Several species of hawthorn or mayflower are used to provide a remedy that is a firm favourite among practitioners for anxiety-related heart problems, symptoms associated with atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"), and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Low-level heart and circulatory problems
Moderate high blood pressure
The qualities of hawthorn can best be introduced by making a strong tea with the leaves and flowers. This gives off a mild aromatic almost earthy aroma. When tasted the aromatic quality is almost vanilla-like, very low key, with gentle bitterness coming through quite quickly, followed by astringency, and finally a gentle sweet aftertaste. Eating the fruit in late summer, quite commonly done in rural areas, will provide a similar taste profile with a little extra mucilaginous quality.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of hawthorn’s key qualities below to learn more:
The overall hawthorn sensory profile is of a plant with several complementary properties, supportive rather than potent.
Many of the traditional uses of hawthorn should only now be applied by trained health care practitioners who can navigate the complexities of heart problems and their conventional treatment. However in relatively mild heart and circulation conditions, particularly where stress is a key factor, hawthorn can be a very helpful home remedy. Along with good breathing exercises consider using it for palpitations (this is not usually a problem of the heart, rather the effect of tension clamping the muscles of the rib cage and diaphragm and creating a sounding chamber in the chest), for hyperventilation and other local symptoms of stress. If your blood pressure is moderately high regular hawthorn tea can be a safe and effective companion to most blood pressure medicines.
Probably best described as a heart tonic, hawthorn was used as an overall restorative and strengthening remedy, not only to alleviate symptoms, but also to aid recovery and prevent progression of illness.
The flowers and berries have similar actions, but the berries are thought to be more useful in the lowering of blood pressure and the flowers at improving circulation to the peripheries. It is particularly beneficial for reductions of function due to old age, as opposed to the onset of any particular pathology.
Hawthorn can also help to relieve anxiety and resulting palpitations or raised blood pressure.
Humans have venerated the hawthorn from ancient times, and the use of the plant as a medicine is almost as extensive. In Europe, ‘mayflower’ was long regarded as a sacred and magical tree. It was at the centre of numerous folk beliefs and rituals celebrating renewal of life in springtime, fertility, and matters of the heart.
Traditional folk use of hawthorn notably included fever management, to steady fluctuating body temperatures. In 1640, the English herbalist and author Parkinson noted that the remedy was applied for dropsy (an old term for fluid accumulation caused by heart failure). Over the ensuing centuries the therapeutic potential of hawthorn emerged more strongly, and herbalists found that its greatest benefit truly was for “matters of the heart”.
Early American herbalists found it helpful in cases of inflammation in the cardiovascular system (endocarditis, myocarditis, and pericarditis), irregular heart beat, and more severe heart malfunctions. It was considered gentle enough for elderly patients with difficult breathing linked to ‘weak heart’.
In Asian traditions, the fruits of local species were applied for astringent effects and for general digestive complaints, including dyspepsia (indigestion) and diarrhoea; it was sometimes charred for use as intestinal charcoal. Similar digestive applications were found among Native American tribes for the flowering shoots and flowers of their local species, particularly in the north and northwest. Native Americans also had gynaecological and obstetric uses for the plant.
All over the world, hawthorn fruits have been widely eaten as foods.
Among trained Western herbal practitioners, hawthorn is a strong favourite for the management of heart and coronary symptoms, especially when associated with anxiety, tightness in the chest, and palpitations. Mild angina (chest pain), intermittent episodes of tachycardia (fast heartbeat), benign arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and hypertension (elevated blood pressure) are among the symptoms that appear to respond to this remedy. It may be combined with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) for anxiety-related heart symptoms and, for more general tonic effects, with lime or linden flowers (Tilia spp).
Circulation: Increases force of myocardial contraction, increases coronary blood flow, reduces myocardial oxygen demand, protects against myocardial damage, hypotensive, improves heart rate variability, antiarrhythmic.
In one story, Joseph of Arimathea, a metal merchant and the apocryphal uncle of Jesus who donated him his tomb, after the resurrection travelled back to Glastonbury in England, then an ancient metal trading hub and surrounded by the sea. He was said to have marked the site of the first Christian church by plunging his hawthorn staff into the ground, whereupon it burst into life and survived as a tree into Victorian times. Cuttings of this tree are found throughout England as the ‘Glastonbury thorn’.
Hawthorn is a gentle tonic herb that is considered very safe when used as recommended. The fruit has been eaten as a food for centuries and was sometimes referred to as the ‘bread-and-butter-plant’. However, some traditional uses for this remedy make it unsuitable for self-medication, as heart conditions require expert diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment. Thus, the main risk associated with its use is that it might be taken in place of proper medical diagnosis and treatment of conditions that are potentially life threatening.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
In a meta-analysis of ten well-conducted clinical trials including 855 patients with chronic heart failure (New York Heart Association classes I to III – in which there is slight limitation of physical activity) standardised preparations of hawthorn leaf and flowers show good clinical evidence of benefit, including increased heart capacity and tolerance to exercise. Other reviews for a particular standardised preparation support these conclusions. Studies of its mechanism of action suggest that hawthorn helps improve the ability of the heart muscle to contract combined with an increase in coronary blood flow; the most important constituents for this activity appear to be flavonoids. Oligomeric procyanidins (OPCs) are also likely to contribute benefit. Some types of hawthorn extracts steady variable heart rate. There is also a significant hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) effect.
A Chinese hawthorn Crataegus pinnatifida has been used in Asia for the treatment of high cholesterol and various cardiovascular diseases. There is evidence that this species can be helpful in the case of ‘metabolic syndrome’ in which overweight, high blood sugar, high blood pressure or high blood lipid levels occur simultaneously, raising the risk for diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
1.5–3.5g of dried flower, leaf or berry per day, as infusion or decoction.
The flowers contain the highest levels of flavonoids and the leaves contain the highest levels of OPCs.