Hawthorn

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Crataegus oxyacanthoides (Thuill.)

Related species: Crataegus monogyna (Jacq.)

Synonyms and Common names: Crataegus oxyacanthoides Thuill.), Mayflower, May tree, Quickset, Whitethorn, Maybush, Mayblossom, Haw, Halves, Hagthorn, Ladies' Meat, Bread and Cheese tree

French = Aubepine, German = Hagedorn, Spanish = Espina blanca, Italian = Marruca bianco

Order: Rosaceae

Description: Crataegus is a deciduous shrubby tree with smooth thorny shoots and three-lobed stipulate leaves. Small white or pink five-petalled flowers with short triangular sepals are arranged in corymbs and on long stalks, each with prominent stamens around the nectary and carpels. The berry is red with white mealy flesh and a large stone. Crataegus grows in hedgerows and copses throughout Britain and all temperate regions of the northern hemisphere.

Parts used: Flowering tops, dried ripe fruits, leaves

Collection: The flowering tops are harvested in late spring and early summer, the berries in September and October.

Constituents: Fruit: saponins, glycosides, flavonoids, cardioactive glycosides, ascorbic acid, condensed tannins. Flowers: cardiotonic amines

Actions: Cardiotonic, coronary and peripheral vasodilator, has a bradycardiac effect on the myocardium, vascular tonic, hypotensive, reputed to dissolve deposits in thickened and sclerotic arteries, relaxant, diuretic, astringent

Indications: Cardiac failure or earlier myocardial weakness, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, Buerger's disease, paroxysmal tachycardia. Specifically indicated in hypertension with myocardial weakness, angina pectoris.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Crataegus is one of the tonics  for the heart and circulation, acting upon the heart by either stimulating or depressing its activity depending upon the need. The precise mode of action which results in the dilating of the coronary blood supply and the tendency to slow down or stabilise the contractility of the heart muscle is not yet fully understood, but it is safe to use as a long-term treatment for a weak or failing heart, and has a beneficial effect on cardiac arrhythmias, especially extrasystoles and paroxysmal tachycardia. Crataegus is also a useful diuretic. A clinical study of 80 patients in Japan showed statistically significant improvement in cardiac function, oedema and dyspnoea in those treated with a preparation made from the fruits and leaves. Other clinical observations included a reduction in elevated blood levels of pyruvic and lactic acid, normalisation of prolonged systole and prevention of ECG changes due to hypoxia. As a tonic for the circulatory system Crataegus finds its primary use in the treatment of hypertension, atherosclerosis and angina pectoris. It is also applicable to peripheral circulatory conditions, such as intermittent claudication and Raynaud's disease.

The flavonoids in Crataegus are vasodilatory, as is the condensed tannin phlobaphene. These dilate the peripheral blood vessels and have a specific action on the coronary circulation. The cyanogenic glycosides are sedative and increase the parasympathetic (vagal) tone of the heart, thus slowing it down. Trimethylamine stimulates the pulse rate slightly, and has a peripheral vasoconstrictor effect. The combination of these actions helps to explain the paradoxical effect of exerting a sympathetic action on the coronary circulation and a parasympathetic action on the myocardium. The sedative effects of the cyanogenic glycosides combine with the vasodilatory effects to lower high blood pressure, but the cardiotonic activity actually helps to raise low blood pressure. Crataegus does not contain digitalis-like substances, but is a gentle remedy requiring extended use. It is of benefit in the treatment of middle-aged patients showing the first signs of coronary artery disease, and also in older patients with 'senile' heart. It should also be used in the follow-up therapy of myocardial infarction.

Both the flowers and the berries are astringent and a decoction of these will help ease sore throats.

Combinations: Combined with Ginkgo, Crataegus can enhance poor memory by improving the cerebral circulation and thereby increasing the amount of oxygen to the brain.

Caution: Should only be used under qualified supervision. Crataegus may increase the effect of other cardioactive drugs taken simultaneously.

Preparation and Dosage: (thrice daily)

Regulatory Status P

Fruit: Dried fruits: 0.3-1g or by infusion

Liquid Extract: 1:1 in 25% alcohol, 0.5-1ml

Tincture: 1:5 in 45% alcohol, 1-2ml

Additional Comments: The botanical name of hawthorn is derived from the Greek kratos meaning hardness (of the wood), oxus (sharp), and acantha (a thorn). The German name of hagedorn means hedgethorn; haw is also an old word for hedge.

Hawthorn was traditionally used in Europe for kidney and bladder stones and as a diuretic. In China, the berries of Crataegus pinnatifida, known as shan zha, are mainly taken for symptoms of 'food stagnation', which can include abdominal bloating, indigestion, flatulence and diarrhoea. They are believed to 'move' the blood, and are used to relieve stagnation in dysmenorrhoea and after childbirth. Ayurvedic medicine recommends hawthorn for heart and circulatory complaints.

Hawthorn flowers are reputed to have magical properties, and are believed to bring about a death in the family if they are taken into the home. This may have something to do with the trimethlamine present in the flowers - this substance is one of the first products formed when body tissue starts to decay. Until recently, corpses were kept in the house prior to burial, and  people would have been familiar with the odour of death and decay. Hawthorn is said to have been the source of Christ's crown of thorns. During the First World War, the young leaves were used as a substitute for tea and tobacco, and the seeds were ground in place of coffee. The Hawthorn is the badge of the Ogilvie clan. 

 

Bibliography

Bartram, T. 1995 Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 1st edn.,Grace Publishers, Bournemouth.

Bremness, L. 1994 Herbs, Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Handbook, London.

BHMA 1983 British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, BHMA, Bournemouth.

Chevallier, A. 1996 The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Grieve, M. 1931 A Modern Herbal, (ed. C.F. Leyel 1985), London.

Hoffmann, D. 1990 The New Holistic Herbal, Second Edition, Element, Shaftesbury.

Hyperhealth 1996 Natural Health and Nutrition Databank, v.96.1 CD-ROM, ŠIn-Tele-Health, available from Healthworks, Leeds. ISBN 0-646-30942-0

Lust, J. 1990 The Herb Book, Bantam, London.

Mabey, R. (ed.) 1991 The Complete New Herbal, Penguin, London.

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, Penguin, London (First published in 1991 as Out of the Earth, Arkana)

Mills, S.Y. 1993 The A-Z of Modern Herbalism, Diamond Books, London.

Ody, P. 1993 The Herb Society's Complete Medicinal Herbal, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Polunin, M. and Robbins, C. 1992 The Natural Pharmacy, Dorling Kindersley, London.

Vickery, R. 1995 A Dictionary of Plant Lore, Oxford University Press.

Weiss, R.F. 1991 Herbal Medicine, Beaconsfield Arcanum, Beaconsfield.

Wren, R.C. 1988 Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, C.W.Daniel, Saffron Walden.

 

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Christine Haughton, MA MNIMH MCPP FRSPH

Wold Farm, West Heslerton, Malton, North Yorkshire YO17 8RY, UK

Last updated 27th November 2014     ŠPurple Sage Botanicals