterpenes: crataegolic, ursolic, and oleanolic acid
Health Benefits of Hawthorn
1) Protects the Heart
Improves Heart Failure
Although conventional therapies improve the symptoms and reduce death rates, people with heart failure often have a reduced quality of life. Hawthorn can be combined with drugs and implantable devices to improve heart failure .
Hawthorn extract (240-1,800 mg/day), both alone and as add-on therapy, improves mild heart failure according to two meta-analyses and 8 studies on over 4k people. It increased pumping force while reducing fatigue and shortness of breath [12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21].
However, the extract didn’t improve heart failure symptoms in 2 studies on almost 3k people also taking conventional medicines; it only reduced the risk of sudden death. The dose might have been insufficient, though, since the majority of people included had moderate to severe heart failure [22, 23].
Homeopathic hawthorn remedies are also used, although these might not contain active compounds. In one trial on over 200 people, homeopathic hawthorn (10-20 drops, 3x/day) was as effective as conventional drugs. However, the study suffered from multiple flaws (lack of randomization and blinding, evaluating subjective parameters, and short follow-up) [24+].
Lowers Blood Pressure
Orthostatic hypotension (literally, “upright-standing low pressure”) is a condition causing sudden blood pressure drops after standing up quickly.
In Germany, a combination of hawthorn berries and camphor is commonly used to raise blood pressure in people who frequently suffer from orthostatic hypotension. This remedy (5-80 drops/day) worked in 6 clinical trials on over 500 people, but its fast action suggests camphor is responsible for the effect [36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41].
Helps with Chest Pain (Angina)
Poor heart blood and oxygen supply can be caused by clogs in blood vessels that nourish the heart (coronary arteries). This ultimately causes chest pain or angina [42+].
Cholesterol buildup inside the arteries is the most common cause of chest pain. In a clinical trial on 80 people with chest pain, hawthorn extract (240 mg, 2x/day) combined with exercise prevented artery clogging .
Hawthorn tablets relieved chest pain in a Chinese clinical trial on 46 people. However, we couldn’t access the study specifics to analyze it [44+].
In animals and cells, hawthorn extract prevented high blood cholesterol, inflammation, LDL damage by free radicals, and artery wall thickening–all of which increase the risk of clogging [45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50].
Coronary arteries can also be clogged by blood clots. Although hawthorn extract prevented platelets from clumping together in animals and test tubes, a high dose (2,400 mg/day) was ineffective in a trial on 16 people [51, 52, 53, 54, 55+].
The surgery to unclog vessels may damage their inner walls, which triggers vessel narrowing. In rats, hawthorn extract prevented this unwanted effect .
Heart attacks occur when the blood flow to the heart is interrupted. The lack of oxygen increases the production of free radicals and triggers inflammation, damaging the heart muscle tissue [57+].
When blood flow is restored after a heart attack, the new blood entering the heart may damage the vulnerable tissue–this is called ischemia-reperfusion injury. Hawthorn extract reduced its severity in rats and dogs by lowering inflammation and oxidative damage [62, 63, 64, 65, 66].
Ischemia-reperfusion injury often disturbs the heart rate. Although hawthorn extract restored the heart rate in rats with heart damage, a 160-mg dose had no effect in 20 healthy people [67, 68, 69, 70].
Hawthorn is a time-tested natural remedy for mild heart issues, including heart failure and high blood pressure. It can be safely added to conventional drugs and interventions. However, it’s likely ineffective used short-term or as a stand-alone in people with more severe heart disease symptoms.
2) Lowers Cholesterol
In a trial on 49 people, hawthorn extract (400 mg, 3x/day) reduced blood cholesterol, both free and bound to LDL. Similarly, a complex with 129 mg hawthorn and other herbs (Asian water plantain, corn silk, Chinese knotweed, lingzhi mushroom, and mulberry) reduced LDL cholesterol in a trial on 42 people (4 capsules, 2x/day) [71, 72].
3) May Reduce Anxiety
In a clinical trial on over 250 people with anxiety disorders, a formulation with hawthorn, California poppy, and magnesium (2 tablets, 2x/day) reduced anxiety. Similarly, a formulation with hawthorn and other herbs (purple passionflower, valerian, black horehound, guarana, and kola nut) was effective in a trial on almost 200 people (2 tablets, 3x/day) [77, 78].
However, many of the natural compounds used in the formulations mentioned above have anti-anxiety properties. It’s hard to say if hawthorn contributed to the benefits.
4) May Protect the Brain
Hawthorn extract and camphor (25 drops/day), used to increase low blood pressure, improved logical thinking, visual-motor speed, and attention in almost 150 adults. It might work by increasing blood flow and energy use in the brain, which is especially important in the elderly [37, 39].
The same formulation had no effect in a trial on 200 teenagers. Possibly, the hawthorn-camphor combo offers benefits only to people with poor circulation .
5) May Reduce Menopausal Symptoms
A traditional Chinese medicine with hawthorn, goji berry, safflower, kombu, and mulberry extracts (Menoprogren, 4x/day) reduced menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, and mood changes in a trial on 83 women. It also improved low sex hormone levels (estradiol and progesterone) .
6) May Improve Skin Appearance
Interestingly, hawthorn extract also promoted hair growth in mice by reducing the death of hair follicle cells .
Hyperpigmentation is a harmless condition in which the skin pigment melanin builds up, causing dark skin spots or patches. Hawthorn may prevent this condition since it blocked melanin production in skin cells [107, 108].
On the downside, the cosmetic use of hawthorn may be limited by the low penetration of its active components into the skin .
7) Decreases Inflammation
Hawthorn reduced inflammation in rats and mice with conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and gum disease. In both animals and immune cells (macrophages), its components lowered the production and activation of pro-inflammatory:
- Cytokines: such as TNF-alpha, IL-1beta, and IL-6 [86, 110, 111]
- Messengers: prostaglandins, NO [112, 113, 114]
- Pathways: NF-kB, p38, ERK1/2, JNK [111, 113]
- Enzymes: phospholipase A2, COX-2, iNOX, MMP-9 [115, 112, 116]
- Cells: Th2, CD3+, CD8+ [86, 117, 118]
8) Delivers Potent Antioxidants
The main antioxidant compounds of hawthorn are its:
- Flavonoids [119+, 120+]
- Oligomeric proanthocyanidins [121, 122+]
- Phenolic acids [123, 119+]
- Lignans [124, 125]
In rats with liver damage, hawthorn preserved the levels of glutathione and several other antioxidant enzymes. In cells, it activated a detox pathway that produces an antioxidant enzyme (NQO1) [129, 130].
9) May Help You Lose Weight
In animals fed high-fat diets, different hawthorn extracts reduced body weight and fat buildup in the blood, liver, and fatty tissues. They also prevented fat cell development and fat buildup [131, 132, 133, 75, 134].
10) May Relieve Digestive Issues
11) May Protect the Kidneys and Liver
In diabetic rats, hawthorn extract reduced cell damage in the kidneys by lowering inflammation. Its antioxidant activity also prevented kidney damage caused by toxins and the lack of oxygen [142, 143, 144].
Diets high in unhealthy fats raise blood fat levels, eventually causing their buildup in the liver (fatty liver disease). In rats and mice fed high-fat diets, hawthorn prevented this condition and reduced liver damage [145, 146, 147, 148].
Hawthorn extracts also protected rats and mice from liver damage caused by:
- Drugs and toxins [129, 149]
- Alcohol 
- High-sugar diets 
- Heart attacks 
- Partial liver removal 
- Tissue scarring 
12) May Help with Diabetes
In animals with diabetes or in those fed high-sugar diets, hawthorn extracts lowered blood sugar, increased blood insulin, and reduced insulin resistance. Plus, they improved pancreatic function [155, 156, 157, 158, 159].
In test tubes, hawthorn extract blocked the enzymes that increase blood sugar levels (alpha-glucosidase) and insulin resistance (PTP1B), similar to how some anti-diabetes drugs work. It also lowered the byproducts of sugar breakdown linked with diabetic complications .
14) May Fight Infectious Diseases
In test tubes, hawthorn extract inhibited the viruses that cause AIDS, oral herpes, and infections in people with weak immune systems. However, a liquid Chinese formulation with ~4% hawthorn and other extracts (ginseng, magnolia berry, jujube, mungbean, soybean, and baker’s yeast) didn’t reduce HIV levels in a trial on 18 people [163, 164, 122, 165, 166].
Three hawthorn catechins enhanced the effects of antibiotics on a well-known hospital superbug (MRSA) in test tubes and infected mice .
Hawthorn extracts in test tubes blocked the bacteria causing:
- Food poisoning (E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella spp., Salmonella typhimurium) [168+, 169+, 170, 171+]
- Antibiotic-resistant infections (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, MRSA, Enterococcus faecalis) [172, 171+]
- Pneumonia (Klebsiella pneumoniae) 
15) May Help Fight Cancer
In mice with skin cancer, hawthorn flavonoids reduced tumor growth .
In cell-based studies, hawthorn extract reduced the formation, growth, and survival of the following cancer types:
- Liver [174, 175, 168, 176+]
- Blood (multiple myeloma and leukemia) [177, 114, 176+]
- Skin [178, 107, 176+]
- Breast [123, 179]
- Laryngeal [180, 181]
- Soft tissue and bones (sarcoma) [182, 176+]
- Ovarian 
- Cervical [176+]
- Colon 
- Stomach 
Chemo and radiotherapy can affect the bone marrow and block blood cell production, increasing the risk of infections. Hawthorn extract may reduce this side effect since it protected bone marrow cells from radiation and anticancer drugs [184, 185, 186].
Hawthorn Side Effects & Safety
- Dizziness and vertigo
- Nausea and digestive issues
- Fatigue and sleepiness
One woman developed an allergy to hawthorn fruits and leaves. She experienced eye-watering and eyelid swelling from working with the plant in her garden [189+].
A man who ate hawthorn branches and drank tea made from its leaves developed a hypersensitivity reaction with liver and kidney failure, increased heart rate, and blood anomalies [190+].
Hawthorn is mostly used for heart failure and high blood pressure. These are serious conditions that require medical supervision. Consult a doctor before self-medicating with hawthorn.
Theoretically, hawthorn may enhance the effects of drugs for heart failure, high blood pressure, and male sexual dysfunction, such as [4+]:
- ACE inhibitors
- Angiotensin receptor blockers
- Calcium channel blockers
- PDE5 inhibitors
This could cause irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, and more frequent adverse effects. However, hawthorn was used together with these drugs in many clinical trials without interactions [12+, 13+, 21+, 22+, 193].
Hawthorn flavonoids can activate the protein that removes digoxin from cells and may thus reduce its blood levels. Hawthorn extract restored normal heart rate in rats poisoned with digoxin but didn’t alter digoxin levels in a trial on 8 people (at 450 mg, 2x/day) [69, 194].
Although hawthorn seems safe, consult a doctor first to avoid any drug interactions. Then, start with a trial period of 4–8 weeks and monitor its benefits and adverse effects.
How to Use Hawthorn
Supplements & Tea
Hawthorn can be taken by mouth in different forms:
- Dried leaves and flowers (used to make tea)
- Fresh berries (also used to make tea)
- Powdered berries, leaves, or flowers
- Capsules or tablets
- Liquid extract
- Solid extract, syrup, and jelly
The doses recommended by the European Medicines Agency are :
- Tea: 1-3 cups/day
- Powder: 300-1,000 mg (berries) or 200-500 mg (leaves and flowers), 3x/day
- Tincture: 20-30 drops in a glass of water, 2x-3x/day
- Liquid extract: 0.5-1mL, 3x/day
- Dry extract: 240-1,000 mg/day
Aside from these, the syrup is usually taken as 1 teaspoon, 2x-3x/day.
How Long Does It Take for Hawthorn to Work?
Hawthorn Berry Recipes
- Tea: add 4-5 g dried berries or 1-2 g dried flowers or leaves to one cup of boiling water and steep for 20 minutes.
- Tincture: place 500 g of fresh berries and 1 L vodka in a jar and blend together. Cover and store in a cool, dark place for 6 weeks, shaking every 2-3 days.
Limitations and Caveats
The effects of hawthorn on chest pain, blood clots, high cholesterol, skin aging, and AIDS were tested in clinical trials with small populations (below 50 people). The research on most other conditions (except heart disease and blood pressure) is limited to animals and cells. High-quality, large-scale studies are needed to confirm the results.
Hawthorn was used in combination with other herbal extracts in many studies, making its contribution to the effects observed difficult to estimate.
Some studies investigating commercial formulations were funded or carried out by the companies selling them (Robugen Pharmaceuticals, Laboratoire Innotech, Laboratoires Soekami-Lefrancq) [37+, 38+, 39+, 40+, 41+, 77+, 78+].
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