Latin: Crataegus spp. (C. oxyacantha, C. oxyacanthoides, C. monogyna, C. pinnatifida, C. laevigata
Family: Rosaceae (belonging to the apple group of the almond subfamily)
Folk names: May tree, May bush, Mayblossom, hazels, haw, whitethorn, hawberry, thornapple (not to be confused with datura), tree of chastity, cockspur, cockspur thorn, washington thorn, English hawthorn, one-seed hawthorn (C. monogyna), Ladies’ meat, sgitheach (modern Scots Gaelic), huath (old Gaelic), sceach gheal (Irish Gaelic), fairy thorn, hagthorn (Old Norse), hedgethorn, haegthorn (Anglo-Saxon), quickthorn, quickset, arzy-garzies, bread and cheese tree, weifdorn (Germany), hagedorn (ancient Germanic), l’epine noble (French), svefnthorn (Icelandic).
Energetics: cool, neutral
Properties: cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, mild vasodilator, regulates blood pressure, nervine, anti-anxiety, astringent, diuretic
Taste: sweet, sour, astringent (berries)
Parts used: most often berries; sometimes leaves & flowers
Gathering time: Berries-in the fall, after first frost. Leaves, flowers, twigs (fresh)- May.
Degree: 2nd, 3rd
Tissue state: heat, excitation, atrophy, relaxation
Key uses: restorative to the physical and emotional heart (Shen in TCM), supports healthy cardiovascular function, heart palpitations, nervous irritability, insomnia
History, Herblore & Tradition
Hawthorn has a history rich in medicine and magick. You will frequently come across the trees “oak, ash, and thorn” together in old literature because they are of such importance. The thorn referred to in this triad is, of course, the hawthorn. I recently asked my friend, Michelle, from Ireland about what hawthorn means to her. She relayed the following story:
Hawthorn is beyond sacred, and to cut one was a death sentence. In my city, they spend 2 million extra for a road to go around a hawthorn bush rather than cut it. The county council were afraid there would be traffic accidents, as the fairy world would be upset.
According to Irish legend, anyone who dares fell a hawthorn is certainly inviting bad luck and loss into their lives. It is not uncommon to see a lone hawthorn (commonly called “trysting trees”) in a landscape because it was spared the axe for fear of the fae folk, and there are many tales of those who fell on hard times as a consequence of destroying one of these enchanted trees. In Celtic lore the hawthorn is a threshold to a place where time passes differently; a world in which you can easily lose yourself. The name “hedgethorn” comes not only from its presence and function in demarcating property lines amongst other hedge flora, but for its existence on the wild, mysterious border between physical and spirit worlds. Its ancient Germanic name Hagedorn comes from the root hegen, which means to protect, care for, or nourish. Hawthorn’s protection comes in the form of its heart medicine, its presence as a physical hedge, and its magic. “Haw” is also an old word for hedge. Planting them near your home, placing a branch on your lintel (though seen as bad luck to bring inside), or carrying hawthorn in an amulet was to protect oneself from spiritual and psychic harm.
Hawthorns are often found near clootie wells around the British Isles, where the tree is tasked with guarding the sacred waters. At a clootie well, a person dips a piece of their clothing or strip of cloth (cloot) in the healing waters and ties it to the hawthorn’s branches. This is done in hopes that the fairies will take away their ailment as the cloth disintegrates. There is a saying in Scots that goes, “Ne’er cast a cloot till Mey’s oot,” meaning it was believed to be unlucky to wash yourself or put new clothes on until the hawthorn bloomed…or was it just too cold yet to put yer woolies away yet?
The hawthorn tree is so sacred to the tradition that it has its own symbol in the Ogham alphabet: “Huathe” (hoo-ah) and its own place on the Celtic astrological calendar as the sixth month (May 13-June 9). Before the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1752, May Day would have occurred mid-May when the hawthorn bloomed. Huathe is associated with Mars + Venus, male/female unity, and offering mental clarity. The symbol for huathe (top left corner) resembles a thorn on a branch. Thorny things are often used as protective barriers, and Druidic ritual was often performed in the protective shade of a hawthorn grove to avoid religious persecution.
For the Celts, Beltane was the only time cutting a branch of hawthorn was acceptable, but it was forbidden to bring hawthorn into one’s home; that was inviting death into the family. This is partly because there is a chemical in the scent profile of hawthorn flowers that is also present in decaying flesh. Modern research has identified it as the chemical triethylamine. In the days before embalming, bodies were laid out at home for days, sometimes weeks before being laid to rest, and the smell of death would have been a familiar one. Since association by smell is one of our brain’s strongest connections to memory, it stands to reason that an ancient tradition would discourage bringing the smell of death into one’s home. My Irish friend, Michelle, also related a story from her mother’s childhood about hawthorn:
She was walking home from school one day and picked a bunch of hawthorn branches that were flowering. As she was about to enter the house, she was greeted by my grandmother screaming at her to not step foot in the house with the flowers. Whitethorn was never brought into a home, as it was said the mother of the home would die.
Strangely enough, the chemical triethylamine is also present in the smell of human sexual fluids, which may explain why hawthorn is synonymous with the outdoor lovemaking associated with the fire feast of Beltane. Beltane is a time when the creative forces of humans and nature are simultaneously at their peak. All of nature seems to be procreating, and the feeling is certainly contagious. During Beltane it was customary for flowering branches to adorning doorways and maypoles (which were themselves traditionally made of hawthorn wood). They were seen as a symbol of hope, renewed life, betrothal, protection, and fecundity at a time when the earth was bursting forth with new growth. The maypole itself and its crowning wreath of flowers were blatant symbols of male/female union. When one went out “a-maying” they were probably meeting someone they fancied for an alfresco tryst under the fragrant May blossoms, reveling in the fleeting and decadent beauty of spring’s earthy delights. In many traditions and cultures, it was a plant associated with the euphoria of being drunk on new love; that feeling when sap and blood begin their vernal ascent through xylem, phloem, vein, and artery, waking senses from their winter torpor and enamoring you of life all over again.
The pastoral spirit of hawthorn has inspired poets and playwrights for centuries. Here are some of my favorite references to the enchanted tree, most of them by Scottish poet Robert Burns, who had a fondness for it:
The hawthorn I will pu’ wi’ its lock o’ siller gray,Where, like an aged man, it stands at break o’ day. (“Oh Luve Will Venture In”, Burns)
O happy love! where love like this is found:
O heart-felt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
I’ve paced much this weary, mortal round,
And sage experience bids me this declare, –
If heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
‘Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other’s arms breathe out the tender tale,
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale. (“The Cottar’s Saturday Night”, Burns, 1786)
Tho’ large the forest’s monarch throws
His army shade,
Yet green the juicy hawthorn grows,
Adown the glade. (“The Vision”, Burns, 1786)
The hawthorn-bush, with seats beneath the shade
For talking age and whispering lovers made! (“The Deserted Village”, Oliver Goldsmith, 1770)
In hawthorn-time, the heart grows light,
The world is sweet in sound and sight…
(“Tale of Balen”, Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1896)
17th century poet Robert Herrick’s “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying” perfectly embodies this sentiment, and I’ve pulled a few lines from it here.
…a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.
…There is not a budding boy or girl this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
…Come, let us go while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time…
So when you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-maying.
The speaker is essentially saying, “Hey, it’s springtime, and we are young, beautiful, and full of life- let’s get busy in the hedges. . . YOLO!”
In ancient Greece, hawthorn was linked with Cardea, goddess of the hinge. Cardea presided over doorways and thresholds, overseeing their comings and goings. She was a deity of marriage, mourning deaths, childbirth, and protector of newborns. Much like hawthorn, she occupied liminal spaces where things transition from endings to beginnings. Greek mythology dictates that Hera became pregnant with twins Ares and Eris (male and female) just by touching a hawthorn tree in flower. Wedding torches were lit of hawthorn branches, and newly married couples wore crowns of hawthorn blossoms to ensure a fruitful union.
All this cavorting and fornicating and frolicking widdershins around a festooned phallus did not sit well with the Christian church. During the spread of Christianity, many symbols, rites, and temples for Earth-based spiritual practices were either appropriated into the church and given different meaning or reviled as devil worship. The hawthorn can be found near historical sites of spiritual and archaeological significance and is perhaps the tree most illustrative of the Christian church’s attempts to repress pagan practices. At the site of Westminster Abbey (formerly called “Thorney Island”) stands a group of old hawthorns which was previously sacred ground for earth-based ritual. The church assumed the site for its own purposes so that the people could continue to worship in a familiar place while being indoctrinated with a new belief system. Likewise, Glastonbury has been a spiritual mecca for thousands of years for people of many faiths. Long before Christianity came to England, it was a place for pagan ceremony, and, of course, there is a sacred hawthorn that stands guard nearby (above with the Tor in the background, photo credit to Peter Herring). According to Christians, this biannual Thorn of Glastonbury is said to have rooted and sprung up from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea and is seen by some as the arrival of Christianity in Britain. At Christmastime it is tradition to send a flowering spray from this tree to the Queen as a symbol of Jesus’s birth. The French name for hawthorn, “l’epine noble,” means “the noble thorn” which comes from the belief that Christ’s crucifixion crown was one of hawthorn branches. Because of this association, Christians associate the hawthorn with purity and chastity instead of fertility and frivolity, as pagans do. Marrying in the Christian church during the month of May was superstitiously discouraged based on hawthorn’s ancient pagan symbolism. There is even an old epithet that warned against hawthorn and its magical counterpart, elder: “Hawthorn bloom and elderflowers will fill a house with evil powers.” (This poor, deprived soul probably went to their grave having never tasted the magic of elderflower champagne or hawthorn cordial, and I feel sorry for them.)
Depending on where you are, the berries can be colloquially referred to as pixie pears,
cuckoo’s beads, or chucky cheese (Grieve). In Scottish legend, the cuckoo bird is also a harbinger of spring, and thus has an association with hawthorn. The name “bread and cheese tree” is an Old English nickname and comes from a tradition of eating the young leaves and buds of the hawthorn in springtime. Seasoned hillwalkers and wanderers know that the leaves and berries can be eaten to curb hunger while on the move. The tart berries, or haws, are used in many cultures as a foodstuff and to make jellies, candies, meads, wines, and cordials. In wartimes when rations were short, hawthorn leaves were served as tea and tobacco, and the seeds were ground for coffee (Herbalpedia). Hawthorn jelly is a popular condiment in the UK, and the berries are so rich in pectin that the jelly requires no additional pectin.
The genus name Crataegus comes from two Greek words “kratos” and “akis” meaning strong and sharp; two adjectives very befitting of this plant. Its rugged root system, gnarled trunk, and windswept branches bear testament to the fortitude of this tree. Hawthorn is a prized hardwood for making tool handles, fence posts, turnery, engravings, basketry, cask hoops, divining rods (I’m assuming new, flexible, green growth), and spars for thatching. Harvesting the tree itself is purposely avoided by those who give credence to its legends. Irish folklore says that anyone who dares disturb a faery thorn will never have a good night’s sleep again. Perhaps it’s better to gather damaged or fallen branches just to be sure!
Contrary to the fairy’s curse of insomnia, the hawthorn is also associated with inducing deep, enchanted sleep. This idea of hawthorn whisking someone away into other dimensions while in a trance is present in many traditional narratives. Hawthorn’s Icelandic name, svefnthorn, means “sleep thorn.” In Norse mythology, the Viking god, Odin, used a sleeping thorn from a hawthorn tree to put shield-maiden Brunhilde into a deep sleep as punishment for choosing the wrong husband. In the classic fairytale, “Sleeping Beauty”, Briar Rose (a botanical cousin of hawthorn) pricks her finger on the enchanted spindle of a spinning wheel, which were traditionally made of hawthorn wood. Much like Brunhilde, she is then plunged into a deep, trance-like sleep, guarded away in a castle behind walls of thorns and fire, only to be awakened by true love’s kiss. In some versions of Arthurian legend, the wizard Merlin was trapped in a hawthorn tree by Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, for fear of his romantic advances. It is said that his voice can still be heard through the tree from his thorny purgatory, as young and lovesick as the day he was captured in the tree. The Scottish ballad of Thomas the Rhymer also tells of how he was lured to the hawthorn by the song of a cuckoo bird, and his spirit was whisked away in reverie by the White Fairy Queen on her snow-white steed, leaving his sleeping body behind. When he awakened back in his human form, he discovered that 7 years had passed. It’s interesting to note that the sleep that hawthorn brings to these people keeps them in suspended animation, and they do not age in their slumber. I equate this with hawthorn’s ability to protect, guard, and strengthen the heart, having the net effect of preserving and prolonging youthful vitality.
Different species of hawthorn were in common use in Arabic medicine centuries before it became well known in western traditions. They used it for diarrhea, sore throats, and menopausal symptoms, as well as the heart problems we now associate with hawthorn’s medicine. Perhaps the oldest ode to this magical tree is this Hittite prayer, circa 1500 BCE.
You are the Hawthorn bush;
In spring you clothe yourself in white,
At harvest time you dress in blood red.
You rip the fleeces of sheep which pass beneath you.
In the same way you pluck any evil,
Impurity or wrath of the gods from this initiate,
Who walks through the gate [of your hedge].
The speaker seems to have a healthy respect for the tree, acknowledging that passing through or under a hawthorn can bring about physical and spiritual change, whether it be positive change (plucking away evil, wrath, and impurity), or negative change (ripping of the sheep’s fleece).
Historically, the use of hawthorn for treating ailments of the heart has been recorded as far back as the first century, CE by the Greek physician Dioscorides. It has long been included in cordial recipes, and here we start to see its connection to the heart. The word “cordial” even means “of the heart.” This use for hawthorn largely fell out of favor until the late 19th century when it was revealed that an Irish physician by the name of Green was using it in his practice with great success. From 1896 up until the 1930s, hawthorn was commonly used in American medicine for heart conditions.
In TCM, the berries (“shanza”) are used to aid digestion, a use which parallels its use during the Renaissance when it was common to eat hawthorn berries with meat for this reason. In European traditions, flowers, berries, and leaves were used medicinally. Hawthorn was used as a diuretic and for kidney and bladder gravel. Its use as a remedy for dropsy and kidney stones is not common today, but is referred to in Culpeper’s Herbal, “The seeds in the berries beaten to powder being drank in wine, are held singularly good against the stone, and are good for the dropsy.”
A much lesser known and employed medicine of Crataegus can be found in its thorns, which are nothing to trifle with. They can grow to be several inches long and mature trees can sprout these hypodermic protrusions all along their trunks. Native Americans have a particular understanding and respect for the thorns. They recognized that a wound incurred from a hawthorn tree was tough to heal, but a thorn plucked from the tree could safely empty a boil and the wound would heal up (Wood). Culpeper also makes mention of this saying, “And thus you see the thorn gives a medicine for its own pricking.”
Botany & Ecology
Hawthorns are a smallish tree native to most places in the northern hemisphere. They are very commonly found in the UK and across Europe, but are rare in northern Scotland. The oldest hawthorns on record are aged over 700 years. Hawthorn’s progeny are spread by seed and sucker, and its nickname “quickset” comes from the tree’s ability to quickly form a hedge just from cuttings being placed in the ground. It is a popular plant used in the skillful art of hedge laying for this reason. Its roots are so hardy that it is often used as rootstock for fruit tree propagation. It can put down deep roots and thrive in rich, nutrient dense soil or rocky clay, provided that there is good drainage; hawthorn does not like wet feet. Mature plants average a height of up to 25 feet, displaying a dense canopy of branches, most of them possessing the characteristic thorns. If left unpruned, hawthorn can reach a height of 40 feet. It can grow as a single-stemmed tree, but often is multi-stemmed and shrubby in its growth habit. The smooth, shiny leaves look like a cross between a maple and an oak, but much smaller. Leaves are flat and deeply lobed, some species having serrated margins. The small, 5-petaled, bisexual flowers have pink-tipped stamens, bloom in May and June, and range between dark pink and snowy white depending on the species. Sometimes, hawthorn can flower twice in a year. The spring flowers give way to green haws that ripen to red in late summer and early fall. Botanically speaking, the fruits are pomes, with the flesh forming around the seed. The haws have a 5 pointed star at the blossom end, indicative of rose family plants (and some heaths). Fruits of the common hawthorn (C. monogyna) contain one seed, while the midland hawthorn (C. vigata) contains two. The list is long for species of Crataegus. The general consensus is that they can all be used interchangeably for their medicine, but the wild non-hybridized hawthorns are more desirable. Two of the more commonly used are C. oxyacantha and C. monogyna. All species have haws that are edible, and are a favorite winter forage for woodpigeons, fieldfares, finches, thrushes, blackbirds, and waxwings. In fact, hawthorn is a harbor for many species of nesting birds because its dense, thorny crown provides protected nesting sites and ample food in the form of its fruits and many insect pollinators that are attracted by the sweet smelling flowers. Voles, squirrels, and mice are also drawn to the tree for food and shelter.
Current Clinical Use
In modern herbalism, hawthorn is synonymous with the heart as a remedy for physical ailments as well as emotional afflictions of the spiritual heart. The flavonoid proanthocyanodin contained in the berries has a profound effect on the cardiovascular system. Christopher Hobbs notes that hawthorn is currently in the Pharmacopoeias of Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, China, Hungary, Russia, and Switzerland and is an ingredient in over 200 European formulas mostly supporting cardiovascular health. In terms of safety, he categorizes it with garlic in that it can be eaten daily and recommends it as such as a preventative to heart disease. The European Community published an official monograph on hawthorn stating that it will not interfere with medications and can be taken on a long-term basis without cumulative negative side-effects. It has an overall strengthening and tonic effect on the myocardium by increasing coronary circulation and dilating arteries (berries), but has an affinity to the entire cardiovascular system, even in the periphery (leaves & flowers). The way I remember this differential is by the simple signature of the plant. The red berry is unmistakably heart medicine and serves the more dense structures of the cardiovascular system, while the leaves and flowers are the lighter, more airy and delicate parts, much like the tiny capillaries in the periphery.
Atherosclerosis, hyper/hypotension, the praecordial pain of angina, and nervous heart palpitations have all been successfully treated with hawthorn in some form. Hawthorn has an intelligence when it comes to dyslipidemia. It has been used to lower the “bad” cholesterol and prevent plaque inside the arteries. It increases the efficiency of the heart’s systole, increasing the volume of blood pumped out with each beat. Hawthorn also improves the nutrition, tone and pliability of the vessels, allowing the blood cells to flow through with less damage-causing friction, thereby regulating blood pressure. Decreased peripheral vascular resistance paired with its overall strengthening of cardiac output means less stress on the heart and increased cardiac endurance (German Commission E). In a time when the most common cause of death in industrialized countries is some form of heart disease, hawthorn can and should be one of our closest plant allies.
As a gentle nervine, it is particularly useful in calming the nervous element associated with heart arrhythmias. It’s through this mechanism that hawthorn can also be used to calm children and adults that can’t focus and are restless. David Winston and Matthew Wood both have used hawthorn in their practice to soothe attention deficit disorders by calming the nerves and heart/pulse. In TCM, this would be classified as a heart yin (the inward energy) deficiency with disturbed shen (heart spirit). Symptoms of heat can manifest as hyperactivity, anxiety, and insomnia, or profound sadness from a broken heart, especially when there is such deep grief that the person can physically feel it in their heart.
Matthew Wood has three specific indications for hawthorn that can be seen on the hands and body:
- If the meaty part of the palm has a slow capillary refill time (stays white for a moment after being pressed)
- If the back of the hands and wrists are dry from lack of lipids
- If there is redness in the cheeky areas of the body (thighs, cheeks, butt)
Matthew’s observation of the dry skin from lack of oils here ties in with the TCM use of hawthorn for helping the body to assimilate lipids. Note that this is different than having dry skin from lack of water. The skin needs oils to hold in its waters and act as a barrier. The Renaissance use of the berry for aiding in the digestion of heavy, fatty foods is also in line with the concept of assimilating lipids. As an herbalist, when you think of aiding in fat digestion, you think of bitters and bile. I don’t think the mechanism here is like that of bitters on the gallbladder and liver. Hawthorn is not a bitter medicine in the slightest. Instead I would agree with Matthew that hawthorn’s action here is probably by nourishing the cells in the walls of the gut and optimizing their assimilation of lipids, thereby increasing the gut’s overall function. The gut is where we take in and assimilate the outside world, and if the walls of the gut are dried out from lack of oils, dysfunction and dysbiosis can occur. I would even postulate that hawthorn could be part of an autoimmunity protocol because of this mechanism, given what we now know about the link between autoimmunity and gut permeability. In fact, it has recently been used by naturopath Deborah Francis to palliatively cool the heated tissue state of autoimmunities while underlying issues are addressed (Wood).
Matthew also indicates it for waking in the night and lack of concentration, which is caused by “low blood” in Southern folk herbalism- not enough blood making it to the brain for proper function. Compare this to one of the concepts hawthorn represents in the Celtic Ogham alphabet as the consonant “huathe,” offering mental clarity.
On an energetic level, hawthorn flower essence works to remove creative and spiritual blockages and helps one to learn to trust the process (Tree Frog Farm). It can also help to clear old emotional attachments to past traumas, allowing old wounds to heal and move forward strengthened. The old saying “a clean wound heals faster” applies to this use of hawthorn flower essence (Pure Therapies).
Homeopathy works with the plant in much the same way traditional western herbalism does, finding it to be a valued and trusted heart tonic in cases of hypertrophy, palpitations, and weakness upon exertion.
The two trees that are perhaps most associated with the fairies are the hawthorn and the elder, both being inhabited by the hidden folk and seen as portals to their realm. Matthew Wood uses these two trees as a remedy for someone who has been “taken by the fairies,” or who seems stuck in their imagination and needs to learn to strike a balance between the two worlds. Here we again see the tissue state that hawthorn acts upon. Hawthorn is cooling and normalizes states of heat and excitation.
It’s debated as to whether the tree is a blessing or a curse, but I believe we partake of the spirit of this tree when we use its medicine, internalizing its strength, endurance, and fierce, wild beauty. There’s also a lesson to be had from hawthorn about carefully navigating boundaries. A mis-handling of the tree can cause serious injury- physically and spiritually- but it also has profound medicine and magic when approached with respect. Like its cousin, rose, we can be easily distracted by the beauty of its flowers and fruits, only to discover we’ve been entangled by its thorns. Some believed witches’ brooms were made of hawthorn wood, and others fearfully hung its boughs as a form of protection against witches. Sailors believed that having hawthorn on board their ship kept the seas calm, while others dared not to invite its calamity into their living space. While being a plant of protection and boundaries, it represents joy for some and sorrow for others. It can be the boundary or help to break yours down. It can transport you to the faery realm or bring you back down to Earth. Does it wound or heal? Is it a sacred tree, or is it blasphemous? Is it ecstasy or torment? Is it for excitation or atrophy? Is it seductive or prickly? Yin or yang? Venus or Mars? Male or female? Ah, but the energy of the tree corresponds with and contains both counterparts, as does its flowers, and therein lies the magic and power of its generative force: the functional balance of duality in all its forms.
A total of 140 volunteers with class 2 heart failure completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial using a standardized extract of hawthorn berries called Crataegisan. Using bicycle exercise to determine cardiac endurance, the study concluded that the test group acquired a higher tolerance for exercise than the control. They received 30 drops of the extract 3 times a day.
A recent study involving 116 volunteers was done to observe the effects of hawthorn on cardiac surgery patients. The results concluded that patients who recently consumed hawthorn extract had a higher incidence of postoperative bleeding, some requiring secondary operations. Based on these results, hawthorn’s circulatory benefits are evident, and it would be advisable to stop taking hawthorn in the weeks leading up to a surgery to avoid postoperative complications.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 72% of the volunteers who took a supplement containing beetroot and hawthorn berry saw a significant reduction in their triglycerides after only 30 days. The supplement also increased nitric oxide production, having a dilating effect on the blood vessels.
Eighty women between the ages of 50 & 80 volunteered to take an extract of hawthorn berries and camphor. The women in the test group showed a temporary increase in blood pressure and cognitive function as opposed to their control group counterparts. The study believed that the camphor increased oxygen supply as a bronchodilator, and hawthorn increased cardiovascular function.
In a study involving 36 people with mild hypertension, the test group took 500mg of hawthorn extract for 10 weeks and had a slight decrease in blood pressure and anxiety levels.
490 patients between the ages of 11 and 102 being treated for orthostatic hypotension were given preparation of hawthorn berries (97.3%) and camphor (2.5%). The preparation was shown to be safe and highly effective in treating orthostatic hypotension in the test group, regardless of the patient’s initial blood pressure.
In this study of 952 people, hawthorn was shown to have a significant benefit for patients being treated for heart failure, either as a stand-alone treatment or an add-on to their current medications.
A randomized trial involving 8 volunteers concluded that hawthorn (leaves and flowers) and digoxin could be co-administered safely in the dosages used in the study.
In mice, hawthorn berry and seed extracts were shown to depress central nervous system activity while having an analgesic effect on central and peripheral nerves. The extract was also shown to have extremely low toxicity. These findings support hawthorn’s traditional use in treating anxiety, insomnia, stress, and nervousness.
One study from France involving 264 volunteers with generalized anxiety tested the effects of hawthorn, california poppy, and magnesium. Results from the study concluded that the herbal preparation was safe and effective in reducing the symptoms of anxiety in the test group.
Flavonoids (rutin, quercetin), triterpenoids, saponins, oligomeric procyanidin, polyphenols, coumarins, tannins. Flowers: flavonoids, amines (acetylcholine, choline). Berries: caffeic acid, vitamins C, B1-6, B9, B12, choline, inositol, PABA, flavonoids, bioflavonoids, calcium, iron, phosphorus, fructose. All parts contain flavonoid pigments hyperoside and vitexin rhamnoside, leucanthocyanadins, and crataeguslactone.
Dosage & Application
David Winston makes a solids extract of hawthorn for long term cardiovascular support and recommends a quarter to half tsp 2x/day.
Tincture: 2-4 droppersfull of tincture daily (berries, leaves & flowers) or 1-2 tablets of standardized extract morning and evening, taken long term for cardiovascular support. (Christopher Hobbs)
Hawthorn is frequently paired with rose and/or Albizia in formulas for the emotional heart and to open one’s heart to relate to one another.
Warnings & Contraindications
Many wild species of hawthorn are considered officinal and used interchangeably in herbal medicine. They also readily cross with each other. Hybrid cultivars have not been closely studied for medicinal use and should generally be avoided to ensure a potent, quality preparation. An easy way to tell if you have a wild or hybrid species of Crataegus is to count the seeds inside the berry. If it has two or less seeds, it is probably a wild hawthorn. If it has more than two seeds, it is probably a cultivated hybrid (Cech). It may potentiate beta blockers. It is best taken long term to see full cardiovascular benefits, and can be safely given with digitalis under a physician’s supervision. It may even help a person to reduce their dose of digitalis (Hobbs).
**I feel I also owe a bit of credit to Culpeper for inspiring the title of this monograph. “By its own pricking” was in part borrowed from him and altered to mean “in its own right” or “by its own mettle.” It’s also a nod to hawthorn’s dichotomy in curing what it causes and causing what it cures. Its thorns are both wounding and curative depending on how they are used. Also, “pricking” as a noun is an old Scots word for a thorn hedge on an earthen rampart.**
Mother Hylde’s Anam Cara Cordial
Anam Cara literally translates from the Irish language to mean “soul friend.” In the Celtic tradition, it can also be a teacher or spiritual guide. Anam Cara is the highest expression of how we relate to one another and helps us to understand our place in the web of life. When we come to this understanding and learn to relate to one another as divine beings, it creates a sense of belonging and acceptance. This formula is to help you move in this place of love and understanding, knowing that we are all branches on the same tree. I use all of the rose family trees sacred to the Celts and blend them with other rose family plants wildcrafted by myself and friends here in Pennsylvania. I included elder in this formula for her association with rowan and hawthorn in being portals to the spirit world. Rosemary has a part here in helping us to remember those things that we forgot we knew- bringing forth truths that have been buried in and by our consciousness for generations. Anam Cara helps us to share the deepest parts of our hearts and minds without being distracted by our physical selves. Grab yourself a bottle here or click on the photo below.