Hawthorne is a spiky bush or tree found in Europe,
northwestern Africa, and western Asia. In England it is grown as a hedge plant.
The tree reaches 13 feet in height and grows along the edges of woods and
forests. Hawthorne has smooth, gray bark and sharp thorns which grow along the
branches. The leaves are dark green with shiny, bluish-green undersides, and
have irregular tooth margins. Snow white flowers bloom from May to June and
grow in terminal corymbs. The fruits are bright red, oval, two to three seeded,
and hang down in clusters. The medicinal parts are the flowers and the
Other common names:
| English hawthorn
|| May bush
|| May tree
|| Thorn apple tree
|| White thorn
|| Caffeinic acid
| Chlorogenic acid
| Oleanolic acid
|| Phenolic acids
| Plant acids
|| Triterpene acids
| Ursolic acid
* For definition of some of the above terms see the
dictionary section of this book.
| Vitamin B complex
|| Vitamin C
PROPERTIES AND USES
Antispasmodic - an agent which relieves or prevents
spasms, usually of the smooth muscles; barbiturates and valerian are examples
Cardiac - a substance which stimulates heart
metabolism and strengthens contractions, and may at times cause a slowing of
heart rate due to more efficient activity.
Sedative - a class of drugs which function to quiet
nervous excitement and reduce motor activity without inducing sleep. They are
used in the management of neuroses and in the treatment of anxiety and
apprehension accompanying various disease states such as hypertension.
Sedatives commonly function to induce reversible depression of the central
nervous system. Examples of this class are phenobarbital, secobarbital sodium,
Vasodilator - an agent which causes dilation of
Hawthorne berries are very effective for relieving
insomnia. A poultice of crushed leaves or fruit has strong draining powers and
has been used in England for centuries for the treatment of embedded thorns and
splinters, and some sores. The fruits are used for nervousness and also to
prevent miscarriage. It has been known for centuries as a treatment for heart
disease. Regular use increases cardiovascular health. It is an excellent heart
tonic; it dilates peripheral blood vessels, increase metabolism in the heart
muscle, dilates coronary vessels, and improves blood supply to the heart. The
herb also acts to abolish rhythm disturbances.
Several of hawthorn's most active constituents are
cholines, chlorogenic acid, caffeinic acid, and ascorbic acid. The constituents
in hawthorn berries work together to help prevent coronary thrombosis and
cardiac arrest. The choline present in the berries is the main principle in
lecithin, which helps to control cholesterol by breaking fat into tiny
particles which can then pass very easily into the tissues of the body.
Hawthorn is hypotensive and anabolic
Compared to digitalis, it is much milder and safer to
use, more a tonic than a specific. The herb is tonic for both high and low
blood pressure, as well as tachycardia and arrhythmia. Mild
anti-arteriosclerotic principles have been identified in hawthorn;
antispasmodic and sedative properties have also been ascribed to it, but have
not been experimentally verified.
Hawthorne is an excellent cardiotonic
It functions by peripheral vasodilation; very mild
dilation of coronary vessels; increased enzyme metabolism in the heart muscle;
and increased oxygen utilization by the heart.
A noted expert in the area maintains that hawthorn drugs
are characterized by three basic healing properties which complement one
1. Improvement of coronary blood supply which leads to a
decreased frequency of anginal attacks and of subjective complaints.
2. Improvement of the metabolic processes in the
myocardium, which results in an improvement of functional heart activity.
3. Abolition of some types of rhythm disturbances.
In human patients with perfusion disorders of the
coronary arteries due to coronary sclerosis, hawthorn significantly decreased
oxygen utilization during exercise. In 40 of 52 patients, intravenous
administration of hawthorn extract for a mean period of 13.4 days produces a
noticeable decrease in the ischemia reaction in the exercise EKG. In patients
undergoing standard therapies such as CD2 partial baths, an improvement was
seen in only 25% of the cases.
In another study on human subjects with primary heart
disease, intravenous hawthorn extract produced an improvement in almost all
cases, as determined by a normalization of heart dynamics (the mechanical
efficiency of the heart muscle). In patients with secondary heart disease the
effect was not as great in terms of the number of cases helped, but significant
effects were seen in those cases that were helped. The herb also helped
patients whose heart disease was caused by hepatitis or other liver disease.
Taken together, these results suggest a positive inotropic action.
Excellent results in a wide variety of coronary problems
were obtained utilizing a crossed, double-blind procedure. The substance used
was a German drug called Corguttin, which composed of Adonidiss, Covallaria
majalis, Hawthorn, Primula officinales, and Valerian officinales. This product
proved extremely effective in meeting the routine, daily needs of patients with
minor heart problems.
Hawthorn has vasodilatory action
It has a marked and prolonged vasodilatory action, and an
ability to lower peripheral resistance to blood flow in dogs and guinea pigs.
The extract was injected directly into the arteria coronaria. Intravenous
injection caused no change in the volume of coronary blood flow, but still
showed lowering of peripheral resistance. The blood supply of the central
nervous system was influenced in the same manner as that of the coronary
vessels, i.e., the resistance to blood flow was lowered, and following direct
injection into the carotid, the blood volume passing through was also
Hawthorne increases blood flow
In a series of experiments in dogs, aqueous solutions of
heptahydroxyflavenoglycoside, a component of hawthorn, was used to demonstrate
the herb's cardiac and circulatory actions. Intra-arterial injections in the a.
femoralis, a. femoris post. sup. (a muscle vessel), and a. coronaria dextra,
caused increased blood flow. In the a. saphena (a skin vessel) and the a.
renalis, the blood flow was lowered. Blood pressure was raised by injection
into the a. coronaria dextra and intravenous injection. No changes in urinary
excretion and respiration were found. No definite dose-response relationship
could be determined because the degree of response was unpredictable.
Hawthorne successfully destroys experimentally-induced
blockade of anaerobic glycolysis, a condition that typifies some forms of heart
disease cause by enzyme insufficiency.
In patients with chronic cardiac insufficiency, hawthorn
has produced a quickening of the heart beat. It increased coronary blood flow
by increasing the cardiac output and by direct influence on the smooth muscles
of the vessels. Arterial and venous blood pressure were not affected, the EKG
was not influenced, and no pulmonary damage was observed.
Hawthorn is hypotensive
A fraction of the hawthorn extract, containing flavan
polymers, had a low toxicity in the mouse, a pronounced hypotensive activity in
the cat, and strong and prolonged cardiotonic action and detoxicating
properties in the rabbit.
Oligomeric procyanidins isolated from hawthorn extract
decrease blood pressure in cats; in mice, they decreased aggression and body
temperature, and prolonged hexobarbital narcosis.
Hawthorn versus Digitalis
It was once assumed that hawthorn and digitalis belonged
to the same class of agents. That hypothesis has been totally refuted by
studies which demonstrated that hawthorn may partly antagonize the undesirable
properties of digitalis. In addition, hawthorn enhances pulse and positively
potentiates the force of muscular contractions. It enhances cardiac output or
performance in rats as measured by stress swimming trials. On isolated from
heart, it has a tonic and normalizing action. Unlike digitalis, hawthorn lowers
blood pressure through dilation of peripheral vessels, rather than by direct
action on the heart. Thus it preserves critical reflexive blood pressure
regulation. In man, hawthorn acts even on the healthy heart to increase cardiac
activity. Hawthorn appears to have less of an immediate effect than digitalis.
After longer periods of use, subjective betterment accompanied by objective
measurable improvement in tonus and regulation of cardiac activity are observed
with hawthorn. Unlike digitalis, hawthorn exhibits an absence of cumulative
activity; it appears to occupy a position somewhere between digitalis and
Heart tissue pretreated with either Hawthorn or Digitalis
becomes sensitized to the other, so that only about half the normal dose of the
second is required to obtain normal results. This suggest a synergism between
the two substances.
Hawthorn has an anabolic effect on
After 14 hours of abstinence from food, the blood levels
of free fatty acids, free glycerol, triglyceride, glucose, lactate, and
pyruvate were measured in ten human subjects. These levels were measured again
30, 60, and 120 minutes after intravenous injection of hawthorn extracts.
Thirty and sixty minutes after injection, a significant decrease in free fatty
acids and lactate was observed. Glucose and pyruvate also decreased, whereas
the concentration of triglycerides increased. The observed alterations in fat
and carbohydrate metabolism suggests that hawthorn has an anabolic effect on
metabolism, presumably by an influence on the enzymatic system. In this way, a
decrease in oxygen and energy consumption would occur.
No toxicity has been attributed directly to hawthorn.
However, since it is an active cardiotonic herb, users should exercise extreme
caution when combining this herb with other cardiac drugs.
DRUG PRECAUTIONS AND
The effects of hawthorn and digitalis are synergistic,
such that only half the normal dose of digitalis is required if hawthorn is
also being used.
Diuretic-induced hypokalemia may increase the activity of
hawthorn; guinidine, procainamide, and propranolol may also enhance its
effects. Conversely, the effects of the herb may be reduced by propantheline,
spironolactone, and triamterene, as well as by antacids, anti-diarrheal
absorbent suspensions, neomycin, cholestyramine, and other anionic exchange
resins. Hawthorn is synergistic with parenteral calcium salts, pancuronium,
succinylcholine, rauwolfia alkaloids, ephedrine, epinephrine, and other
adrenergic agents. The inotropic action of this herb may be reduced by
propranolol; however, the effect of the two substances on AV are additive.
Cyclopropane or halogenated hydrocarbon anesthetics may sensitize the
myocardium to the cardiotonic effects of hawthorn, although the chances of this
happening are very low.
The cardiac alkaloids in hawthorn may antagonize the
action of heparin. Certain drugs induce activity by hepatic microsomal enzymes
that metabolize cardiac glycosides. These agents probably affect the action of
hawthorn, but in an as yet unknown manner. To the extent that hawthorn's action
depends on the presence of cholinergic substances, it will be affected by the
decrease in cholinergic-receptor stimulation produced by anticholinergics.
Drugs utilized to treat angina pectoris, such as nadolol and propanolol HDI,
may reduce AV conduction induced by this herb.