The beautiful hawthorn tree, with its leaves that look like mini oak leaves and its spiny branches, produces abundant flowers (white or pink) that later create red berries. Crataegus oxycantha and C. monogyna are the two species used most often medicinally, and these produce dense clusters of white flowers and red edible berries that resemble small crabapples. As a member of the apple family, this makes sense!
The berries have the longest traditional history of use.
Hawthorn is primarily known and used as a fantastic tonic for the cardiovascular system. A safe, gentle, effective herbal remedy, this herb has been used to generally strengthen the heart muscle, lower blood pressure (by relaxing the nervous system and opening the corony circulation), normalize heart rhythms, act as an antioxidant to reduce and prevent arthrosclerosis (plaque build-up in the arteries) and weakening of the arteries and veins, to lower blood cholesterol levels (LDL in particular) and to increase circulation to the extremities. Many of these uses have been born out in clinical studies, where some of hawthorn’s active compounds, mainly flavonoids and oligomeric procyanidins, have strengthened contractions of the heart muscle, increased the amount of blood pumped with each contraction, and promoted a stable, rhythmic heartbeat in study participants.
Aside from being a heart remedy, hawthorn also has a calming effect on the nervous system, is used as a gentle diuretic, increasing fluid flow through the kidneys, and as a lung tonic. It is used for allergy-related reactions such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthmatic conditions, for attention deficit symptoms in adults and children, for insomnia, indigestion, & nervous stomach.
Hawthorn is also used for emotional heart-related pain, such as grief and heartbreak to help protect and support the body, and in particular the heart and lungs which can be affected in times of grief and loss.
Hawthorn berries can be decocted (boiled) to produce a tea, using 1-3 teaspoons of the berries per 12 oz of water and simmering for 15-20 minutes. The leaf & flower can be steeped in hot water for 15 minutes to make a mild tea. Both the berry and leaf & flower combinations can be extracted into alcohol and water, or vegetable glycerine, and taken as a tincture or glycerite. From the berries, syrups and solid extracts are often produced, which is a tasty and easy way to take this wonderful herb.