This month’s topic here at Truehope Canada is heart health.
Naturally, the Hawthorn tree comes to mind. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a beautiful member of the Rose family, indigenous to countries across the northern hemisphere.
The flowers, leaves, and berries of the Hawthorn tree have been used medicinally throughout history in Europe, China, and North America, mainly as a cardiovascular system tonic (1).
Greek physician Dioscorides noted Hawthorn as a heart medicine in the first century AD, and medical research has since supported this finding in many studies (2).
Current research suggests Hawthorn is safe and effective in the treatment of cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease (3). Hawthorn is primarily useful in cases of high blood pressure (aka hypertension) and angina pectoris, which is chest pain that occurs when a part of the heart doesn’t get enough blood or oxygen.
Hawthorn is also effective in the treatment of mild congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias, especially in combination with other supportive herbs (4).
One study found Hawthorn decreases symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath in chronic congestive heart failure and improves exercise tolerance (5).
It is also effective in increasing blood flow to the heart, increasing the strength of the heart’s contractions, regulating blood pressure, and decreasing potentially harmful blood lipids (i.e. LDL cholesterol and triglycerides) (4).
What makes Hawthorn such a healthful tonic?
Antioxidants, of course!
Hawthorn contains some powerful functional antioxidants, including flavonoids and oligomeric proanthocyanins (commonly known as OPCs) (6). These constituents increase coronary blood flow and improve heart function. The antioxidants give Hawthorn its role in protecting the arteries and preventing their degradation caused by plaque build up (4,6). This helps explain the positive influence of Hawthorn on treating high cholesterol, as well as its use as a treatment for atherosclerosis.
An area I love to use Hawthorn is with ageing people. Even if there is no symptom related to heart health, Hawthorn supports the heart and improves heart rate variability, which tends to decline with age. It is also indicated in circulatory conditions, including Raynaud’s disease and oedema (6).
What part of Hawthorn is best to use?
I like to use the plant parts together, but I do differentiate for various treatment protocols. The berries are more structurally beneficial to the heart (i.e. strengthening the heart muscle), while the flowers and leaves are more functionally beneficial (i.e. relaxing and treating arrhythmia) (4,6).
Like most herbs, Hawthorn does well in a formula with other herbs to support whatever is necessary. It combines well with other circulatory system supportive herbs, like Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica), Ginkgo (G. biloba), and Green tea (Camellia sinensis) to support cardiac health (6). An experienced Herbalist can combine a custom formula to create the most beneficial approach to an individual’s needs.
Hawthorn is a generally safe herb to use and can often be used in synergy with heart medications. That said, healthcare professionals should always be consulted when using Hawthorn with other powerful medications, as doses would likely need to be adjusted.
Over my years as a Medical Herbalist, I’ve witnessed Hawthorn do subtle and major wonders in the health of people who take the herb consistently. Not only does it benefit the cardiovascular system in ways that can be measured, but it also influences a person’s emotional and - I believe - spiritual health.
Hawthorn has an affinity for the heart in multiple ways. It is beautiful to watch a person’s heart lift when Hawthorn is doing its best work.
Just try standing near a Hawthorn tree while its flowering, and see if you can feel its heart lifting energy.
Lauren Truscott Waddell, RHT, CHHC
Du, X., Zhang, X., Bu, H., Zhang, T., Lao, Y., & Dong, W. (2019). Molecular Analysis of Evolution and Origins of Cultivated Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) and Related Species in China. Frontiers in plant science, 10, 443. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2019.00443
Hobbs, C. (1998). Hawthorn: For the Heart. Christopher Hobbs, PhD, https://www.christopherhobbs.com/library/articles-on-herbs-and-health/hawthorn-for-the-heart/
Tassell, M. C., Kingston, R., Gilroy, D., Lehane, M., & Furey, A. (2010). Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Pharmacognosy reviews, 4(7), 32–41. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-7847.65324
Hoffman, David. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.
Pittler MH, Guo R, Ernst E. Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD005312. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005312.pub2. PMID: 18254076.
Pacific Rim College. Crataegus oxyacantha Monograph. Materia Medica I.