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Hawthorn

Botanical name(s):

Crataegus oxyacantha

Other name(s):

English hawthorn, haw, May, Mayblossom, Maybush, Mayflower, whitethorn

General description

The hawthorn is a woody shrub or small tree with thorns and brightly colored fruit.

In Europe, hawthorn is used both as a prescription and an over-the-counter heart tonic. Although this herb is not well known in the United States, more Americans, including physicians, are now contemplating various uses for it.

Hawthorn contains flavonoids, which may interact with key enzymes to enhance the heart muscles ability to contract ,as well as increase blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscles. Hawthorn is said to be useful in the treatment of angina pectoris, ischemia, and atherosclerosis.

Medically valid uses

Hawthorn became a popular herbal remedy in Europe and North America toward the end of the 19th century. Findings from test-tube, animal, and a handful of human studies are showing that standardized extracts of hawthorn may be safe and effective for mild heart failure; however, there is contradictory evidence about the effects of hawthorn extract in heart failure patients. Until further research and conclusive evidence is provided, it is recommended that people with heart disease not take hawthorn.  

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Hawthorn reportedly acts as a calmative (affects nervous system and nerve function due to its ability to cause a mild sedative effect) and as a circulatory stimulant. (improves circulation). It is also claimed to possibly reduce the risk for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and slow down the central nervous system. Finally, hawthorn may be helpful in relieving chronic insomnia and improving circulation in swollen legs and feet.

Dosing format

Hawthorn can be found as capsules, dried leaves or flowers, infusion, liquid extract, or tincture.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Taken in recommended doses, hawthorn is tolerated well by most people; however, herbalists strongly urge that hawthorn be taken only under the guidance of a doctor because hawthorn is a potent herb. Sedation and dangerously low blood pressure can develop if it is taken in doses substantially higher than recommended.

Children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid using hawthorn.

German health authorities recommend that people should not take the herb for more than six weeks at a time.

Hawthorn will not stop an angina attack.

Do not take hawthorn with other heart medications such as digitalis. Do not take sedatives or sleeping medications while taking hawthorn.

Additional information

Click here for a list of reputable websites with general information on nutrition.

Online Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicinehttp://nccam.nih.gov/health/hawthorn/
Online Editor: Green, Chelsea
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 1/17/2013
Date Last Modified: 12/5/2011