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(Crataegus Oxyacantha)

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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 fruit.

Other common names:

 English hawthorn  May bush  May tree
 Quickset  Thorn apple tree  White thorn


 Acetylcholine  Anthocyanins  Caffeinic acid
 Chlorogenic acid  Flavonoids  Hormones
 Oleanolic acid  Oxyacanthine  Phenolic acids
 Plant acids  Saponins  Triterpene acids
 Ursolic acid    

* For definition of some of the above terms see the dictionary section of this book.


 Bioflavonoids  Choline  Lecithin
 Vitamin B complex  Vitamin C  

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Antispasmodic - an agent which relieves or prevents spasms, usually of the smooth muscles; barbiturates and valerian are examples of antispasmodics.

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, and pentobarbital.

Vasodilator - an agent which causes dilation of blood vessels.

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.

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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 another:

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 increased.

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 adrenaline.

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 metabolism

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.

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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.


Known Interactions

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.

Possible Interactions

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.

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