What is Hawthorn Berry?

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is a shrub-like, thorny tree that shares its genus with approximately 280 members of the Rosaceae family, including the rose. The herb is commonly known as mayblosson and the fruit as haw. Although the fruit does resemble a berry, it is actually a pome, the name given to a type of fruit that contains one or more kernels or stones similar in appearance to the pit of a peach.

Hawthorn berries are often used in homeopathic medicine.
Hawthorn berries are often used in homeopathic medicine.

Like many herbs of significance to naturopathic and homeopathic medicine, hawthorn berry was celebrated for its healing properties long before evidence-based medicine could validate its benefits. For instance, in Scotland and Wales, a centuries old tradition is to place an offering at the site of ancient wells to solicit nature spirits to effect a healing. Since the offering is often in the form of a cloot, or strip of cloth, these sacred sites are known as clootie wells. Hawthorn is typically found growing near these wells, so visiting patrons often “seal” their healing rituals by tying their cloot to its branches. In fact, this association is referenced in an old Celtic adage that advises, “'When all fruit fails, welcome haws.”

Heart palpitations should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out serious causes before beginning treatment with hawthorn berry.
Heart palpitations should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out serious causes before beginning treatment with hawthorn berry.

To modern scientists, the medicinal properties of hawthorn berry can be attributed to the presence of certain bioflavonoids, most notably oligomeric procyanidins. Research has shown that these agents provide antioxidant activity and may help to improve the elasticity of blood vessels, thereby enhancing circulation, reducing cholesterol levels, and lowering blood pressure. Several studies have investigated the effects of these compounds on the heart in particular, the findings of which suggest that hawthorn berry may improve heart function in patients diagnosed with heart failure. Not only did patients consistently experience significantly reduced palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath in these studies, but were also able to reduce the amount of prescription medications taken to treat these symptoms. In fact, one study demonstrated that the effects of supplementing with hawthorn berry for 60 days was comparable to low doses of the heart medication captropril.

Hawthorn berry may help relieve shortness of breath in patients suffering from heart failure.
Hawthorn berry may help relieve shortness of breath in patients suffering from heart failure.

Hawthorn berry is available in capsule form, or as an extract or tincture standardized to contain 20% oligomeric procyanidins. Negative side effects are rare, although cases of headache or increased heart rate have been reported in some individuals. It should be noted, however, that the herb should be avoided during pregnancy and should not be combined with other medications intended to treat heart disease. In addition, some research suggests that the action of this herbal remedy may counteract the effects of phenylephrine, an ingredient found in nasal decongestants.

Hawthorn berry may help lower blood pressure.
Hawthorn berry may help lower blood pressure.
Hawthorn berry may be used to improve heart function.
Hawthorn berry may be used to improve heart function.
Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Contributing articles to wiseGEEK is just one of Karyn’s many professional endeavors. She is also a magazine writer and columnist, mainly for health-related publications, as well as the author of four books. Karyn lives in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and specializes in topics about green living and botanical medicine.

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Discussion Comments

julies

My mom began taking some hawthorn berry capsules in an effort to lower her blood pressure. Her blood pressure was not real high, but enough that if it continued to increase, the doctor wanted to put her on some medication.

She wanted to see if a natural method of controlling her blood pressure would work before going on a prescription medication. After three months of taking the capsules daily she returned to the doctor and her blood pressure had gone down a little bit.

Since her blood pressure had decreased she is going to continue on with the hawthorn berry capsules and keep a close eye on her blood pressure to see if it continues to drop.

Mykol

There is a history of heart disease and high cholesterol in my family. In doing reading on some natural ways to strengthen the heart and keep cholesterol levels down, I ran across many hawthorn berry benefits.

I purchased some in capsule from from the health food store in an effort to prevent some of the early problems some of my family members have had with their heart.

Since I have only been taking this for a few months I don't know if it is making a difference or not. I have not had any negative side effects, and realize this is something that I would need to be using on a long term basis to get the benefits I am hoping for.

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