If I were to ask you which herb is most effective for supporting the health of the cardiovascular system, most of you would immediately think of Hawthorn. This strong, yet gentle, protective plant is one of my long-term herbal buddies. Our February issue of AromaCulture Magazine is centered around the theme of herbs and essential oils that support the cardiovascular system, so covering Hawthorn this week is quite timely.
Many species of Hawthorn grow native here in the United States, while others have been introduced from Europe and other temperate regions. The shrubs/trees vary in height by species and their leaf shapes also vary quite a bit. They are members of the Rose family and boast the signature 5-petaled white flowers that are typical of plants in this family. In the past, it was thought that there could have been up to 1000 different Hawthorn species. I’ve seen people claim anywhere between 100 to 300 recently, but as of my last count, there are at least 350-410 accepted species (I counted around 420, but some are accepted only with a low confidence level, so my number is conservative). The species I find most often here in our area is Black Hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii.
Hawthorn is slow growing, but easy to cultivate if you choose a plant that does well in your area’s growing conditions. It can tolerate many soil conditions, but prefers nice, rich soil. Growing from seed is especially slow-going as the seeds can take up to a year (or even more) to germinate. Scarification, stratification, and fermentation are all tools that are sometimes utilized to try to hasten germination. Two of my Hawthorn plants (the first ones I ever purchased) are still fairly young and were purchased as seedlings, but I was recently able to find a couple of more mature trees (7-8′ tall for only $7 each!) at a native plant nursery and I’m excited to see how well they do this year. Hawthorns hybridize readily and older plants will happily produce little saplings that can be potted up and gifted to friends and family or spread throughout the garden. Berries can be harvested in the fall when they’re ripe and flowers and leaves can be gathered in the spring. (Leave plenty of flowers behind if you want berries!)
Traditional Uses and Preparations
Most herbalists today use the flowers, leaves, twigs and berries medicinally, but native peoples also used the bark, sap, and the root of the Hawthorn for various medicinal purposes. A tea made from the twigs was used by native peoples to relieve pain in the side and to improve bladder function. The roots were decocted and used for general weakness, diarrhea (Hawthorn is astringent), and other complaints. A berry decoction was used as a laxative and for stomach issues. Hawthorn leaves were used as a poultice to reduce swelling. In most areas, Hawthorn was considered to be a good tonic herb that was useful for sickness and overall health.
Many native tribes would gather Hawthorn berries, mash them and dry them in discs to form crackers or cookies that could be eaten during the winter months when food was scarce. These cakes could also be rehydrated and used to make sauces. Other tribes would grind the Hawthorn berries and make bread with them (click here for my hawthorn berry pumpkin bread recipe) and still other peoples would chew the inner bark like gum.
Hawthorn trees are also known for their long thorns which have historically been used as sewing needles, pins, and fish hooks and for their use in medicine bag making.
In western herbalism, Hawthorn has traditionally been used to improve circulation and keep fluids and energy moving efficiently through the body. Its reputation for its beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system is long-standing. It has been extensively tested in clinical trials and studies and is commonly taken in tincture, tea, and capsule form, and is often included in jellies, jams and other food recipes as well.
Hawthorn has been found to be a gentle cardiotonic herb with anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, calming, diuretic and antioxidant properties. It helps to balance blood pressure, tone and strengthen the heart, and improve circulation so the heart can function more efficiently. (See the test results section for references.) Many herbalists have reported success with using Hawthorn to regulate heartbeat, balance cholesterol levels, and improve overall heart health when taken over time.
Energetically, Hawthorn helps us to feel calmer, more uplifted and happier in spirit. It has an affinity for helping us with the pain of deep loss or feelings of grief or sadness. When we start to turn inward to try to protect ourselves from having our hearts hurt, Hawthorn helps us to keep our hearts open and love- energy flowing.
Because it is so effective at keeping both physical and emotional energy moving, Hawthorn is also useful in cases where there is stagnation in the digestive system and its historical use indicates that it has been commonly used for this purpose. Where there is damage in the connective tissues, Hawthorn can help assist with collagen production and repair of the damaged tissues.
I like to pair it with Rose, Hibiscus, Linden Ginger, and/or Yarrow in my own preparations. It’s also commonly used in combination with relaxing nervine herbs.
Hawthorn’s constituents include antioxidants, vitamins B and C, saponins, tannins, bioflavonoids and procyanidins, among others.
- Demonstrates antioxidant activity.
- Reduces oxidative stress.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Helps to balance blood pressure.
- Regulates cholesterol.
- Regulates heartbeat.
- Strengthens and tones the heart.
- Helps to prevent and support heart ailments. Also here and here.
- Stimulates circulation and improves the heart muscle’s efficiency.
- Acts as a vasodilator.
- Promotes collagen production (and thus can help repair damage in connective tissues).
Hawthorn berry powder can be sprinkled into your pup’s food to help prevent and support heart issues and to support the cardiovascular system and circulation in general. Breeds that are especially prone to heart issues may benefit from a consistent addition of Hawthorn to their diets. Jon and I want to train Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as therapy and service dogs someday when we have our land and they can sometimes be prone to heart issues, so Hawthorn is one herb that we’ll definitely be including in their diets regularly. Fresh berries (de-seeded) can also be used as pup treats when they’re in season and if your pup usually eats dry kibble, you can use a bit of Hawthorn tea to moisten it. (Just make sure it cools before giving it to them.)
Hawthorn is a nourishing, tonic herb, so best results will be seen when taken consistently over time. It is gentle enough that it can usually be taken with medications, but please do check with your doctor prior to adding Hawthorn to your repertoire if you are on any kind of heart medication.
Hawthorn is indicated for almost every kind of heart-related condition or ailment.
Hawthorn hydrosol has been traditionally taken internally when physical or emotional healing of the heart is needed. It is rarely found nowadays unless you happen to know someone who distills it or you are able to distill it yourself, but there are a select few artisan distillers who still produce it.
- http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=crataegus (for native peoples references)
- Others have been cited within the article via clickable links.
Is Hawthorn a part of your daily repertoire? If not, have you ever tried it?