Hawthorne berries are gathered from the small tree Crataegus laevigata of the family Rosaceae. Also known as Mayblossom and Whitehorn, Hawthorne was known to Dioscorides in the first century A.D., but was not widely used until recent times. The edible berries are often made into marmalade, and herbal preparations made from the flowers, fruits, and leaves are very prominent in contemporary European medicine. Currently about three dozen different preparations containing extracts of Hawthorne are marketed in Germany.
Hawthorne is described in most modern herbals as a valuable treatment for various heart ailments and circulatory disorders, as well acting as a mild astringent to be used for treating sore throats. Hawthorne is most often used to protect against the beginning stages of heart disease, for mild heart muscle weakness, for pressure and tightness of the chest, and for mild arrhythmia. It is also used as a tonic for an aging heart.
Standardized extracts improve myocardial and coronary circulation, raising the myocardial tolerance for oxygen deficiency. Hawthorne is also used for hypertension, nervous disorders and insomnia. It may potentiate the action of digitalis, and does potentiate cardiotonic glycosides.
Hawthorne should not be used as a substitute for medical care when an “organic cause” for one of the conditions listed is present, so cause should be diagnosed prior to use.
Modern researchers have revealed some interesting properties of hawthorne and confirmed that hawthorne contains compounds which support the heart and circulatory system. Hawthorn works to dilate the blood vessels, especially the coronary vessels, reducing peripheral resistance and thus lowering blood pressure and reducing the tendency to angina attacks. Though hawthorne’s action is not immediate, but develops very slowly, apparently it has a direct effect on the heart itself, especially in cases of heart damage. Its toxicity is low as well, becoming evident only in large doses. It’s therefore a relatively harmless heart tonic which apparently yields good results in many conditions where this kind of therapy is required.
Hawthorne contains leucoanthocyanins, flavonoids, hyperoside, vitexin 2-rhamnoside, glycosylflavones, amines, catechols, phenolcarboxylic acids, triterpene acids, sterols, inositol, PABA, saponins and purines. The main activity of hawthorne is derived from the potent mixture of pigment bioflavonoids, as well as oligomeric procyanidins (dehydrocatechins) that seem to be particularly active. Some of the flavonoid glycosides are thought to work in a similar way to digitoxin, having a vasodilating effect that could be helpful in the treatment of angina. They also produce marked sedative effects which indicate an action on the central nervous system.
A combination of several constituents seems to be directly responsible for the increase in heart muscle contraction force, by blocking whatever is reducing the contraction, for example, beta-blockers. The flavones help control the intracellular Calcium ion concentration. Hawthorne berries also contain inositol, PABA, purines, saponins, and B vitamins.