The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Plant Profile: Hawthorn Berry

Botanical Name:
Crataegus spp.
There are many Crataegus species. While there are personal favorites among many in the herb community, there are no definitive therapeutic differences among the various species.

Family: RosaceaeHawthorn, cardiac tonic, crataegus

Common Names:
Hawthorn(e). The small tree flowers in May so some form of this month’s name is often used such as Mayflower or May Blossom. In the Southwest, it is simply known as Hawthorn.

Part Used for Medicine:
The ripe red berries have the longest history of use and the most research. Leaves, flowers and even thorns are used by some herbalists.

Habitat in Which it is Found/ Harvesting Season/ Special Considerations:
I have seen these growing in SW Colorado, mostly along drainages and riparian habitats. A bit of extra moisture is needed in the arid SW. They are widespread in other parts of the world and are often found in open fields and forming hedgerows in Britain.
The berries are harvested in Sept-Oct, the flowers in May and the leaves in early summer when they are still fresh.

Opinions vary on the warming-cooling aspects of hawthorn. Some herbalists categorize it as cooling as it is anti-inflammatory. Others say it is heating as the berries are slightly sour and that taste is traditionally seen as warming, like vinegar. My own experience is that hawthorn has fairly neutral thermal energetics. It is definitely anti-inflammatory to the cardiovascular system but it does not feel cooling in other aspects.

Flavonoids – these have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects
Oligomeric procyanidins – the same constituent found in red wine that is believed to benefit heart health
Hyperoside – a potent anti-oxidant

Herbal Actions:
Anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, vasodilator, heart tonic

Therapeutic Uses:
A classic heart tonic, also known as a tropho-restorative. Tropho refers to nourishment so a tropho-restorative herb is one that strengthens an organ through nourishment. A very different action than pharmaceuticals.

It has a long history of traditional use and an ever expanding body of research.
*strengthens capillaries
*strengthens the walls of larger blood vessels
*strengthens the physical heart (muscle)
*strengthens muscular heart contractions
*strengthens the heart beat
*normalizes high and low blood pressure
*is helpful for a grief-stricken broken heart
*is helpful for opening the spiritual heart
*is helpful for giving and receiving love – the heart energy

Herbal Combinations:
Use with motherwort for stress-caused heart palpitations
Use with ginger for poor circulation
Use with rose petals and/or Albizzia for heart grief

Safety Issues & Contraindications:
Use with caution if someone is already on any type of heart medication. The pharmaceutical dose may need to be adjusted.

Preferred Method of Preparation:
The powdered berry mixed with honey to form a paste
Fresh or dried herb tincture
Powdered berry added to food (oatmeal, yogurt, smoothie, etc)

The leaves and flowers are strong and effective heart tonics. They are less common in commerce but just as useful. More will be written on these another time.

The Plant Profiles are brief materia medica summaries of plants encountered during plant walks or introduced during class on our longer programs. They are presented here to help students organize plant info on an ongoing basis. Although the Profiles are not meant to be comprehensive, they are offered here to the public in the hope that others find these pages useful.


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