Hawthorn is much valued in herbalism as an herb of the heart. The berries are most frequently used, although the leaves and flowers possess beneficial qualities as well. Not just for your physical body, there are benefits of hawthorn berry for the emotional heart as well.
Many traditional medicinal practices have embraced hawthorn throughout the years. It's also been the subject of much more recent studies that confirm its heart-supportive properties.
Here's more about this bright herb and how to use it for greater wellness.
What Is Hawthorn Berry?
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) is a thorny shrub or tree that typically grows from 15-45 feet tall. There are nearly 300 different species of hawthorn that are native to regions in the UK, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
A few species of hawthorn, including C. monogyna, C. laevigata, C. pinnatifida, and C. oxyacantha, are used interchangeably in herbal medicine.
All hawthorn shrubs belong to the rose family (Rosaceae). They develop very hard wood, which has been frequently used to make tools and other products. The branches also develop thorns that get 1/2-1 inch long. Flowers appear anytime between April and June and are white or pink.
In the fall, berries appear and ripen to a deep red color. They are prized for medicinal uses along with the leaves and flowers.
Hawthorn has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine, European medicine, and Native American medicine. It was prescribed as a heart remedy as early as the first century by Dioscorides.
Besides medicinal uses, there is also much folklore surrounding the hawthorn tree. It was a sacred tree to the Druids and believed to be a home for fairies. Couples used to dance around it in Ireland for a marriage blessing, and the twigs were attached to cradles to ward off evil.
Top Benefits of Hawthorn Berry
Protects Heart Health
Hawthorn can be thought of as a toning and protective herb for your physical heart. It can help to reduce several risk factors for heart disease and keep your heart working like it's supposed to.
One of the benefits of hawthorn berry for heart health is that it may reduce blood pressure. A few studies so far have shown that it can reduce diastolic blood pressure and overall blood pressure. It can also relax blood vessels that are constricted, which in turn will lower blood pressure. (1)(2)(3)
Supportive for Heart Failure and Heart Disease
Besides protecting your heart from damage, hawthorn berry has also shown benefits for a struggling heart.
Several studies have shown that hawthorn extract can help symptoms of congestive heart failure. One German study even found that its effects were nearly equal to a prescription drug (captopril) for heart failure. Both were effective at improving cardiac function, but the hawthorn extract has fewer side effects. (6)
Another similar trial showed that hawthorn could have significant benefits for heart failure when used alongside a prescription medication. (7)
Hawthorn also has potential for avoiding or treating angina. It has the ability to dilate blood vessels (coronary and peripheral) and to improve blood flow to the heart. This not only may help to prevent angina, it's also beneficial for potentially treating heart disease. (8)
This is truly one heart-helping herb!
Soothing for Emotions and Nerves
Of course, the benefits of hawthorn berry aren't just for your physical heart. It has a long history of use for heartbreak, grief, and anxiety.
Although it's impossible to objectively measure the effects of hawthorn on the spiritual and emotional heart, there is indication of an anti-anxiety effect in studies. One of the studies on hawthorn and blood pressure also documented a reduction in anxiety. Others indicate it has a mild sedative-like effect. (2)(9)
But don't underestimate this herb if you need it for something un-diagnosable. Herbalists have long used it for a broken heart, support during grief, and wounded feelings.
Though much celebrated for its heart-helping benefits, hawthorn berry has most often been used for digestion in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
The berries were specifically used for indigestion related to food stagnation. They were thought to be especially helpful in cases of overeating greasy foods and meat. Energetically, they are considered a slightly warming herb with both sweet and sour tastes. TCM associates them with the stomach, spleen, and liver.
If you eat the whole berries in something like a berry powder or jam, you'll also get a good dose of fiber that can help with constipation and a healthy gut.
High in Antioxidants that Calm Inflammation
Many of the health benefits of hawthorn berry likely come in part from its high antioxidant content. The berries are especially full of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants
Antioxidants have many benefits like lowering your risk of cancer and protecting skin from premature aging, but one of their best effects is the ability to calm inflammation. This is important because chronic inflammation is linked to a higher risk for all kinds of diseases and generally poorer health.
A few studies have documented that hawthorn can specifically reduce inflammation related to the liver and asthma. But because of its rich antioxidant content, it can likely reduce inflammation in your entire body. (10)(11)
Ways to Use Hawthorn Berry
There are many ways to use hawthorn. You can make a tea out of the berries or the leaves and flowers. Steep your tea for an hour or longer to make a stronger and more medicinal infusion.
You can also use the fresh berries to make jam or pie and the fresh or dried berries to make a syrup. Grinding them into a powder will give you an easy addition to smoothies, oatmeal, etc. Or try a hawthorn extract for a more potent formula.
When used for emotional support, the leaves and flowers are sometimes made into a floral extract.
Try experimenting to find your favorite way of using hawthorn!
For the most part, hawthorn berries can be consumed in food-like amounts with no side effects. However, you'll want to get professional advice before using this herb if you are currently on any type of heart medication, including digitalis and beta blockers.
Large amounts of the leaves and flowers can cause digestive upset in some people. Rarely, fatigue and dizziness have been reported.
Hawthorn Berry for Heart and Health
Hawthorn is an herb that can bring a smile to your face as it strengthens your heart. It has a long history of use for all types of physical and emotional issues of the heart as well as for supporting digestion.
Very safe to use, this is a lovely herb to have on hand and tastes great as well!