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Herbal Monograph

Herb:   HAWTHORN   (Crataegus spp.; Rosaceae)

Other Names:   May bush, may tree, quickset, thorn-apple tree, whitethorn.    (13);      Mayflower   (65)

Character/Energetics:  sour, sweet, slightly warm (6)

Flowering tops are cool, astringent;  berries are sour, slightly sweet, warm.    (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:    heart, spleen, stomach, liver    (6)

Part(s) used:     the berries, as well as the young leaves have shown effectiveness for treating valvular heart diseases.    (6); Flowers, fruits    (13)

Identification & Harvesting:   A bulky shrub or small tree, 1.5 to 4 m. high with hard wood and thorny branches.  Manifold leaf forms, 3-5 shallow lobes, unevenly serrate, glossy.  Flowers have an unpleasant smell and slightly bitter taste, and the fruit a sour taste.    (2); Berries collected in Sept, Oct.    (8)

Grows as a tree or shrub in England and Europe, often as a hedge plant.    (13)

Species generally used in the west are C. oxycantha and monogyna.  In China, the berries of C. pinnatifida are taken as a digestive and circulatory stimulant.  Harvest flowers of oxycantha and monogyna in early summer;  berries when ripe in late summer or early fall.    (15)

Many species with thorny twigs and branches, although a few are spineless;  single leaves with varying shapes, lobing and serration;  flowers have five creamy/pinkish blossoms;  small apple-like fruit with up to five 1/2″ seeds and a markedly different taste from tree to tree.    (65)

Active Constituents:   O-glycosides incl. rutin and hyperoside;  6-C- and 8-C-glycosyls incl. vitexin, vicenin-1, orientin, additionally linked O-glycosidically with further monosaccharides, incl vitexin-2″-O-alpha-L-rhamnoside, vitexin-2″-O-alpha-L-rhamnoside-4”’-acetate;  Oligomeric proanthocyanidins;  Biogenic amines incl. tyramine.  Active principles are procyanidins and flavonoids, which through a vasodilatant effect increase coronary circulation. (2); saponins, glycosides, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, tannins  (8); crategolic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, glavone, sugars, glycosides, vitamin C   (6);

flavonoid glycosides, procyanidins, saponins, tannins, minerals (15); fruits contain bioflavonoids incl. rutin, hesperidin; and vitamin C    (65)

Actions:  Positively inotropic and chronotropic (e.g., improves strength of muscular contractions and regularity of rhythms).  Cardiotonic effect said to be caused by increased membrane permeability to calcium, as well as inhibition of phosphodiesterase with an increase of intracellular cyclo-AMP concentrations.  Further, increased coronary and myocardial perfusion (in lay terms, fluid exchange between tissue and blood vessels) and reduction of peripheral vascular resistance have been observed.  (2)

digestant, antidiarrheic, cardiac tonic, emmenagogue   (6); cardiac tonic, hypotensive.  An alterative effect on heart functions.    (8); vasodilatant with derivative properties:  antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory (esp. for cardiac muscle).    (13)

Traditionally valued as an astringent.  Relaxes peripheral blood vessels, cardiac tonic.  In China, the berries of C. pinnatifida are taken as a digestive and circulatory stimulant.  Flowers of C. oxycantha and monogyna are widely used as a cardiac tonic.  Their precise action is still being researched, but they seem to improve coronary circulation, reducing risk of angina attacks and helping to normalize blood pressure.  Large doses given by injection have been used successfully for highly irregular heartbeats.  Berries of these species contain less of the cardiac-influencing constituents than the flowers.   (15)

Numerous studies have shown the fruit improves blood flow in heart muscle and therefore strengthens its contractions, and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Flowers and leaves improve circulation to extremities via a vasodilatant effect.  Effects are not immediate;  must be used at least 4-8 weeks to obtain therapeutic benefit.    (61)

Cayuga Botanicals  R.D. Note — [Oligomeric proanthocyanidins noted from source (2) reduce porosity of blood vessels;  cf. “Horse Chestnut” Monograph;  thereby reducing edema and stagnation of fluids, and facilitating influx of nutrients, removal of wastes and toxins.  The difference between the noted principles from horse chestnut and hawthorn is that the latter appear to have an action more specific to cardiac muscle.  Further, as with horse chestnut, speculate that isolated active principles have drastically reduced effectiveness, suggesting a synergism among a complex of interactive mediating chemicals.]

Conditions & Uses:     Used for mild cardiac insufficiency, senile heart, mild bradycardial arrhythmia.   (2)

East and West have had different uses for this herb. Usually, Western herbalists learn from traditional Chinese practice, but this is an instance of the opposite happening.  Western herbalists have long recognized the value of hawthorn berry and, recently the superior virtues of the fruit in the treatment of heart diseases. The Chinese, on the other hand, have used hawthorn berries to control appetite, and as an aid for digestion and assimilation. The older classification is followed here to conform with traditional Chinese usage, but the Chinese recently learned from the West the value of this herb as a cardiac tonic. They now add it to many classical Chinese formulas for moving the blood and treating cardiac diseases, even though they still classify it as a digestive herb.  Hawthorn berries are one of the most reliable herbs for heart problems including cholesterol and valvular heart diseases…(T)hey stimulate a failing appetite and as a digestant, are especially helpful as an aid in the digestion of meat. They also are useful for abdominal distention. The green fruit is good for diarrhea and the roasted and charred fruits are excellent to use both for diarrhea and chronic dysentery‑like disorders.    (6)

Good for heart muscle weakened by age, inflammation of heart muscle (myocarditis), arteriosclerosis, nervous heart problems.  Also a good remedy for other nervous conditions, particularly insomnia.    (13);

HAWTHORN   (Crataegus spp.; Rosaceae)

Conditions & Uses:  (cont’d)

Indicated uses — Arteriosclerosis, arthritis, palpitations, tachycardia:  tincture, fluid extract, syrup.  Hypertension:  tincture*, fluid extract*, syrup*.  Cardiac dropsy, vertigo:  tincture, fluid extract.  Heart tonic:  tincture, fluid extract, powder, syrup.  Nervous conditions:  tincture*, fluid extract*, powder*. (*)Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.

Extended use will lower the blood pressure.  Tea is also good for nervous conditions and insomnia.    (14)

Traditionally valued for its astringency, was used for diarrhea, heavy menstrual bleeding, and to draw splinters.  Only over the past century has the plant’s considerable cardiotonic action been identified.  Flowers of C. oxycantha and monogyna reduce risk of angina attacks and help normalize blood pressure.  Large doses given by injection have been used successfully for highly irregular heartbeats.  Their berries can be used for diarrhea.    (15); Claimed to be a curative remedy for heart disorders as dyspnea, rapid and feeble heart action, hypertrophy, valvular insufficiency.    (57);       Used in Europe and China to treat early stages of congestive heart failure, diminished cardiac function, pressure or anxiety in the heart area, age-related heart disorders that do not require digitalis, mild arrhythmia.    (61); Berries a popular treatment for many heart-related problems throughout the British Isles incl. hypertension, for which studies show it is amazingly effective.  Also for heart palpitations, angina, stroke.    (65)

Combinations:   Combine with lime blossom, mistletoe and yarrow.    (8); combine oxycantha/monogyna flowers with yarrow or ju hua for hypertension.  Combine both flowers and berries with linden and yarrow or guelder rose to relax blood vessels.  (15); Generally prescribed with Cactus grandiflora.    (57)

Precautions:   No recorded risks or side effects with designated dosages.  (2); hawthorn can potentiate the cardiac glycoside action of Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) or derivative drugs like Digitalis, Digitoxin, Digoxin, Gitalin, etc.. Therefore, those who take these drugs while taking Hawthorn should have their Digitalis medication monitored by a physician.    (6);   While very effective in treatments of many kinds of heart troubles, absolutely not a substitute for a physician’s care in serious conditions, and the physician should be notified.    (8);Toxicity is low and becomes evident only in large doses.    (59)

Effects are not immediate;  must be used at least 4-8 weeks to obtain therapeutic benefit.  Heart disease is the number-one killer in America;  it should not be self-diagnosed or self-treated.    (61)

Cayuga Botanicls R.D. Note — [A telling remark noted in a discussion of the controversy of hawthorn/foxglove combinations:  “Herbs fall under quick suspicion for dangers and potential toxicity, while drugs known to be toxic are completely acceptable.  It doesn’t make sense that a safe herb such as hawthorn is discouraged in preference to digoxin….So isn’t the herbalists’ attempt to lower a patient’s dose of digoxin by adding hawthorn a simple product of rational, objective thinking?”  Digoxin and related drugs are based upon foxglove extracts and are widely prescribed in spite of toxicity of cardiac glycosides therein;  their acceptance, then, is purely a function of sanctioning by the medical community, and not any defensible rationale.]  (1)

Tincturing Process: Berries–Vita Mix (Speed 5): Place berries just above blades level in VM container. Process 135 seconds. 1 gram herb:2.37 ml menstruum ideal tincturing ratio. Alcohol: 60%.

      Flowers & Leaf–Vita Mix (Speed 5): Place flowers and leaf in VM container above blades with steel nipple barely showing. Process 60 seconds. 1 gram herb: 3.9 ml menstruum ideal tincturing ratio. Alcohol: 60%   (1a)

Applications: infusion pour 1 c. boiling water over 2 tsp. berries and infuse 20 min.  Drink 3 x daily, for a long period. tincture — 2-4 ml 3 x daily.  (8);  infusion — steep 1 tsp. flowers in 1/2 c. water;  sweeten with honey.  Take 1 or 2 cups daily, drinking slowly.    (13);  decoction — 30 g. oxycantha/monogyna berries to 500 ml (1 pt.) water and decoct 15 min only.    (15);   tincture — 1:5, 60% alcohol.    (61)

Heart tonic.  Expectorant.  Promotes blood circulation, digestion and appetite.  For all heart problems.

Divinatory Meanings:  Temporary gains.  Battle of words and strategies.  A pause in the struggle.

Six of Wands:  Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycanthae)

Reverse Meanings:  Resting on one’s laurels.  Assumptions.     (52)

g, ruled by y    (53)

Dosage:   6‑12 gms.     (6); Tincture — 10-30 drops up to 3 x daily.    (61)

General Notes:   “Crataegus has quickly become one of the most widely used heart remedies.”  Rudolf Weiss, 1985.    (15); Only came to the attention of the medical profession in the 1890’s due to a single reference in a medical journal.  By the early 20th c., it had become a mainstay of heart disease treatment in Europe and Asia;  less frequently recommended in America.    (61)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Herbs for Health”, Nov/Dec ’99, p. 28-29

(1a) ibid  “Hawthorn Tincture” file

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 779

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 259

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 206

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 214-15

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 129-30

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 51

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), p. 24

(53) The Spirit of Herbs: A Guide to the Herbal Tarot  by Michael Tierra & Candis Cantin, p. 142

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 164

(59) The Honest Herbal  by Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D, pgs. 165-66

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 110-11

(65) Miracle Healing Herbs by John Heinerman, Ph.D., pgs. 271-73


PHOTO: Unattributed