Hawthorn Summary:

Hawthorn is considered by many to be the best cardiovascular tonic in the plant kingdom. This is a result of hawthorns high level of safety, and its broad actions on cardiovascular function. It's especially beneficial at improving the blood supply to the heart via dilation of the coronary arteries. A blockage in any of the coronary arteries will result in a myocardial infarction, therefore, promoting an improvement in these arteries can go a long way in delaying or preventing the development of heart failure. 

Hawthorn also improves heart arrythmias and palpitations, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood lipid levels, and anxiety. It's used both before a heart attack as a preventative, and after to aid recovery.  

The Greek meaning of Crataegus oxycantha  actually refers to the shape thorns and hard wood that is characteristic of the plant [3]. It tends to grow in temperate climates, and makes a great garden variety tree or shrub. 

Botanical Name

Crateagus oxycantha
Crateagus laevigata
Crateagus oxycanthoides
Crateagus monogyna



Part Used

Berries, flower, leaf

Specific Actions:

  • Positively inotropic
  • Positively chronotropic
  • Positively dromotropic
  • Vasodilating to the coronary arteries

Herbal Actions:

  • Cardiotonic
  • Diuretic
  • Astringent
  • Hypotensive
  • Antioxidant
  • Collagen Stabilizer
  • Anti-Arrhythmic
hawthorn crataegus oxycanthus.jpg


Liquid Extract (1:2)

Leaf or berry

3-7 ml/day

Tincture (1:5)

17 ml/day

(Higher for hypertension)
A note on using Hawthorn for cardiovascular disease

When using Hawthorn for heart disease it should be used for a minimum of 2 months. No long term adverse affects of using this herb in the above doses have been reported and long term use has been found to be most effective for this condition. [3]. 

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+ Indications

Cardiovascular System

  • Hyperlipidemia
  • As a preventative treatment for coronary artery disease
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • heart palpitations
  • Age related heart disease
  • Angina pectoris
  • Tachycardia
  • Mild congestive heart failure
  • Recovery from myocardial infarction
  • Infections of diptheria and pneumonia
  • Atherosclerosis

Nervous System

  • Anxiety


  • As a cofactor for vitamin C

Topical Uses

  • Acne
  • To improve hydration of the skin and hair

+ Contraindications

  • Caution advised with cardiovascular patients

Common Names:



Hawthorn Leaf

Hawthorn Berry

Aubépine (France)

Biancospino (Italy)


Traditional Uses:

+ Western Herbal Medicine

There is a lot of reference to hawthorn in older texts, and much of the indications are towards cardiac diseases and circulation. It was used in the past to treat conditions including tachycardia, hypertention, angina pectoris, and myocardial weakness. The berries were also used as an astringent for sore throats, and as a diuretic. [3].

Traditionally the berry was mainly used, however more recent findings suggest the leaves to have a stronger action medicinally [3].

Hawthorn has also been extensively used as a source of wood, and the berries as a flavouring of liquor. [3].

The British herbal pharmacopoeia lists crataegus as cardiotonic, coronary vasodilator, and hypotensive specific for cardiac failure, myocardial weakness, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, Buergers disease, and paroxysmal tachycardia [13].

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Chinese medicine, the fruit was often used to improve digestion, stimulate circulation, and treat blood stasis. [3].


Botanical Description:

Crataegus is a deciduous, thorny shrub or small tree that can grow up to 10m tall. [3]. 

The leaves are broad, and have 3-5 lobes. [3]. 

The flowers are white, have red anthers, and arranged in groups of 5 or 10 [3]. 

The fruit is contained within a larger, dark red colored false fruit [3]. 

There is extensive hybridization of Crataegus in general, which has led to some confusion with the classification of many species contained in the genus [3]. 


Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

Still compiling research. 


Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

Although traditionally the berries were preferred, in general it has been found that the leaves offer the most benefit towards cardiovascular disease [3]. 




Hawthorn Berries

The berries of the hawthorn tree contain flavonoids, amines, catechols, carboxylic acid, and triterpene acids [3]. 


Hawthorn leaves and flowers

The leaves contain flavonoids (up to 1.78%) (including vitexin, quercetin, hyperoside, rutin), oligomeric procyanidins (1-2.4%), triterpene acids (up to 0.6%) (ursolic acid, oleanic acid, crataegolic acids), phenolic acids (caffeic, chlorogenic, and related phenocarboxyl acids), [1-3]. 


A note on concentrated extracts of crataegus

There have been multiple reports of studies using isolated constituents showing very little or no significant activity when compared to the whole herb extract. The whole extract, has been found to consistently produce noticeable, and broad actions, especially on the cardiovascular system [1]. For this reason, only the whole herb extract should be used. 


Pharmacology and Medical Research:

+ Cardiovascular System

The German Federal Ministry of Health conducted a four year study on Crataegus and its activity on the cardiovascular system, which resulted with the inclusion of Crataegus as a recognized cardiac medication in Europe. [1].

Much of the research on hawthorn has been aimed at its activity on the cardiovascular system. To date, evidence towards crataegus benefits on the entirety of the cardiovascular system includes:

  • Coronary artery dilation [3, 4]
  • Antioxidant activity [24]
  • Positively inotropic [3, 4]
    • improves the availability and utilization of energy in the myocardium rather than directly impacting contractile fibers like cardiac glycosides [1].

Coronary artery dilation

The coronary artery dilation has been found to be through the crataegolic acid and ursolic acid content, and various flavonoids (such as vitexin-2"-)'rhamnoside, luteolin-7-glucoside, hyperoside, rutin, and vitexin), and the oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) [4].

the ability for hawthorn to improve coronary blood flow was reproduced in dogs (with oral administration) [8].

Antioxidant activity

The antioxidant activity of crataegus is suggested to be mainly due to the flavonoids present in the leaves, flowers, and berries. These chemicals are strong antioxidant chemicals, and have also been shown to produce the ability to increase collagen cross-linkiung in the walls of vascular tissue. this strengthens the blood vessels and dcan significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. [1].

Positively Inotropic

The inotropic activity was found to be due to the cratagolic acid, ursolic acid, and vitexin-2"-O-rhamnoside (flavonoid) content in an older study [4]. The action was found in another study to be through an increase in the contraction amplitude of the cardiac myocytes in an in vitro study [5].

This activity has been reproduced in several studies using standardized leaf and flower extracts [7].


The antiarrhithmic activity of crataegus was explored through in vitro testing of caridac tissue. The mechanism was suggested to be likely through a prolonged refractory period brought on by the beta-adrenergic agonist activity of crataegus constituents [6].


The OPC content of crataegus was shown in several studies to promote bloodflow in both the aorta and microcirculation, through nitric-oxide mediated relaxation and inhibitory action on angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) both invitro and in vivo [9, 10, 11, 12].



There are no reported long term adverse effects with using hawthorn in the therapeutic dosage range, and long term use is recommended for cardiovascular disease with this herb [3]. 



Due to the action around heart function, crataegus may enhance the activity of cardiac glycosides such as digitalis, or Convellaria majalis. This may improve the effectiveness of these drugs/herbs, and allow for smaller, more effective doses. Caution is advised when using these medications. [1]. 



Often used in conjunction with Tilia platyphyllos, Allium sativum, or Viburnum opulus for arteriosclerosis [1]. Their may be possible synergy here. 

Combines well with Tilia and scutellariua for hypertension [1].

Crataegus has been reported to have synergy with digitalis glycosides and beta-blockers. No adverse interactions have been reported with digoxin. [3]. 

The British herbal pharmacopoeia suggests crataegus has possible synergy with Selenicereus grandiflorus , Tilia, Viscum, or Scutellaria [13]. 



Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

Updated: June 2017

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