Materia Medica - Hawthorn


Hawthorn berries.jpg

This herb helps maintain healthy arteries, veins and heart, improving overall cardiac function. It strengthens the heart not just physically, but emotionally.


Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Crataegus spp.

Common Name(s): Hawthorn, Thornapple, Maytree, Whitethorn, Hawberry, Hedgethorn.

TCM Name: Shan Zha

Ayurvedic Name: Naagaphanee

Family: Rosacea (Rose family)

Physical Description of the Plant: 

Hawthorn is a bushy tree with thorny branches that can grow 16-49 ft. tall. It bears white flowers in early spring, and bright red berries in September. The flowers, leaves, berries, and bark are all used medicinally. The leaves grow spirally arranged on long shoots, and in clusters on spur shoots on the branches. The small pome fruit, sometimes known as “haw,” is berry-like but structurally contains 1-5 pyrenes that resemble the “stones” of plums and peaches and other fruit in the rose family.

Habitat:  Hawthorn is a large genus of shrubs and trees native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America. It is currently estimated that there are 200 species.The hawthorn is a long lived tree, often surviving to 100 years or more. In the British countryside there are miles of hawthorn hedgerows marking field boundaries.

Harvest and Collection: Harvest leaves and flowers in the spring, berries in early fall, ideally before first frost.

Parts of the Plant Used: Flowers, leaves and  berries. 

Qualities: Normalizes blood pressure and lipids. Addresses not only heart issues, but also gut, nervous system, and emotional issues. 

Energetics: Sour, Slightly Sweet, Slightly Warm, Bitter, Astringent

Ayurvedic Energetics:

  • Rasa (taste): sour
  • Virya (action): heating
  • Vipaka (post-digestive effect): sour
  • Doshas (constitutions): Balancing for vata, may increase pitta and kapha in excess

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Amygdalin
  • Anthocyanidins and Proanthocyanidins
  • Cardiotonicamines:
    • Isobutylamine
    • Omethox
    • Phenylethylamine
    • Tyramine
  • Choline and acetylcholine
  • Cratetegin
  • Flavonoids:
    • Quercetin
    • Hyperoside
    • Rutin
    • Flavonoglycosyls
    • Vitexin-4'-rhamnoside
  • Glycosides
  • Oligomeric procyanidins (OPC) – epicatechol
  • Pectins
  • Purine derivatives:
    • Adenine
    • Adenosine
    • Caffeic acid
    • Guanine
    • Saponins
  • Tannins
  • Triterpene acid
  • Vitamin C


Western:  Increases the amount of blood pumped out of the heart during contractions. It also widens the blood vessels and increases the transmission of nerve signals. The berries, leaves and flowers improve oxygenation of the blood and brain. Research suggests it can also lower blood pressure and seems to lower the accumulation of fats in the liver and the aorta. Hawthorn also prevents the synthesis and release of inflammatory promoters such as histamines, serine proteases and prostaglandins. 

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Anxiolytic
  • Astringent
  • Diuretic
  • Hypotensive
  • Nervine (relaxing)
  • Sedative (mild)
  • Trophorestorative

EasternMeridians: Liver, Stomach, Pericardium, Heart.  Relieves Food Stagnation: digestive aid, loose stools, poor appetite, restlessness. Restores the Heart/Aids Circulation: fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, heavy feeling in chest, degenerative heart conditions of all sorts. Tonifies Yin/Clears Heat/Calms Shen: night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, feverishness, menopausal syndromes. Promote Urination/Transform Blood Stasis/Soften Nodules: stabbing cardiac pain, thrombosis, tachycardia, gallstones, urinary stones, angina, postpartum abdominal pain and clumps, hernia disorders.

Indications: High blood pressure, coronary artery disease, angina and heart arrhythmia; allergic responses including asthma, pollen allergies, itchy, inflamed or irritated skin conditions, inflamed joints. It has traditionally been used to ease anxiety and irritability, prevent bad dreams and eliminate insomnia due to stress. It is also indicated for those who are hyperactive, have a hard time concentrating, are considered disruptive and cannot sit still.

Contraindications/Cautions:  Hawthorn is known to enhance the effects of digitalis, making it more potent. European doctors often prescribe hawthorn to support digitalis and sometimes recommend it as a substitute when digitalis cannot be tolerated or when they want to avoid its side effects.

Drug Interactions: Do not use if using Digoxin, as Hawthorn may also increase the effectiveness of beta blocker drugs.


Berry powder¼ to ½ teaspoon with warm water, once or twice daily.

Tincture30 drops up to three times daily for the first month, then once or twice daily afterwards as a maintenance dose.

Infusion: Leaves and flowers and/or berries – typical dose is 2 cups daily.

Combinations: Can be combined with Linden, Motherwort, Angelica, Rose, Rosemary. To enhance the nervine properties of hawthorn combine it with herbs such as rose petals and hips, milky oats, lemon balm and passionflower.

Folklore: Many cultures have historically used hawthorn. In the ancient Middle East, it is suggested that hawthorn was the source of Jesus’s crown of thorns.In Arthurian legend Vivian, the young girl who sought to learn all Merlin could teach, learned how to turn a man into a tree, and supposedly turned the magician into a hawthorn tree. In Britain and Ireland, it is considered bad luck to uproot the plant. In Gaelic folklore, hawthorn is said to mark the entrance of the “otherworld” and is associated with the fairies. In Serbian and Croatian folklore, hawthorn is deadly to vampires. In Iran, the fruit is eaten raw as a snack or made into jelly. In Mexico, the berries (called “tejocotes”) are stuffed into pinatas during the pre-Christmas celebration Las Posadas.

 Flower Essence: Hawthorn helps open the heart to giving and receiving love, and can help in healing heartache. It encourages self-love and self-acceptance. As with many heart-acting energy remedies, hawthorn helps us to develop courage. Hawthorne flower essence is further indicated for helping someone come into their strength and power (courage again), and for calming a type A personality.

Applications: Congestive heart failure, irregular heartbeat, chest pain, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, indigestion, diarrhea, stomach pain, menstrual problems. Can also treat tapeworms and other intestinal infections. Externally treats boils, sores, ulcers and frostbite. Modern Chinese Medicine uses it as a hepatoprotective and to treat hepatitis, and in formulas for food stagnation.


Hawthorn Berry Liqueur :

(Recipe from Herbal Manufacturing by Jenny Adams & Eleanor Tan)

  • Fill a saucepan with Hawthorn Berries up to 5cm below the brim. Cover with distilled or purified water and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. DO NOT BOIL!
  • Remove from heat and steep for 20 minutes
  • Strain out the liquid and put aside in a clean glass container
  • Mash the berries and again fill the container with more purified water to cover the berries. Repeat the process and add the resulting liquid to the first batch.
  • Measure how much liquid you have. Stirring frequently (as liquid will burn), simmer the liquid down to 1/4 its original amount
  •  Measure 1/4 of this final amount of glycerine and 1/4 of brandy and add to the hawthorn decoction. Makes 4 parts concentrate: 1 part glycerine: 1 part brandy
  • Bottle in amber glass bottles

Scientific Research:

In European countries hawthorn berry extract is considered an effective therapy for mild to moderate congestive heart failure. Hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries are used by herbal practitioners in the UK to treat hypertension in conjunction with prescribed drugs. Numerous laboratory tests and clinical trials demonstrate that hawthorn leaves, flowers and berries contain chemical compounds that increase blood flow to the heart muscle, as well as positively affect other aspects of cardiovascular health.

In addition hawthorn has been found to stabilize collagen. Collagen is the body’s most abundant protein and is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the arteries as well as the ligaments, tendons and cartilage. Hawthorn cross links collagen fibers to reinforce the collagen matrix of the connective tissues.

Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD005312.

Thorne Research. Crataegus oxycantha (Hawthorne) Monograph. Alt Med Review. 15(2). 2010.










Mimi Alberu