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Hawthorn

  • Crataegus oxyacantha L.
  • Rosaceae
  • Rose family



Common Names

herbsEnglish hawthorn
herbsHaw (Black Haw is Viburnum pruifolium L.)
herbsMay
herbsMay blossom
herbsMay bush
herbsMay tree
herbsQuick-set
herbsShan-cha (Chinese name)
herbsThorn-apple tree
herbsWhitethorn


Parts Usually Used

Berries, leaves and flowers


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Hawthorn, a compact, deciduous tree, grows as either a shrub or a tree, to 15 feet; its trunk or stems have hard wood, smooth and ash-gray bark, and thorny branches. The small, shiny leaves are dark green on top, light bluish-green underneath, and have 3 irregularly toothed lobes. The frail white flowers, known as "may", have 5 round petals and grow in terminal corymbs, spreading clusters, during May and June. In some varieties the blossoms may be pink or deep red. The fruit, or haw, is 2-3 seeded, egg-shaped, freshly pome, scarlet on the outside, yellowish and pulpy on the inside. The berries or fruit hang in small bunches from the thorny shrub, each berry has 1-5 seeds. Berries remain on the tree after the leaves fall off in autumn. Beware of the sharp thorns when harvesting hawthorn, eye scratches from thorns can cause blindness.


Where Found

England and continental Europe; in England it is widely grown as a hedge plant. Found by the roadside or in the meadows, along streams, in bottomlands and open woods from Nova Scotia to North Dakota and south to Alabama and Texas. Native to Asia, Africa and Europe. Naturalized to the United States.


Medicinal Properties

Astringent, antispasmodic, cardiac tonic, carminative, diuretic, sedative, stimulant, vasodilator.


Biochemical Information

Anthocyanin-type pigments, choline, citric acid, cratagolic acid, rich in bioflavonoids, flavonoid glycosides, tannins, glavone, glycosides, inositol, PABA, purines, saponins, sugar, tartaric acid, minerals and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, and C.


Legends, Myths and Stories

In ancient Greece and Rome, the hawthorn had happy associations, being linked with sweet hope, marriage, and babies. Dedicated to Hymen, the god of marriage, the hawthorn was used as a symbol of hope at weddings in Greece; bridal attendants wore its blossoms while the bride carried an entire bough. Also, in both Greece and Rome, torches carried in wedding processions were made of hawthorn. The Romans put hawthorn leaves in the cradles of newborn babies to ward off evil spirits.

In medieval Europe, hawthorn had an entirely different image. Generally regarded as an unlucky plant, it was thought that bringing its branches inside would portend the death of one of the household's members. Hawthorn was also one of the witch's favorite plants and was especially to be avoided on Walpugis Night, when witches turned themselves into hawthorns. With a little superstitious imagination, the hawthorn's writhing, thorny branches at night probably do look enough like a witch to have instilled fear in medieval folk.

The Chinese sell a jam of hawthorn in shops under the name Shan-cha-kao or Shan-cha-ping.

Hawthorn is the plant for which the ship Mayflower was named.


Uses

Hawthorn normalizes blood pressure by regulating heart action; extended use will usually lower blood pressure. It is good for heart muscle weakened by age, for inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), for softening the arteries in arteriosclerosis, helps strengthen blood vessels, cures giddiness, reduces palpitations, angina pectoris, weak heart, vascular insufficiency, blood clots (embolism, phlebitis), and for nervous heart problems. People under stress and strain from pressures of the job can benefit from hawthorn tea, aids in digestion. The tea is also a good remedy for other nervous conditions, particularly insomnia. Dilates coronary vessels, to restore the heart muscle wall, and to lower cholesterol levels. Used to treat skin sores. Relieves abdominal distention and diarrhea, food stagnation, abdominal tumors, and is good for dropsy, drives out splinters and thorns.


Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: steep 1 tsp. flowers in 1/2 cup water. Take 1 to 1 1/2 cups per day, a mouthful at a time. Sweeten with honey if desired.
Decoction: use 1 tsp. crushed fruit with 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 7-8 hours, then bring quickly to a boil and strain. Take 1 to 1 1/2 cups per day, a mouthful at a time, sweetened with honey if desired.

Also, use 1/2 oz. hawthorn berries simmered in 1 pint of water for 20 minutes, along with 1 tsp. of cinnamon and taken 3 times a day after meals, sweetened with honey as a heart tonic.
Tincture: use concentrated preparations under medical direction.


Nutrient Content

Sugar, minerals and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, and C.


How Sold

Capsules, tea Take 1 capsule, up to 3 times a day.


Warning

Though non-toxic, hawthorn can produce dizziness if taken in large doses.

Hawthorn contains heart-affecting compounds that may affect blood pressure and heart rate. Most hawthorn preparations are safe, but it is available in a highly concentrated form that should be used only under medical supervision. Hawthorn berries are considered best for blood pressure regulation and heart/vascular conditions.

Avoid if colitis or ulcers are present.

Used for centuries, no side effects have ever been noted.

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